Saturday, February 25, 2006

About Human Rightsin Arab Countries

Ayoon Wa Azan (About Human Rights in Arab Countries)

Jihad el Khazen Al-Hayat - 24/02/06//
Sarah Leah Whitson is young and pretty. She is cultured and intense. She is also friendly. Still, every time I sit with her I end up with a depression.No, it is not her rejections of my pick-up lines; she would if I did. Sarah is Human Rights Watch's executive director for the Middle East, and I meet her at conferences around the Arab capitals where we discuss human rights in Arab countries, or the absence thereof of such rights.We had a chance meeting last week in Riyadh and our conversation touched again on Sarah's favourite subject. Arab governments should be grateful to Human Rights Watch as it can only afford a few researchers in some Arab countries. There is one in each of Saudi Arabia and Jordan; the Maghreb; Palestine and Israel; Iraq; and Egypt and Libya.What would we have known if Human Rights Watch had stationed three or four researchers in each of our hyper democratic countries? Sarah Whitson does not answer hypothetical questions. She only talks about what she knows and she chose to tell me that prisoners and detainees are tortured and abused in all Arab countries (I only wonder why Donald Rumsfeld is so keen on torturing our prisoners when we do it so well ourselves).I told the executive director about what I describe as "intelligence hand" where the palm is twice the size and thickness of anything in a regulation hand, allowing the security interrogator to fill the face of his victim with one slap instead of having to repeat the practice. This personalized hand may be the first requirement for a sadist applicant to join the security forces.Sarah's information is more to the point. She says prisoners are tortured and some are left in prison without trial for over 10 years (I know cases of over 20 years). She says there are confirmed cases of prisoners dying under torture. Worse still are cases like Darfour where 150,000 people, mostly Muslim, were killed by other Muslims.Since 2002 Human Rights Watch has issued scores of reports detailing specific cases in the Middle East which, together, add up to a black book about our region. Before Human Rights Watch is accused of being a tool of Zionism and imperialism I hasten to say that it attacks Israeli and American actions with equal zeal or ferocity.There is a one 126-page report on the Israeli military failure to investigate wrongdoing; one 125-page report under the title Raising Rafah detailing mass home demolishing in Gaza Strip; another report on the Israeli military operations in Jenin; and one on suicide bombings which the organization condemns as crimes against humanity.The Americans are not spared the wrath of human rights champions. There is a report of abuses since 9/11, like denying witnesses fundamental due process safeguards. Other reports detail abuse of the detainees in American hands, Iraqi civilian casualties in Baghdad by U.S. forces, Abu Ghraib and Falloujah.Iraq gets the lion's share of reports. One talks about the civilian victims of insurgent groups, another details torture and ill treatment of detainees in Iraqi custody. There are other reports about crime and insecurity under British occupation in Basrah, and sexual violence and abduction of women and girls in Baghdad.Egypt is the target of many reports, reflecting its size and importance. Among them the repression of academic freedom in the Egyptian universities, the fate of Islamists rendered to Egypt, women's unequal access to divorce, a crackdown on homosexual conduct, security forces abuse of anti-war demonstrations, and state limits on non- governmental organization activism.Almost no country is spared. Jordan where justice is denied for "honour crimes"; Saudi Arabia and the exploitation and abuse of migrant workers; Tunisia and the crushing of opposition; Morocco on human rights; Algeria and its enforced disappearances; Iran and the torture, detention and the crushing of dissent, There are other reports about many countries sharing the same abuses. If a country is not mentioned I would refer its government to the fact that Human Rights Watch does not have researchers in every country. In my book, every Arab country is guilty until proven innocent.Sarah Whitson told me that the next report would be about the abuse of women's rights in Libya where a rapist is not sent to prison but rather given the choice of first marrying his victim.Every time I talk to Sarah I consider immigrating. Then I remember that I live in London.

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