Saturday, May 4, 2019


MUZZLING OF MEDIA AND ASSOCIATIONS New legislation threatening freedoms of expression, association or peaceful assembly came into effect in some countries. The Egyptian president ratified two laws muzzling independent media by giving the state almost total control over print, online and broadcast media.
The Palestinian president issued decrees that restricted freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, and limited the ability of civil society organizations to operate freely. The new penal code in Oman criminalized forms of association “aimed at combating the political, economic, social or security principles of the state”.
Authorities banned demonstrations and/or blocked the activities of civil society or political associations in North Africa, particularly in Algeria, Egypt and Morocco, and the Gulf, particularly in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. In some countries, such as Iran, Iraq and Jordan, they blocked social media or disrupted access to the internet.

WOMEN’S RIGHTS Dozens of women human rights defenders were targeted for advocating for women’s rights or protesting against violence against women or sexual harassment, particularly in Egypt, Iran and Saudi Arabia. However, 2018, like 2017, saw limited positive developments at a legislative and institutional level with respect to women’s rights and violence against women. While these were not sea changes, they were a tribute to years of struggle by the women’s rights movement.

LEGISLATIVE CHANGES In the Maghreb, laws that included provisions combating violence against women came into effect. The Palestinian authorities repealed a provision that had allowed individuals suspected of rape to avoid prosecution and imprisonment if they married their victims. Similar welcome measures had been taken in Jordan, Lebanon and Tunisia in 2017. In Jordan, following a long-standing campaign by Jordanian women’s rights organizations, the government opened a shelter for women at risk of family violence in the name of “honour”.
Saudi Arabia lifted its ban on women driving. The step was a testament to the bravery of women human rights defenders who, for decades, drew international media
attention to the prohibition and faced state persecution, including, in a development of bitter irony, before and after the ban was lifted in 2018. The government announced that women did not need the permission of a male guardian to start their own business, but it was unclear whether the reform was implemented in practice. In general, women were still required to have permission from a male guardian to enrol in higher education, seek employment, travel or marry.
Jordan and Qatar both adopted measures that allowed the children of female nationals married to foreign fathers to acquire permanent residency, but left them still unable to acquire citizenship.

ENTRENCHED DISCRIMINATION Entrenched discrimination against women in law and in practice, notably in matters of marriage and divorce, inheritance and child custody, remained a major issue in the region. Women and girls also remained inadequately protected against sexual and other gender-based violence. Their situation in conflict zones were of particular concern. In Libya, authorities failed to protect women from gender-based violence at the hands of militias and armed groups; this and smear campaigns on social media forced many women to withdraw from the public space altogether. In Yemen, the protracted conflict exacerbated discrimination against women and girls and left them with less protection from sexual and other violence, including forced marriage.

DEVELOPMENTS IN LEBANON AND TUNISIA Developments in two countries raised faint hopes of the beginnings of change in the general situation in which samesex sexual relations are criminalized across the region. In Lebanon, a district court of appeal ruled that same-sex consensual sex was not a criminal offence. In Tunisia, a draft law that included the decriminalization of samesex sexual relations was submitted to the parliament.
STATE PERSECUTION However, governments in these and other countries continued to heavily limit the enjoyment of the rights of LGBTI people in law and practice. In Lebanon, according to reports, police harassed and abused LGBTI people, especially in refugee and migrant communities, sometimes making use of a penal code provision that criminalizes “sexual intercourse contrary to nature”. In Tunisia, according to a local nongovernmental organization (NGO), police arrested at least 115 individuals in relation to their perceived sexual orientation or gender identity, 38 of whom were later convicted of charges related to engaging in consensual samesex sexual relations. They also subjected men accused of such relations to forced anal examinations, in violation of the prohibition of torture and other illtreatment.
In Egypt, the authorities detained at least 13 men for “public indecency” or “habitual debauchery” on the basis of their real or perceived sexual orientation and gender identity. Palestinian security forces in the West Bank arbitrarily arrested and ill-treated five LGBTI activists, according to a local NGO.
In Oman, same-sex sexual relations continued to be criminalized under the new penal code issued in 2018.

ARMED HOSTILITIES In Libya, Syria and Yemen, the conflicts’ multiple actors continued to commit war crimes and other serious violations of international humanitarian law.
Military forces with air power carried out indiscriminate air strikes and direct attacks on civilian homes, hospitals and medical facilities, sometimes using internationally banned cluster munitions. They included: in Libya, the self-proclaimed Libyan National Army; in Syria, Syrian government forces, with the support of Russia, on the one hand, and US-led coalition forces, on the other; and, in Yemen, Saudi Arabia-led coalition forces. Armed groups arbitrarily carried out indiscriminate attacks that killed civilians, such as by shelling residential neighbourhoods, and abducted and detained scores of civilians, subjecting some to torture and other ill-treatment. They included: in Libya, a wide range of competing militias, whose clashes
resulted in hundreds of civilian casualties; in Syria, armed opposition groups, some receiving Turkish military support; and in Yemen, Huthi and allied forces, and UAE-backed Yemeni forces.
In Syria, government forces continued sieges that deprived hundreds of thousands of access to medical care, other basic goods and services and humanitarian assistance. In Yemen, the Saudi Arabia-led coalition continued to impose excessive restrictions on the entry of essential goods and aid, while the Huthi authorities obstructed aid movement within the country, deepening the humanitarian crisis. The UN reported in June that around half the population, 14 million people, were at imminent risk of famine; cholera affected the entire country.

INTERNALLY DISPLACED PEOPLE In Iraq, almost 2 million people remained displaced. Families with perceived ties to the armed group calling itself Islamic State (IS) were regularly prevented from returning to their homes or places of origin as a result of threats from neighbours, tribal and local authorities, and Iraqi forces. Those who managed to return said they were subjected to forced displacement and other abuses. Families, particularly those headed by women, were stigmatized and collectively punished for having perceived links with IS owing to factors outside their control. In IDP camps, many were denied access to food, water and health care. Women with perceived IS ties were subjected to sexual violence, primarily by armed actors affiliated with military and security forces in the camps. 
In Libya, thousands of Libyan families remained internally displaced. Tawerghan families internally displaced since 2011 attempted to return to the town of 
Tawergha following an official decree, but were blocked by armed groups. A camp housing over 500 Tawerghan families was attacked by a militia, resulting in the forced eviction of around 1,900 internally displaced people.
In Syria, by the end of the year, 6.6 million people had been internally displaced since the start of the crisis in 2011. Thousands lived in makeshift camps that did not provide an adequate standard of living. Women whose husbands or fathers had been killed or gone missing during the conflict faced serious obstacles in claiming their property as the deeds were often in the name of their male relatives. Meanwhile, a new law threatened the rights of people who lived in certain informal settlements.
REFUGEES There were a couple of minor positive developments relating to Syrian refugees in Lebanon, where a government measure 
facilitated birth registration for them, and Jordan, where an official campaign was launched to rectify the status of those living informally in urban areas. However, these were vastly overshadowed by the precarious nature in which the over 5 million refugees and asylum-seekers from Syria found themselves. Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey, the countries hosting most of the refugees, continued to block the entry of new refugees. The authorities in Lebanon and Turkey said that over 300,000 refugees returned to Syria. The dire humanitarian conditions in neighbouring countries – exacerbated by the lack of humanitarian aid, the inability of refugees to find jobs, and administrative and financial obstacles to obtain or renew residency permits – pushed refugees to return. The number of resettlement places and other safe and legal routes for refugees offered by Western and other states fell far below the needs identified by UNHCR, the UN refugee agency.

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