Keeping power in check: This week in Human Rights

Keeping power in check: This week in Human Rights
5 min read
13 Mar, 2015
Blog: A weekly digest of the main human rights issues across the Arab world for the week 6-13 March, 2015.
Syria's mourning is deeper than any statistics can show (Getty)

Syria’s suffering

It is an anniversary nobody will be celebrating.

For four years war, destruction and oppression have ripped at the soul of Syria and torn through the lives of its people.

The statistics beggar belief but can only hint to the depths of pain and sorrow felt in the hearts of millions. More than 220,000 lives extinguished, some 11 million people forced from their homes and 3 million children denied access to school education. How many have been crippled, raped and orphaned will never be known.

Journalists and story tellers are at a loss over how to convey the scale of the human suffering and stop the world from turning its gaze, while the diplomats and politicians struggle to find even the tiniest scraps of common ground between the warring factions.

As for the Human Rights community, detailed accounts of torture, barrel bombs, mass executions, kidnappings and arbitrary detentions have spawned an unrelenting litany of reports and campaigns… And yet the savagery continues.

All but the utterly deluded know a comprehensive military victory for any party is unachievable and yet the logic of war still prevails.

The language of human rights may seem alien amidst the indefatigable depravity of Syria’s tragedy but it is in essence what those brave young men and women first took to the streets for back in 2011. Dignity, freedom and the simple right to speak their truth. 

Costly principles

Sweden's decision to stop selling arms to Saudi Arabia has shone the spot light on the prevalent contradictions among western nations who make lots of noise about respecting human rights but promptly shut up when hugely lucrative arms deals are on the table.

The small Nordic country has a formidable arms industry and is the 12 largest global exporter in the sector, so closing shop on its decade old defence deal with the world's largest arms importer is no small matter.

The government made the controversial move after a diplomatic spat that escalated after Sweden's foreign minister Margot Wallstrom was blocked by the Saudis from speaking about democracy and women's rights at a gathering of the Arab League in Cairo.

Wallstrom was invited to speak to the gathering of Arab leaders after Sweden voted to recognise Palestine as an independent state.

The fallout from the row forced a hotly contested debate within Sweden over the conflict between the country's commitment to its espoused principles and its commercial interests.

The UK government has no such scruples as illustrated by this week's Security and Policing 2015 conference and exhibition, which brought together some of the world's worst human rights abusers and largest arms manufacturers.

Business as usual it seems.

Domestic workers Lebanon

Abuse and exploitation of domestic workers in Lebanon is rife and the victims are used to enduring their pain in isolation.

Not any more.

100 NGOs have thrown their weight behind the petition for a creation of a union for domestic workers, who are currently excluded the protections offered by the Lebanese labour code.

The initial request for the establishment of a union was submitted to the Labour Ministry last December, with the support of the International Labour organisation, the International Trade Union Federation, and the Federation of Trade Unions of Workers and Employees.

Silence from the ministry ensued so in late January hundreds of domestic workers gathered for the union's inaugural congress.

The congregation was largely symbolic considering the Minister of Labour, Sejan Azzi, had dismissed the idea out of hand and denounced any such union as illegal.

The odds are stacked against the domestic workers considering, not only their vulnerable and weak position in society, but also the immense efforts exerted by the powers that be in Lebanon to subjugate and politically co-opt even the most well organised unions.

Nonetheless momentum is gathering and support is growing for greater protections for the some quarter of a million domestic workers living in Lebanon.

Disappearing in the UAE

A disquieting pattern of enforced disappearances is emerging in the UAE.

Human Rights Watch has registered 8 cases
in which individuals were forcibly disappeared after being in custody of state authorities and identified 12 further cases of incommunicado detention.

Among those who have gone missing while in state custody are the son of an adviser to the former Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, two Qatari nationals, and three Emirati sisters, all of whom are identified of being at high risk of torture.

“We are starting to see a troubling pattern of enforced disappearance in the UAE,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director. “The methods used by the UAE’s state security apparatus pose a far greater threat to the country’s international reputation than critical voices inside the country.”

Since the outbreak of the Arab uprisings and the UAE authorities have been pursuing a campaign against any individuals or groups associated with the Muslim Brotherhood and these disappearances seem to correlate with this political and ideological conflict.

Discerning the fact from the fiction and the propaganda from the truth has consistently been obstructed by the UAE authorities who curtail international rights groups’ ability to do research in the country, while cracking down on individuals who have spoken out about abuses.

Qatar torture allegations

A Filipino man was convicted in 2014 to life in prison in Qatar on charges of spying, but allegations of torture are dogging the conviction and pressure is mounting for an independent investigation.

Ronaldo Lopez Ulep, a former civilian employee of Qatar’s Air Force, was held in solitary confinement for over four years and according to Amnesty International was repeatedly tortured.

Two other men were sentenced in the case, one to life in prison and the other to death, but all three men claimed in court their confessions were extracted through torture.

“If the Qatari authorities want to prove they are serious about having a transparent judicial system and tackling human rights violations, then instead of turning a blind eye to this case they must immediately announce a full investigation into torture allegations,” said Said Boumedouha, Amnesty’s Middle East and North Africa programme director.

The Human Rights organisation has reached out to the government and the Philippines embassy in Doha but no response has been received.

The men are appealing their convictions but there is scant chance of a fair hearing unless there is an investigation into the allegations of torture, which could have game changing implications for the veracity of their ‘confessions’.

We'll be keeping our eye on human rights transgressions across the region and bringing you another weekly digest next Friday. If you want to share any information or bring our attention to any campaigns please tweet us at @alaraby_en