Middle East and North Africa

In the Middle East and North Africa (or Arab States), the Arab Human Rights Committee oversees States’ implementation of the Arab Charter on Human Rights, which entered into force in March 2008. An English-language translation of the Charter, drafted under the auspices of the League of Arab States, is available from the University of Minnesota. As of February 2019, there are 15 States parties to the Arab Charter on Human Rights: Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen (see the Arab League’s official list of ratifications in Arabic). Syria, one of the Arab League’s 22 Member States, has been suspended from the organization since 2011.

The Arab Charter on Human Rights does not provide for a complaints mechanism, but rather establishes a process through which the Committee receives and reviews State reports (to be submitted every three years) and makes recommendations as deemed appropriate. State reports and “shadow reports” submitted by other stakeholders can be viewed on the Committee’s website. The Committee provides additional updates on its activities through online summaries of each session, and in its annual reports and newsletters.

The Committee, which began operating in 2009, functions pursuant to the Charter and its Rules of Procedure. The Committee’s seven members are elected in their individual capacities (not as State representatives), to four-year terms, which may be renewed once. See Arab Charter on Human Rights, art. 45.

Members of civil society have criticized the Committee for failing to make available on its website information pertaining to its procedures and activities, and for not engaging with non-governmental organizations. Moreover, human rights advocates and experts have described the Charter itself as falling short of universal human rights standards.

In 2013, the League of Arab States adopted a Statute for the Arab Court of Human Rights, a body that would have jurisdiction over human rights complaints brought against States by other States. Complaints could also be brought by non-governmental organizations, if the relevant State additionally accepts that jurisdiction, but not by individuals. States would be able to accept the Court’s jurisdiction generally, or with regard to specific disputes. The agreement has been ratified by Saudi Arabia, but will not enter into force until one year after it has been ratified by seven States. See Statute of the Arab Court of Human Rights (unofficial English translation).

For additional information, see Mervat Rishmawi, The Arab Charter on Human Rights and the League of Arab States: An Update, Human Rights Law Review 10:1 (2010), 169-78, available for paid download, and Open Society Foundations, The League of Arab States: Human Rights Standards and Mechanisms (2015).