I. What is the Arab Commission for Human Rights?
The Arab Commission for Human Rights is an independent non-governmental organization dedicated to the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms throughout the Arab world. Without any political affiliation, the Arab Commission for Human Rights is guided in its work by the principles established in, most notably, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESC), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and all other international human rights instruments.
Founded on January 17, 1998, by a group of 15 human rights advocates from different Arab countries, the Arab Commission for Human Rights is a pan-Arab human rights organization with a focused regional mandate on the promotion of the human rights culture, defense of fundamental freedoms, and protection of all human rights victims in the Arab world irrespective of belief, political conviction, sex, religion, or color. The Arab Commission for Human Rights is open to all Arab citizens who have a serious dedication to the furtherance of human rights principles and who can prove serious devotion to human rights advocacy work without any political affiliation. The Arab Commission for Human Rights is meant to be clearly away from any political involvement of any kind, and has every intention to remain so.
The Arab Commission for Human Rights main priority in all its work is clearly outlined in a firm stance against all violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms throughout the Arab world. Members of the Arab Commission for Human Rights are Arab and non-Arab individuals who come form across the Arab world and are all known for their serious commitment to the furtherance of human rights. Serious consideration is given to any request of affiliation or membership in the Arab Commission for Human Rights and is only approved after careful examination to the satisfaction of all concerned that a new member has something to offer the Arab Commission for Human Rights in its work away from any political involvement of any kind.
The Arab Commission for Human Rights is operated by its Board of Directors which is composed of the following human rights advocates:
· Doctor Violette Daguerre (Lebanon), President
· Counsellor Nejib Hosni (Tunisia)
· Dr Mohamed Sayed Said (Egypt), Adviser
· Doctor Moncef Marzouki (Tunisia),
· Khalil Abu Shammaleh (Palestine)
· Counsellor Bechir Essid (Tunisia)
· Mr. Saad Abdel Rahman (Saudi Arabia)
· Counsellor Soufian Shouiter (Algeria)
· Izzat Mroua (Lebanon)
· Cousellor Mostafa al-Hassan (Egypt)
· Mr.Naser al-Ghazali (Syria),
· Mr. Omar Mistiri (Tunisia),
· Abderrahim Sabir(Morocco)
· Zeyna Larbi, (Syria),
· Doctor Haytham Manna (Syria)
Two thirds of the Arab Commission for Human Rights’ members live in the Arab world while the rest live in Europe. The Arab Commission for Human Rights has been granted the right to work as an independent non-governmental organization in France in accordance with the French Law of Associations (known as Law of 1901) and is planning to open two other offices in the Mashraq and Maghreb Arab countries in the near future. The Arab Commission for Human Rights has, since its creation on 17 January 1998, established a network of national, regional and international contacts and is proud of its firm working relationship with nearly fifty non-governmental organizations in the Arab countries and the world.
II. Why was the Arab Commission for Human Rights founded?
It is a universally acknowledged fact that Arab countries are increasingly witnessing marked drawbacks in human rights and fundamental freedoms since the Gulf War. Such drawbacks eradicated any sense of optimism that was left after the fall of the Berlin Wall and that was even deepened by a general political failure on the regional level. In the meantime, the relationships between Arab governments and their citizens were becoming increasingly suppressive; while the legal and operational situations of human rights advocates in at least eight Arab countries have certainly deteriorated during the 1990s, little or no noticeable achievements were made by other human rights advocates in many other Arab countries.
On the other hand, there was no signs that any improvements are taking place on the human rights front either. Human rights violations continued to be on the rise due to civil wars, foreign occupation, sanctions, economic crisis and political disorders as well as daily attacks on the people's freedoms and rights due to the unfair administration of society by the state(s). Such a difficult situation in which the Arab human rights movement found itself has resulted in several problems, both structural and operational, both of which has affected its work and formation. Among the most notable results are the following:
1- An unbalanced growth of the human rights movement in different countries in the Arab region. In some countries, however, a large number of human rights organizations do exist while other countries might not have any recognizable form within which similar organizations may work. A situation as such has dictated a more dynamic attitude towards regional activism which should create a healthy atmosphere for organizations to grow, so that their work can cover other countries particularly the ones where the message is not deliverable yet. It also requires a secure coverage with which human rights violations can be faced and protection for human rights violations’ victims can be secured, as much as practically possible, through viable means with a regional approach.
