Resolution on the on-going repression of political and social unrest in various middle-east and north africa (MENA) countries

The FIDH, gathered at its 40th Congress in Taipei, Taiwan,

Having regard to the most recent episodes of social unrest that sparked in Morocco, Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Gaza and Lebanon, demanding drastic economic and social rights reforms, an end to state corruption, in addition to civil and political freedoms for people struggling with poverty, unemployment, lack of public services; and demanding social justice and in some cases the fall of autocratic leaders or governing political elites;

Having regard to the subsequent repression of these social movements in the six countries, Morocco, Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Palestine and Lebanon with different levels, degrees and methods from the authorities but with a common goal of silencing people’s demands;

Having regard to the ongoing targeting including judicial harassment of civil society organisations imposed by the repressive governments on human rights defenders, independent journalists, oppositions party leaders, activists, lawyers, professors or other critical voices aiming at silencing political alternatives;

Recalling that the rights to freedom of opinion and expression are enshrined in Articles 19 and 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and Articles 19 and 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR),
The rights to freedom of assembly and association are enshrined in Articles 20 of the UDHR as well as Articles 21 and 22 of the ICCPR.
The right to participate in public affairs is codified in Article 21 of the UDHR, and Article 25 of the ICCPR.

The government must respect, protect and fulfill the right to hold and express opinions, including those that are not in accordance with its official policy, and to think and manifest personal convictions at odds with its official ideology, under the peremptory norms (jus cogens) of customary international law.

The United Nations Human Rights Committee, in its General Comment No. 34 (2011) on the freedoms of opinion and expression, stated that restrictions on the freedom of expression must not be overbroad, conform to the principle of proportionality, be appropriate to achieve their protective function, be the least intrusive instrument among those which might achieve their protective function, and be proportionate to the interest to be protected.

The UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders indicates that each State has a responsibility and duty, among other measures:
1) To protect, promote and implement all human rights;
2) To ensure that all persons under its jurisdiction are able to enjoy all social, economic, political and other rights and freedoms in practice;
3) To adopt such legislative, administrative and other steps as may be necessary to ensure effective implementation of rights and freedoms;
4) To conduct prompt and impartial investigations of alleged violations of human rights;
5) To take all necessary measures to ensure the protection of everyone against any violence, threats, retaliation, adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the Declaration;

FIDH, meeting on the occasion of its 40th Congress in Taipei, Taiwan, Expresses its deep concern about:

The situation in Morocco:

Over the summer, some cities witnessed new demonstrations and sit-ins against the high cost of electricity bills; others, especially in rural areas, demonstrated against the lack of drinking water.
Moroccan citizens continue to express themselves and reclaim their economic and social rights, recalling the demands of the Hirak movement which had started in 2016 in the Rif region. The summer also saw Rif Hirak prisoners going on hunger strikes to protest against the ill treatment they are subjected to in prison.

At this stage, and after fierce repression and long prison sentences handed down against demonstrators and activists in an attempt to silence the social unrests of 2016-2017, it seems that the Moroccan authorities are limiting their repressive measures to the systematic targeting of civil society, through judicial harassments, arbitrary arrests and detentions, including of journalists such as Taoufik Bouachrine or Hajar Raissouni, and any individual calling for demonstrations on social media.

The situation in Algeria:

Over the past few weeks, a new wave of arbitrary arrests has been clearly targeting human rights defenders, giving a very bad signal for a possible transition to democracy in Algeria. To this date, our organisations counted tens of arrests, strongly hitting the RAJ popular youth movement, whose President Mr Abdelouahab Fersaoui was arrested on 10 October 2019. This has been the most important wave of targeted repression against the Human rights movement in Algeria since the beginning of the Hirak.

Since February 2019, a large-scale popular protest movement or Hirak has developed against President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s candidacy for a fifth term (and then against his plan to remain in power as part of a transition after his fourth term) but more generally against the corruption of the ruling army. Popular and peaceful demonstrations, of an unprecedented scale, have been held every Friday throughout the country.

The situation in Egypt:

Protests also erupted throughout Egypt on the evening of 20 September 2019, in Cairo, Alexandria, Suez and Mahalla. These protests were sparked by allegations of corruption involving President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and high-ranking army officials, in a rare act of defiance to the military junta that has been ruling the country since the 2013 coup. The following evening, protesters gathered again in several cities and were met by police officers firing live ammunition and rubber bullets, according to witnesses. Access to many websites and online applications including Twitter, Facebook Messenger has been restricted. The BBC News website has been blocked by the government for “inaccurate coverage” as one official stated, joining a list of more than 300 websites of NGOs and news agencies that have been blocked for several years.

The Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights reports that close to 3000 people, including at least 100 minors, have been arrested across 20 provinces and that demonstrators have been beaten and tear-gassed. Hundreds of them have been forcibly disappeared by security forces and have not yet appeared before a court. High profile activists, journalists, human rights defenders, lawyers, university professors have subsequently been targeted by enforced disappearance, arbitrary arrests and detention, and some of them subjected to torture, including Alaa Abdel Fattah, Mohamed el Baker and Esraa Abdel Fattah.

The situation in Iraq:

The popular protest movement that has been taking place across the country has left over 100 people dead, with thousands more injured and hundreds detained. Peaceful demonstrations began on 1 October 2019 in the central and southern cities of Iraq, including Baghdad, Basra, Najaf, Babylon and Diwaniya, calling for an end to corruption and unemployment, denouncing poor service delivery, and demanding a law-abiding state that respects the public freedoms of all citizens.

