Monday, May 6, 2019


Significant developments aimed at addressing past violations occurred in Lebanon and Tunisia. The Lebanese parliament passed a law creating a national commission to investigate the whereabouts of thousands of persons who went missing or were forcibly disappeared during the 1975-1990 armed conflict in Lebanon. Associations of families of the victims concerned, along with partner organizations, had campaigned for such a development for over three decades. Tunisia witnessed the passing of a key milestone in its transitional justice process. Its Truth and Dignity Commission finalized its work investigating past human rights violations despite an attempt by the parliament to end its work prematurely. Its final report identified individuals responsible for grave human rights violations and the reasons underlying grave violations and presented recommendations to ensure their non-recurrence. It referred 72 cases to trial before 13 specialized criminal chambers. These included cases of enforced disappearance, death under torture and killings of peaceful protesters.

However, there was generalized impunity across the region for both past and ongoing violations. To take one glaring example that Amnesty International highlighted through its work, 2018 marked the 30th anniversary of the enforced disappearance and secret execution of thousands of imprisoned political dissidents in Iran. Despite the fact that these acts amounted to ongoing crimes against humanity, those responsible had evaded justice and in some cases had held or continued to hold powerful positions in Iran’s government and judiciary.

STATE PERSECUTION There was continuing state persecution against ethnic and religious minorities in the region. In Iran, hundreds of Azerbaijani Turks and Ahwazi Arabs, including minority rights activists, were arrested and detained in connection with peaceful cultural gatherings and protests. In Saudi Arabia, the public prosecution repeatedly called for the execution of several Shi’a activists on charges related to the peaceful exercise of their rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly. In Algeria, authorities harassed members of the minority Ahmadi religious movement, subjecting dozens of them to trial or investigation, and ordered the closure of at least eight churches or other places of Christian worship. In Egypt, the government continued to restrict the right of Christians to worship
in law and practice. It granted full registration to only 588 out of almost 3,730 churches and associated buildings that had applied for it under a new law that required approvals from several state bodies, including security services.

Israel passed a new law that described the Israeli state as being only for the Jewish people, confirming the status of the almost one fifth of the population who are Palestinian citizens of Israel as second-class citizens.

 Among many other abuses, IS claimed responsibility for suicide bombings and other deadly attacks targeting Shi’a Muslims in Iraq, a majority there but a minority in the region, and Coptic Christians in Egypt, leading to the deaths and injury of dozens of civilians.

There were some positive developments at a legislative level in Morocco, Qatar and the UAE with respect to migrant labour and/or domestic workers, but migrant workers continued to face exploitation in these and other countries, including Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman and Saudi Arabia, in large part due to kafala (sponsorship) systems, which limited their ability to escape abusive working conditions.
In Morocco, the parliament passed a new law on domestic workers, entitling domestic workers to written contracts, maximum working hours, guaranteed days off, paid vacations and a specified minimum wage. Despite these gains, the new law still offered less protection to domestic workers than the Moroccan Labour Code, which does not refer to domestic workers.
In Qatar, a new law partially removed the exit permit requirement, allowing the vast majority of migrant workers covered by the Labour Law to leave the country without seeking their employers’ permission. However, the law retained some exceptions, including the ability of employers to request exit permits for up to 5% of their workforce. Exit permits were still required for employees who fell outside the remit of the Labour Law, including over 174,000 domestic workers in Qatar and all those working in government entities.
In the UAE, the authorities introduced several labour reforms likely to be of particular benefit to migrant workers, including a decision to allow some workers to work for multiple employers, tighter regulation of recruitment processes for domestic workers and a new low-cost insurance policy that protected private sector employees’ workplace benefits in the event of job loss, redundancy or an employer’s bankruptcy.

In the Maghreb, sub-Saharan migrants, as well as refugees and asylum-seekers, faced a crackdown. In Algeria, the authorities subjected thousands to arbitrary detention, forcible transfer to the far south of Algeria and expulsion to neighbouring countries. Over 12,000 nationals of Niger and more than 600 nationals from other subSaharan African countries, including regular migrants, refugees and asylumseekers, were summarily expelled to neighbouring Niger, according to international organizations monitoring the situation. In Morocco, thousands of sub-Saharan migrants, including children and pregnant women, were unlawfully arrested and transported to remote areas in the south of the country or close to the Algerian border.
The situation for refugees, asylumseekers and migrants in Libya remained bleak. The authorities continued to unlawfully detain refugees, asylumseekers and migrants, mainly those intercepted at sea, in centres that, while official, were largely controlled by militias. Refugees, asylum-seekers and migrants were kept in appalling conditions, subjected to forced labour, torture and other ill-treatment, and verbal abuse by guards, often to extract money from their families in exchange for their release. Women in particular were subjected to rape.

