An anti-government protester throws a tear gas canister back to riot-police during clashes in the village of Aali, south of Manama in Bahrain on November 26, 2011, (Photo: Reuters).
Renowned rights group Amnesty International has published a comprehensive report on human rights in the Middle East and North Africa during 2011 including condemning the reaction of the international community, who, the report says, are looking to protect their own interests.
The report titled Year of Rebellion: State of Human Rights in the Middle East and North Africa, which describes 2011 as “historic” and “tumultuous”, discusses the rights issue in each country where uprisings, protests and countering repression took place. Other subjects such as promoting human rights in the region and what the organisation has achieved on the ground during the revolutions were also included.
More significantly however is the report’s critique of the international response to the regional unrest. The organisation, which has 3 million members and supporters in over 150 countries, describes in its reports the shortcomings of the response of international powers by subtitling this section “Failure to Put Human Rights First.”
Amnesty International attacked the varying and inconsistent reactions of foreign powers saying they were looking out for their own instead of truly looking after protesters dying in pursuit of legitimate freedoms and rights.
“Many powerful governments performed political somersaults or continued to ignore human rights violations in the region as they sought to protect their own political and economic interests,” the group wrote.
The report says there was an initial reluctance to support the protest movements by western governments. It cites the initial silence of the French government on Tunisia and the US administration on Egypt, which supported Mubarak until his “refusal to resign risked a much deeper social revolution and a much greater threat to the status quo in the region.”
The report strongly criticised the discrepant responses of the United Nations despite human rights violations being consistently perpetrated against protesters across the region. It contrasted the UN Security Council’s fast response after Libya’s uprising took off, sanctioning a no-fly zone and airstrikes (which it then said surpassed its mandate to “protect civilians”), and the slow and non-existent responses when it came to Syria and Bahrain.
Continuing its scrutiny, the report cited the late condemnation by the Security Council of human rights violations in Yemen, saying that it urged Yemen’s Ali Abdullah Saleh to sign a power transfer deal which granted him immunity, an act prohibited by the UN Secretary General’s directives, it argued.
Also criticized at length in the report was the European Union’s (EU) response to the widespread unrest.
“The initial reaction [of the EU] was limited to sanitised statements calling for restraint by all sides and negotiations. The EU continued its long-standing relations with repressive states in the region and opted for diplomatic advances rather than openly condemning human rights violations,” said the report.
It added that the EU’s belated offers of financial support for pro-democracy and pro-human rights – while a positive development – is seemingly being stalled by the EU.
It blamed the EU for continuing its policies that subordinated human rights to trade and energy interests, which led it to provide political and financial support to authoritarian governments in the Middle East and North Africa.
Concluding this section of the report, Amnesty International exposed the double standards it claimed are present across all the major uprisings taking place in the Arab World in 2011.
It wrote that the “disjuncture between the words and deeds of powerful governments and institutions were exposed and undermined,” adding that “it can only be hoped that the year of rebellion signals an end to policies that put an illusory “stability” and the uninterrupted passage of oil supplies before the human rights of half a billion people.”