By Justin Dorman
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East
A couple of days ago, Human Rights Watch issued its twenty-third annual world report for 2013. A large portion of the six-hundred and sixty-five page report centered around the Arab Spring and its effects on the Middle East.
When the Arab Spring started, the initial hope was that the uprisings would lead to the beginning of legitimate democracies. Presently, in many states there is a fear that the ousting of the old authoritarian regimes will only lead to authoritarian regimes of different forms.
It is far too early to judge exactly what the spring has given birth to yet. The world must wait to see how these new governments will respect their citizens human rights. Appropriate efforts would include the installation of a professional police force, creation of independent courts, and the prudence of the majority not to abuse the rights of minority factions.
The report highlights the difficulty for these new governments to develop the necessary institutions for a successful democracy. The executive director of Human Rights Watch, Kenneth Roth, stated that, “[t]he path ahead may be treacherous, but the alternative is to consign entire countries to a grim future of oppression.”
The report specifically looks at several countries in its exposé on human rights. A few of such countries include Egypt, Syria, and Libya.
Human Rights Watch analyzed the effect that Egypt’s new constitution has on the countries future. It praised its efforts to clearly terminate the practices of arbitrary detention and torture, but feared that far too many of its provisions pertaining to family, religion, and speech were vague. Such undisciplined drafting may allow for abuses against women and minority religious groups who should be protected under international law.
Over the past year, Syria has provided the perfect example for what may happen when sectarian factions cannot co-exist. Syria has been a hot bed for war crimes, crimes against humanity, torture, and summary executions. The United Nations Security Council has referred the situation to the International Criminal Court but Russia and China have vetoed the referral.
Libya is a prime example of a government unprepared to govern itself after its abusive regime was ousted. Gaddafi intentionally insured that government institutions were weak so that no one could challenge his law. As a result, much of the country is ruled by militias and government who has no problem to detain dissidents and without any likelihood of a future trial.
A further common theme exists amongst most of these Middle Eastern countries. The overwhelming majority of these countries are ruled by Islamic powers. In such situations, it is not uncommon under conservative rule for women to be viewed as second class citizens. Many of these ruling powers consider expanding the rights of women as a western imposition opposed to a natural right codified through international law. Additionally, in these religious states, it is not uncommon for those who offend the religion to be treated improperly. Such countries claim to allow free speech, but do not practice what they preach. Countries that the report criticize for acting in the aforementioned ways include Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates.
The Arab Spring uprisings took place because citizens were fed up with their governments’ treatment of its people. As Kenneth Roth declared, “[i]t turns out, in fact, the toppling of a dictator may have been the easy part. The difficult part is replacing that repressive regime with a rights-respecting democracy.” Hopefully a year from now the 24th annual Human Rights Watch World Report will show a stable Middle East that is routed in democracy and a concern for human rights.
For further information, please see:
Human Rights Watch – World Report 2013: Challenges for Rights After Arab Spring – 1 February 2013
Radio France International – Human Rights Watch Focuses on Arab Spring Fallout – 1 February 2013
Daily Star Lebanon – Arab Spring States Must Respect Rights: Human Rights Watch – 31 January 2013
United Press International – Human Rights Watch Issues Annual Report – 31 January 2013