The Human Rights Watch published its annual World Report on Human Rights practices around the globe, summarizing key human rights issues in over 90 countries and drawing on events from late 2017 to November 2018.
Compared to the Human Rights Watch (HRW) annual reports from 2012 and 2013, the 2018 report indicates not ‘much’ change in human rights practices in the Arab world though the situation has worsened in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
In - not only - these three countries, freedom of speech, free and fair elections remain a taboo. Furthermore, arbitrary imprisonment and silencing opposition members shows a worsening record.
Positive developments have taken place, but the changes are superficial and not systemic.
Saudi Arabia and its Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman came in for huge criticism after the prominent Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed by Saudi agents inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018.
Only after months of denial and obfuscations did Riyadh admit to the killing of Khashoggi and announced an arrest warrant for 18 individuals allegedly involved.
However, the HRW report states: “But the statements [made by Saudi authorities] appeared to be designed to insulate Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman from further scrutiny over the murder.”
Despite the promised pro-human rights policies by the crown prince, Saudi authorities have increased their arbitrary arrests, trials and convictions against dissidents and activists critical of the administration. The large-scale coordinated crackdown against a women’s rights movement beginning in May last year is significant as it comes at a time when the ban on women driving has ended.
The Saudi-led coalition also continues its military campaign, mainly with airstrikes, resulting in the death and wounding of thousands of Yemeni civilians.
According to HRW, President Abdel Fattah al Sisi guaranteed a second term by “unfree and unfair” elections in March 2018 and through the “instrumentalisation” of violence, intimidation and the arrest of political opponents and civil society activists.
According to the report, the narrative has been based on the argument of ‘combatting terrorism’, with Sisi has also using the ‘threat of terrorism’ and Egypt’s state of emergency law to silence opponents.
Civilians are judged in military courts and in exceptional State Security Courts, which according to HRW are “inherently abusive and do not meet minimum due process standards”.
United Arab Emirates
The authors of the report suggest that there is no change in the intolerance of “criticism and dissent” in the UAE and the 10-year prison sentence handed down to the award-winning human rights activist Ahmed Mansoor exemplifies this situation.
The Emirati administration and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed continue to “arbitrarily detain and forcibly disappear” individuals who criticise the authority of Abu Dhabi.
The UAE also continues to be the part of the Saudi-led military coalition operating in Yemen as mentioned before. Therefore, the Gulf state is involved in war crimes abroad and detainee and human rights abuses at home, according to the HRW report.
The United Arab Emirates is heavily investing in its domestic construction industry and migrant construction workers face serious exploitation by Emirati employers. Further, Abu Dhabi has blocked representatives of human rights organisations to visiting construction areas on multiple occasions.
Civilian and military courts convicted and imprisoned critics and opposition leaders under the guise of national security, according to the report.
Following mass protests in 2011, King Hamad al Khalifa established the Independent Commission of Inquiry. Despite the commission’s recommendations and the installation of an oversight mechanism on torture and ill-treatment in prisons, the move has largely failed because authorities do not hold officials accountable.
Court decisions have deprived 258 Bahrainis of their citizenship leaving them stateless due to accusations of terrorism, threatening national security and offending the country. At least eight Bahrainis have been deported to Iraq after losing their citizenship.
General elections held in November and December last year were considered to be ‘sham elections’ by the HRW since they followed crackdowns on dissidents and prohibited opposition politicians to run for office.
One of the biggest issues in the west-Saharan Arab state is the pervasive existence of slavery, which is deep-rooted in the country’s culture. Protests on racism and ethnic discrimination in the country are also restricted.
Activists such as the blogger Mohamed Cheikh Ould Mkhaitir are often imprisoned and some have been sentenced to death.
According to the report, slavery has declined but has not been eliminated entirely.