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Report Paints Bleak Human Rights Picture in Middle East

A protester in Egypt, behind a cordon of security officers, calls for an end to police brutality, Cairo, 13 Apr 2010

Human Rights Watch has published its 2011 global report. In its analysis of the Greater Middle East, the international watchdog paints a grim picture of violations and abuses in a region with an already dismal record. Below please find a brief overview of the organization’s assessments of the human rights situation in the countries of the region. Click on individual country names to see each full report.


While fighting escalated in 2010, peace talks between the government and the Taliban rose to the top of the political agenda. Civilian casualties reached record levels, with increased insurgent activity across the country. An additional 30,000 United States troops increased international forces to more than 150,000.

Endemic corruption and violence marred parliamentary elections in September 2010.


Algeria continued to experience widespread human rights violations in 2010. A state of emergency - imposed in 1992 and renewed indefinitely by decree in 1993 - created a backdrop for widespread restrictions on freedom of expression, association, and assembly. Authorities justify the measure as necessary to combat terrorism.

Members of the security forces and armed groups continued to enjoy broad impunity for atrocities committed during the violent internal conflict of the 1990s. Militant groups continued their deadly attacks, mostly targeting security forces, albeit on a lesser scale than in previous years.


Human rights conditions in Bahrain deteriorated sharply in the latter half of 2010. Starting in mid-August authorities detained an estimated 250 persons, including nonviolent critics of the government, and shut down websites and publications of legal opposition political societies.

Authorities detained 25 of the most prominent opposition activists and accused many of them of "spreading false information" and "meeting with outside organizations." Some rights activists were among those held and allegedly tortured. Authorities prevented detainees from meeting with their lawyers prior to the first session of their trial, and allowed only extremely brief meetings with some family members.

The main exception to these dismal human rights developments involved improved protections for migrant workers.


Egypt continued to suppress political dissent in 2010, dispersing demonstrations; harassing rights activists; and detaining journalists, bloggers, and Muslim Brotherhood members. Security officers used lethal force against migrants attempting to cross into Israel and arbitrarily detained recognized refugees.

Despite promising since 2005 to end the state of emergency, the government renewed Law No. 162 of 1958 in May, but promised to restrict its use. Afterward authorities released at least 450 individuals detained under the emergency law. The government continues to refuse to disclose the number of persons detained under the emergency law, but Egyptian human rights organizations estimate the number at around 5,000.

The June 1 elections for the Shura Council, the upper house of parliament, were marred by reports of fraud and voter intimidation. People's Assembly elections took place on November 28 with ineffective judicial supervision.


Iran's human rights crisis deepened as the government sought to consolidate its power following 2009's disputed presidential election. Public demonstrations waned after security forces used live ammunition to suppress protesters in late 2009, resulting in the death of at least seven protesters. Authorities announced that security forces had arrested more than 6,000 individuals after June 2009. Hundreds - including lawyers, rights defenders, journalists, civil society activists, and opposition leaders - remain in detention without charge.

Since the election crackdown last year, well over a thousand people have fled Iran to seek asylum in neighboring countries. Interrogators used torture to extract confessions, on which the judiciary relied on to sentence people to long prison terms and even death. Restrictions on freedom of expression and association, as well as religious and gender-based discrimination, continued unabated.


Human rights conditions in Iraq remain extremely poor, especially for journalists, detainees, displaced persons, religious and ethnic minorities, women and girls, and persons with disabilities. The United States officially ended its seven-year combat operations in August 2010, reducing the number of troops to about 49,700.

On March 7, 2010, millions of Iraqis from every part of the country braved mortar shells and rockets to vote in the national legislative election. In a blow to the election's credibility, the Supreme National Commission for Accountability and Justice disqualified more than 500 candidates because of alleged Ba'ath Party links, including several prominent politicians who were expected to do well. Overall, the election results reflected sectarian divisions.

In November 2010 Iraq's political parties agreed to form a new coalition government eight months after parliamentary elections. The deadlock had created a political vacuum that allowed armed groups to reassert themselves in some areas.

Israel / Occupied Palestinian Territories

The human rights crisis in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) continued in 2010, despite marginal improvements. After Israeli commandos enforcing the naval blockade of Gaza killed nine civilians on a flotilla attempting to run the blockade, Israel announced it would ease the severe import restrictions on the territory. Still, Israel continued to block exports, having a devastating impact on the Gaza economy.

Palestinian armed groups in Gaza launched far fewer rocket attacks than in 2009 but continued to target Israeli population centers, killing one civilian, while Hamas claimed responsibility for the killing of four Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Hamas authorities carried out judicial executions for the first time in 2010-in some cases after unfair military trials-and allegedly tortured scores of detainees.

In the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, Israel imposed severe restrictions on Palestinian freedom of movement, demolished scores of homes under discriminatory practices, continued settlement construction, and arbitrarily detained children and adults. The Palestinian Authority's (PA) security services arbitrarily detained hundreds of people and allegations of torture by the PA's security services increased.


King Abdullah dissolved parliament on November 24, 2009, halfway through its four-year term, setting political rights back in 2010. The government ruled by decree through most of 2010, pending new elections.

