Despite great optimism over the toppling of brutal regimes in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, fundamental reforms to prevent continuing repression and abuses remain unfulfilled, with governments failing to address the scale of change demanded by the protest movements, Amnesty International said today in a new report on the state of human rights in the Middle East and North Africa.
The 80-page report, Year of Rebellion: State of Human Rights in the Middle East and North Africa, warned that protesters show few signs of abandoning their ambitious goals or accepting piecemeal reforms—and that state-sponsored violence and repression will continue until these changes are made..
“With few exceptions, governments have failed to recognize that everything has changed,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa director. “The protest movements across the region, led in many cases by young people and with women playing central roles, have proved astonishingly resilient in the face of sometimes staggering repression.”
“Protestors have shown that they will not be fooled by reforms that make little difference in the way they are treated by the police and security forces. They want concrete changes to the way they are governed, and they are demanding that those responsible for past crimes to be held to account.”
Despite great optimism at the toppling of long-standing rulers in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, Amnesty International said that these gains had not yet been cemented by key institutional reforms to safeguard against the abuses of the past.
Egypt’s military rulers, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), pledged repeatedly to deliver on the demands of the “January 25 revolution,” but Amnesty International’s report finds that they have in fact been responsible for a catalogue of abuses that is in some aspects worse than those under Hosni Mubarak’s rule.
The army and security forces have continued to violently suppress protests, resulting in at least 84 deaths between October and December 2011. Torture in detention has continued, and more civilians have been tried before military courts in one year than during the 30 years of Mubarak’s rule. Women have been targeted for humiliating treatment to try to deter them from protesting. In December the offices of a number of Egyptian and international NGOs were raided by security forces in an apparent attempt to silence critics of the authorities.
Amnesty International fears that 2012 could see further attempts by the military council to restrict the ability of Egyptians to protest and freely express their views.
The uprising in Tunisia brought significant improvements in human rights, but one year later many consider the pace of change too slow; families of the victims of the uprising are still awaiting justice. Following Tunisia’s October elections, a new coalition government was formed. Moncef Marzouki, a human rights activist and former Amnesty International prisoner of conscience, is the country’s interim president. Amnesty International said that in 2012 it would be critical for Tunisians to seize the opportunity of drafting a new constitution to ensure that it guarantees the protection of human rights and equality under the law.
Regarding Libya, Amnesty International raised significant questions about the ability of the new authorities to control the armed brigades that had helped oust the pro-Gaddafi forces and prevent them from replicating the patterns of abuse of the old system.
Despite the National Transitional Council calling on its supporters to avoid revenge attacks, it has rarely condemned serious abuses by anti-Gaddafi forces. In November the United Nations stated that an estimated 7,000 detainees were being held in makeshift centers under the control of revolutionary brigades, with no prospect of a proper judicial process.
Elsewhere, Amnesty International said that governments remained determined to cling to power, in some cases at almost any cost.
The Syrian armed forces and intelligence services have been responsible for widespread killings and torture amounting to crimes against humanity, in a vain attempt to terrify protesters and opponents into silence and submission. By the end of the year there were over 200 cases of reported deaths in custody, more than 40 times the recent average annual figure for Syria.
In Yemen the standoff over the presidency brought more violence upon ordinary Yemenis. More than 200 people were killed in connection with protests, while hundreds more died in armed clashes. Tens of thousands were displaced by the violence, causing a humanitarian crisis.
There were hopes in Bahrain that the an independent experts’ report in November on protest-related abuses might bring a fresh start for the country. At the end of the year the strength of the government’s commitment to implementing the commission’s wide-ranging recommendations remained to be seen.
Saudi Arabia’a government announced major spending packages in 2011, in what appears to be an attempt to prevent protests from spreading to the Kingdom. Despite the measures – and the drafting of a repressive anti-terror law – protests continued at the end of the year, in particular in the country’s eastern region.
In Iran, where domestic policies remained largely out of the spotlight during 2011, the government continued to stifle dissent, tightening restrictions on freedom of information and specifically targeting journalists, bloggers, independent trade unionists and political activists.
Amnesty International said the response of international powers and regional bodies, such as the African Union, Arab League and EU, to developments in 2011 had been inconsistent, and had failed to grasp the depth of the challenge to entrenched repressive rule in the region.
In Washington, Sanjeev Bery, Amnesty International USA advocacy director for the region, said: “The Obama administration has been a forceful advocate for human rights in countries like Syria but in Egypt, where the United States maintains diplomatic and military relationships, hostile security forces continue to use U.S.-supplied weapons to violate human rights. In Bahrain, the administration has suspended a proposed $53 million shipment of U.S. weapons. But we believe this sale should be cancelled outright.”
Although the international community had espoused the protection of human rights as a reason for military intervention in Libya, the U.N. Security Council, stymied by Russia and China in particular, has only issued a weak statement condemning the violence in Syria.
And although the Arab League acted quickly to suspend Libya from membership in February and later suspended Syria and sent a team of observers, it remained quiet when Saudi Arabian troops, acting under a Gulf Cooperation Council banner, backed the Bahraini government’s efforts to crush protests.
Despite the continuing violence and obstacles to change, Amnesty International’s Philip Luther said, “The refusal of ordinary people across the region to be deterred from their struggle for dignity and justice is what gives us hope for 2012.”