2- Many of the 'North' and international organizations are affected by a western vision which concentrates its efforts on the problems of arbitrary detention, judicial supervision, enforced disappearances, and torture. Such vision neglects economic, social and cultural rights as well as many other essential rights to the existence of a human being. Such a situation necessitates that a comparison which is based on an indivisible and a wholesome approach toward all human rights in the Arab world as a whole is maintained.
3- Different chauvinistic, religious extremist forms of repli sur soi began to exist in a way which demands a regional movement in this part of the world in order to retrieve trust in the human values via conceptual and responsible defense of the universal values of human rights.
4- A clear gap between the human cultural product and the daily activities does exist which requires more involvement for think tanks in the work that is being done, and for the human rights advocates themselves to take a larger part in the cultural fight for enlightenment.
5- Poor communication and exchange of expertise among the Arab human rights advocates do exist. It is now necessary to begin a new trend of work which should include the nature of studies and field work that are being conducted, cooperation among Arab organizations and establishing links between the South and the North on the one hand and between the regional and international entities on the other hand.
It is true to argue that our generation is facing difficult circumstances and is suffering from the mix up between political activism and human rights advocacy. We have thus never seen clearly the nature of the relationship among the three powers nor the differences between a national front and a non-governmental organization either. The human rights movement in the Arab world has, before it reached the age of maturity, quickly moved towards fast institutionalization which added the question of funding to its many problems.
Many human rights advocates in the Arab world have therefore chosen professionalism as a way to continue their work particularly since the components of a civil society were rather weak and the fact that cadres were often exhausted too soon. Whether we like it or not, such problems do affect the movement, its aims, its future and its belonging to the society. This consequently requires more commitment and a deeper approach in facing the objective and subjective problems of the human rights sphere in the Arab world. It also is of an equal importance to avoid falling in trap-like situations where the absence of cooperation and coordination of work can create unhealthy competitive relationships.
III. The Aims of the Arab Commission for Human Rights
After many discussions which began in the Summer of 1997 among human rights advocates from seven Arab countries in which the above problems were addressed and analyzed, a meeting took place on 17 January 1998 after which the birth of the Arab Commission of Human Rights was declared. The aims of the Arab Commission for Human Rights include the following priorities:
1. Conducting studies based on field missions on social, economic and cultural rights, and on civil and political rights in all the Arab countries.
2. Evaluating the consequences of economic sanctions and their impact on human rights in this part of the world. Based on such evaluation, an international document is to be prepared which can if adopted, protect the nations of the world form such a collective punishment.
3. More research and studies work will be devoted to the rights of vulnerable groups such as women, children, displaced persons refugees, and foreign workers (particularly in the Gulf and in Europe).
4. Study state violence and the phenomenon of socially-rooted violence, and critically address the arguments presented in defense of authoritarian states and repressive state security and intelligence services. It is planned that at least one study this year will be dedicated to this issue.
5. Taking part in publishing a book on torture in the Arab world in the twentieth century which is planned to be available by the 10th of December 1998 to mark the 50th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
6. Building bridges between NGOs of the South and those in the North, Arab and non-Arab, and working towards reinforcing inter-Arab cooperation through joint activities and partnerships.
7. Employ the use of modern communication methods among the human rights advocates and organizations to achieve a wider outreach scope for information.
In 6 years, the ACHR published about 60 books, reports and studies, organized about 40 training, seminars and conferences and realized missions in most of the Arab Countries.
Dr. Violette Daguerre