The right to work and organize in trade unions was undermined in a number of countries. In Iran, thousands of workers staged peaceful demonstrations and strikes in protest at unpaid wages, poor working conditions and other grievances. Authorities arrested hundreds of peaceful protesters and strikers, sentencing many to prison terms and flogging. Bans on independent trade unions persisted. In Egypt, the authorities forcibly dispersed strikes and held trade unionists in prolonged pre-trial detention. They also removed the names of hundreds of outspoken, independent candidates from ballot papers for elections for leadership roles in independent and state labour unions.

Restrictions on access to water for drinking and other household use in marginalized communities in Iran, Iraq and Tunisia raised concerns about discrimination and fuelled protests. In Iran, thousands of people in Khuzestan province, populated mostly by Iran’s Ahwazi Arab minority, demonstrated against water shortages and poor quality water, including untreated water that had led to around 350 people contracting intestinal infections. In Iraq, tens of thousands of residents in the southern governorate of Basra were reported to have been poisoned and hospitalized by polluted drinking water, fuelling ongoing protests against government corruption and mismanagement of the neglected south. In Tunisia, water shortages and inadequate water distribution resulted in repeated water cuts in several regions, prompting protests.

 Israel’s illegal air, land and sea blockade of the Gaza Strip entered its 11th year, restricting the movement of people and goods into and out of the area, and collectively punishing Gaza’s 2 million residents. Throughout much of the year, the Gaza Strip suffered fuel shortages that resulted in a maximum of four hours of electricity per day. Israel reduced to a record low the number of medical permits issued to Gazan residents to allow them to enter Israel and the West Bank for treatment. Denial of medical permits led to the deaths of at least eight Palestinians, according to a local NGO. The situation was exacerbated by punitive measures imposed by the West Bank-based Palestinian authorities, which decreased electricity and water subsidies in Gaza and restricted the entry of medicine.
Meanwhile, Israel demolished 148 Palestinian properties in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, 139 for lack of permits and nine for punitive reasons, according to a local NGO; 425 people, including 191 children, were left homeless as a result. The Israeli Supreme Court approved the demolition of Khan al-Ahmar village and forcible transfer of its residents to make way for illegal Jewish settlements. The village was home to 180 members of the Bedouin community and a school that educated 170 children in the area.

Government measures in the name of security led to gross human rights violations across the region.

In Egypt, the Ministry of the Interior said that more than 164 people were shot dead in exchanges of fire with security forces during the year. Neither prosecutors nor other authorities investigated these incidents or allegations that many of the victims were unarmed and in police custody before being shot. Videos emerged that revealed the Egyptian air force’s use of cluster munitions, banned under international law, in the military campaign in Sinai.

 Arbitrary detention and prosecutions after unfair trials were frequently recorded in security cases. Bahrain saw its first military trial of civilians under its new system of military jurisdiction over national security cases. In Egypt, courts issued death sentences and lengthy
prison sentences after unfair mass trials and military trials. In Iraq, thousands of men and boys who were arbitrarily arrested and forcibly disappeared by central Iraqi and Kurdish forces while fleeing IS-held areas between 2014 and 2018 remained missing. Israeli authorities placed in detention or continued to detain thousands of Palestinians from the Occupied Palestinian Territories in prisons in Israel in violation of international humanitarian law. According to a local NGO, Israel held 480 Palestinians as administrative detainees at the end of the year. Torture and other ill-treatment of detainees held on grounds of security by forces in these and other countries were commonly reported.

DENATURALIZATION AND BORDER CONTROL ORDERS Bahrain imposed denaturalization as a criminal penalty against those convicted in national security cases, stripping around 300 individuals of their nationality in 2018. In Tunisia, the authorities used border control orders to restrict the right to freedom of movement of thousands of individuals. Such measures were often imposed in a discriminatory manner based on appearance, religious practices or previous criminal convictions and without providing the reason or obtaining a court order.

There were some limited positive developments with respect to the death penalty in both law and practice. However, high numbers of individuals continued to be executed in Egypt, Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia, many after being sentenced to death in unfair trials.
The State of Palestine acceded to the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty; it was the first state in the region to do so. However, no action was taken to translate this commitment into practice.
A new law in Saudi Arabia stipulated a maximum prison sentence of 10 years for juvenile offenders in cases where they might otherwise be sentenced to death; however, it excluded crimes punishable by death under Shari’a (Islamic law). At least four juvenile offenders remained at risk of execution at the end of the year.
In Iran, the number of drug-related executions dropped following amendments to the anti-narcotics law. However, courts continued to impose death sentences, as well as other cruel punishments such as flogging, amputation and blinding, and numerous executions were carried out after unfair trials, some in public. A number of juvenile offenders were executed.
Bahrain and Kuwait did not carry out executions in 2018, having resumed them in 2017 after hiatuses of several years. Nonetheless, like all other states in the region except for Israel, they continued to hand down death sentences.

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