Jordan's General Intelligence Department (GID) continued to influence decisions in most aspects of Jordanian public life, including academic freedom, government appointments, and the issuing of residency permits to non-Jordanians and "good conduct" certificates required for Jordanians seeking work abroad.


Kuwait's human rights record drew increased international scrutiny in 2010, as proposed reforms for stateless persons, women's rights, and domestic workers remains stalled. Freedom of expression deteriorated as the government continued criminal prosecutions for libel and slander, and charged at least one individual with state security crimes for expressing nonviolent political opinions.

Discrimination against women continues in nationality, residency, and family laws, and in their economic rights, though women gained the right to vote and run for office in 2005.


Lebanese officials showed increased willingness to discuss human rights concerns in 2010, but failed to implement many of the reforms needed to improve the country's record.

The authorities rejected a proposed law that would grant women the right to pass nationality to their husbands and children, and despite promises to the contrary, made no efforts to shed light on the fate of people who disappeared during the 1975-1990 civil war. In August parliament enacted a long-awaited amendment to ease Palestinian refugees' access to the labor market, but the reform fell short of expectations.

Tension increased in the second half of the year over the United Nations tribunal tasked with investigating the killing in 2005 of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, amid fears the country would again plunge into turmoil.


Government control and repression of civil society remain the norm in Libya, with little progress made on promised human rights reforms. While releases of large numbers of Islamist prisoners continued, 2010 saw stagnation on key issues such as penal code reform, freedom of association, and accountability for the Abu Salim prison massacre in 1996.

Libya maintains harsh restrictions on freedom of assembly and expression, including penal code provisions that criminalize "insulting public officials" or "opposing the ideology of the Revolution," although there has been slightly more media debate in recent years, particularly online.

Morocco/Western Sahara

In 2010 human rights conditions in Morocco and Western Sahara were mixed, and in some aspects, decidedly poor. The government used repressive legislation and complaisant courts to punish and imprison peaceful opponents, especially those who violated taboos and laws against criticizing the king and the monarchy, questioning Morocco's claim over Western Sahara, or "denigrating" Islam.

The government particularly restricts rights in the restive Western Sahara region, over which Morocco claims sovereignty, and which it administers as part of its national territory.

Saudi Arabia

Human rights conditions remain poor in Saudi Arabia. King Abdullah has not fulfilled several specific reform promises; reforms to date have involved largely symbolic steps to improve the visibility of women and marginally expand freedom of expression.

Authorities continue to systematically suppress or fail to protect the rights of nine million Saudi women and girls, eight million foreign workers, and some two million Shia citizens. Each year thousands of people receive unfair trials or are subject to arbitrary detention. Curbs on freedom of association, expression, and movement, as well as a pervasive lack of official accountability, remain serious concerns.


There was no significant change in Syrian human rights policy and practice in 2010. Authorities continued to broadly violate the civil and political rights of citizens, arresting political and human rights activists, censoring websites, detaining bloggers, and imposing travel bans.

Emergency rule, imposed in 1963, remains in effect and Syria's multiple security agencies continue to detain people without arrest warrants, holding them incommunicado for lengthy periods. The Supreme State Security Court, an exceptional court with almost no procedural guarantees, regularly sentences Kurdish activists and Islamists to long prison terms.

A positive development in 2010 was the adoption in January of a new comprehensive anti-trafficking law.


The human rights situation remained dire in Tunisia, where President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali and the ruling Democratic Constitutional Rally party (RCD) dominate political life.

[please note that the assessment was conducted prior to President Ben Ali’s relinquishing power]

The government frequently uses the threat of terrorism and religious extremism as a pretext to crack down on peaceful dissent, while state security agents use surveillance, arbitrary detention, and physical aggression to intimidate and persecute those whom the government deems to be a "threat." Independent journalists, human rights defenders, and union activists risk prosecution on trumped-up charges.

Activists often resort to the internet as a space to disseminate and access information when authorities deny them the physical space to do so. However, Tunisia aggressively blocks access to websites containing critical political and human rights information, and seems to be directly or indirectly involved in sabotaging the email accounts of persons known to engage in human rights or opposition political activity.

United Arab Emirates

The human rights situation in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) worsened in 2010, particularly for migrant workers, as the construction slowdown in Dubai continued. Other pressing human rights issues include torture, restrictions on freedoms of expression and association, and violations of women's rights. Authorities continue to prevent peaceful demonstrations and to harass local human rights defenders.


Yemen's human rights situation continued to deteriorate in 2010. Amid political unrest in the south, hundreds of arbitrary arrests and the use of lethal force against peaceful demonstrators undermined advances in the rule of law. Skirmishes tested a truce in the conflict with Huthi rebels in the north, and government ministries, the army, rebels, and "tribes" in various conflict affected northern areas obstructed humanitarian assistance. Accountability for laws of war violations remained lacking. Yemen intensified counterterrorism efforts against suspected al Qaeda members in the Arabian Peninsula, but some attacks killed and injured civilians.

Friends of Yemen, a group of states and intergovernmental organizations established in January, failed to press for an end to human rights abuses as a condition for pledging financial and technical assistance.

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