As the protests continued, riot police and other members of the security services began to use excessive force, such as firing live ammunition directly at crowds, and using stun grenades, water cannons and tear gas against protesters. According to the Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights, the recorded number of victims, including protesters and security forces, as of midnight on 6 October, included 103 dead, 4035 wounded, 814 people arrested and 500 people released. Furthermore, the government shut down the Internet on the evening of 2 October for five days, and blocked Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Instagram and other social media platforms, with ongoing periodic disruptions to the Internet.

The situation in Gaza:

The “Great March of Return” peaceful protests that started on 30 March 2018 continue to be met with an excessive and disproportionate use of force by Israeli security forces, amid a persisting silence of the international community. On 4 October, tear gas and live fire killed a 28-year-old man and injured 57 people, including 23 children. In total, at least 326 Palestinians were reportedly killed and 18,460 others wounded during protests in the Gaza Strip since 30 March 2018.

The situation in Palestine :

The “Great March of Return” peaceful protests that started on 30 March 2018 continue to be met with excessive and disproportionate use of force by Israeli occupying forces, amid a persisting silence of the international community. On 4 October, tear gas and live fire killed a 28-year-old man and injured 57 people, including 23 children. In total, at least 326 Palestinians were reportedly killed and 18,460 others wounded during protests in the Gaza Strip since 30 March 2018.

During Eid, Israeli forces attacked civilian worshippers in Al-Aqsa compound. Israel’s Minister of Strategic Affairs threatened to partition Al-Aqsa mosque for Jewish worship, measures violating UNESCO resolutions
protecting the “sanctity and integrity” of Al-Aqsa. Israel targeted human rights defenders, raiding the offices of Addameer, confiscating computers and lawyers files. In September, Israel’s High Court of Justice upheld the State practice of withholding bodies of deceased Palestinians from burial, a practice prohibited internationally as collective punishment. Mass arrests continued across the West Bank, with Israel detaining 470 Palestinians in August. In September, Samer al-Arbeed was arrested, detained and tortured by Israeli authorities in al-Mascobiyya interrogation center, leaving him unconscious, with several broken ribs, bruises and severe kidney failure.

Across the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, Israel escalated the rate of house demolitions leading to an increase in forcible transfer for demographic alteration. During the first seven months of 2019, Israeli authorities carried out 90 house demolitions in East Jerusalem. On 22 July 2019, following an Israeli High Court of Justice ruling citing the properties close proximity to the annexation Wall, Israeli forces demolished approximately 70 residential apartments in ten apartment blocks, in Sur Bahir, an area under Palestinian Authority administration. Buoyed by the international communities failure to hold Israel to account, Prime Minister Netanyahu announced election plans to annex the West Bank settlements and the entire Jordan Valley.

The situation in Lebanon:

Mass protests forced the government in Lebanon to reverse the imposition of a tax on calls through the WhatsApp application. However, demonstrations that started on 17 October 2019 continued for the second day in a row to protest against the deterioration of living conditions and the imposition of new taxes, while a severe economic crisis is plaguing the country. These demonstrations have been called the “tax uprising” or “WhatsApp revolution”.

Activists have called for a general strike and thousands gathered in front of the government headquarters in downtown Beirut. The police fired tear gas at some peaceful protesters, and clashes occurred in the early hours of 18 October 2019. Smoke has risen due to some fires that have hit buildings in the streets of downtown, as well as the burning of tires.

The 40th FIDH Congress:

Expresses its strong solidarity with the people from the MENA region demanding their fundamental rights amid international indifference;

Expresses its full support to human rights defenders in the MENA region who have been fighting for years for the promotion of human rights values in countries where victories are scare and security risks immense;

Calls on the respective authorities of these countries to:

Immediately refrain from the use of force against peaceful protesters demanding their fundamental rights and freedoms;
Put an end to all acts of harassment, arbitrary arrests and enforced disappearances;

Release all imprisoned human rights defenders and review verdicts against imprisoned political prisoners;
Reject repressive bills currently in Parliament and repeal already adopted legislation unlawfully obstructing human rights work;
Refrain from any acts of intimidation and reprisals against human rights defenders, and in particular from physical attacks, arbitrary arrests and judicial or administrative harassment;
Stop smear campaigns against human rights defenders and condemn such campaigns conducted in the media or by other non-state actors;
Renounce from placing human rights organisations and their members under unlawful surveillance;

Urges the European Union, its member states and countries having close commercial and diplomatic relations with MENA countries to:

Firmly denounce human rights violations taking place in the above-mentioned countries;
Ensure that compliance to human rights standards is included as a necessary condition for the advancement of bilateral and multilateral ties with the above-mentioned countries;
Ensure that any development programs financed by the EU and its member states benefit to civil society and contribute to the advancement of human rights and not the interests of the governments;
Sanction decision-makers responsible for grave human rights violations;
Demonstrate full and unconditional support to jailed and harassed human rights defenders and advocate for reform of legislation allowing the muzzling of civil society and human rights activists;
Make any financial and development support conditional on human rights advancement, and release of jailed human rights defenders;

Calls on the various UN mechanisms to:

Strongly and publicly denounce laws and practices violating human rights;
Refrain from electing representatives of countries systematically violating UN Conventions on human rights protection to the UN human rights bodies;
Provide full support to human rights defenders.

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