Sunday, September 12, 2021

  • Sunday, September 12, 2021
  • Elder of Ziyon
In late August, the UAE announced that it will establish an independent human rights commission, independent of the government, adhering to the Paris Principles for the National Human Rights Institutions.

There is reason to be skeptical when one sees such announcements. The UAE does not exactly have a stellar human rights record. It has essentially no freedom of the press and it imprisons political dissidents.

It is possible that this is a whitewash. Yet the very announcement shows a sensitivity to a public perception of human rights in the Emirates and that can be leveraged.

Human Rights Watch ridiculed the UAE move. "This is just another tactic, part of the UAE's decadelong whitewashing campaign to make themselves look like a tolerant, respectful and open country," said Hiba Zayadin, a researcher with HRW. Ken Roth dismissed the news out of hand.

But other human rights groups properly say that it is too early to tell, and that the new organization can be judged against its own standards soon enough. 

Alexis Thiry, a legal adviser at Geneva-based legal advocacy organization MENA Rights Group, told DW it was too early to know if the new UAE organization would be sticking to the Paris Principles, as promised. This was because the rights group had not yet been able to read a publicly available version of the law, UAE Federal Law number 12 of 2021, that enabled the creation of the institution, said Thiry.

"It is difficult to have an opinion about the forthcoming independence of the [institution] and its compliance with the Paris Principles," he explained. "At this stage, it is also too early to comment on the performance of the institution since its members have yet to be appointed, to our knowledge."
This is the proper response - healthy skepticism but hoping for the best, and an eagerness to hold the UAE to its own standards. Compared to the HRW response, the MENA Rights Group sounds like a responsible party that actually cares about human rights and not sound bites.

Egyptian president Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi yesterday attended a human rights forum in Cairo, He said some very positive things about freedom of religion in Egypt: "What annoys you as a Muslim when you see a church or a synagogue? Whoever wants to convert can convert, and the one who wants to believe believes, and the one who doesn't want to believe does not believe... and this is freedom from a religious perspective...I respect non-belief, even if one says I do not believe in any religion...Whoever believes that he possesses cultural distinction and tries to impose it on other societies is taking a dictatorial path."

Again, Egypt's human rights record is abysmal. But shouldn't such statements be celebrated? One cannot turn around a society in a day, and hearing such statements from the president of a country is important.

It seems that groups like HRW choose to target countries that have established relations with Israel. But those relations can only have a positive effect on human rights in the other countries, as more Arabs are exposed to the Israeli society where Muslims enjoy full rights, to an extent beyond many European countries. Their relations with Israel are often accompanied with positive moves towards the few Jews who live in those countries. 

People who care about human rights should celebrate peace between Arab countries and Israel, something that we have not seen from HRW and Amnesty. Real human rights groups should use the positive messages being given by the Arab countries leavened with a healthy dose of skepticism. At the very least, official announcements in favor of human rights can be leveraged later to hold those officials accountable, since no one wants to be exposed as liars. 

There is nothing negative about Arab nations publicly embracing human rights. Even if they are hypocrites, it gives ammunition to human rights defenders. HRW's slamming those moves indicates that they are more interested in appearing to care about human rights than actually doing anything to promote them.








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