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Syrian women protest showing placards
© UN Photo

The Arab Charter on Human Rights

Author: Corina Gui

The Arab Charter on Human Rights, prepared by the Arab Permanent Commission on Human Rights, was adopted by the Council of the League in 1994, but has never entered into force. The Arab League specialized institutions made efforts for the revision of the Charter by preparing consultations with member States, independent experts and nongovernmental organizations so that the Arab Permanent Commission benefits from the expertise for bringing the Charter in line with the international human rights standards.
The revised Charter was adopted during the 16th Ordinary Summit of the Arab League which was held in 2004 in Tunis, Tunisia. The revised Charter, while accommodating positions of some Arab States in relations to issues in international law such as the death penalty, women’s rights, rights of non-citizens, and freedoms of expression and religion, recognizes many important rights that are consistent with international human rights law.
The 2004 Charter entered into force on 15 March 2008, two months after the deposit of the seventh ratification instruments according to the provisions of art. 49 of the Charter. The first States that ratified the Charter were: Jordan, Algeria, Bahrain, Syria, Libya, Palestine and United Arab Emirates (see the pin - ratification status of the Charter). Accordingly, the Charter is legally binding on the State parties.

The Charter is composed of 53 articles. Its Preamble reaffirms the principles of the Charter of the United Nations, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and “having regard to the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam” (see the pin - Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam).
The Charter contains provisions for civil and political rights, economic, social and cultural rights as well as for the rule of law.
The Charter enshrines the right to life in art. 5, the right not to be subjected to torture, inhuman or degrading treatment (art. 8), the right to freedom from slavery and the punishment by law of all forms of slavery and trafficking in human beings, and exploitation of children in armed conflicts (art. 10), the right to liberty and security of the person, prohibiting arbitrary arrest and detention (art. 14). It also provides that every citizen has the right to take part in public life, to stand for election, and to form associations (art. 24), the right to freedom of movement (art. 26 and 27), the right to privacy (“No one shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with regard to his privacy, family, home or correspondence”) (art. 21), the right to political asylum ( art. 28), the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion providing that “no restrictions may be imposed on the exercise of such freedoms except as provided for by law” (art. 30), the right to information, freedom of opinion and expression (with limitations) (art.32), the right to acquire nationality (art. 29).
Related to the economic, social and cultural rights, the Charter recognizes the right to work (art. 34), the right to form trade unions (art. 35), the right to social protection (art. 36), the right to economic, social, cultural and political development (art. 37), the right to education (art. 41), the right to participate in cultural activities (art. 42).
Art. 40 enshrines the rights of persons with mental or physical disabilities and art. 33, paragraph 2, outlaws violence against women and children in family.

The equality before the law is recognized in art 11, while art. 12 includes a statement that guarantees the independence of the judiciary, its protection from interference, pressure or threat; the right to due process and fair trial is enshrined in art. 13, 15, 16, and 19. The equality between men and women is expressed in various articles reiterating also the enhancement of women status in Arab society. While art. 3, paragraph 1, condemns the discrimination “on grounds of race, colour, sex, language, religious belief, opinion, thought, national or social origin, wealth, birth or physical or mental disability”, paragraph 3 of the same article stipulates that “Men and women are equal in respect of human dignity, rights and obligations within the framework of the positive discrimination established in favour of women by the Islamic Shari’a, other divine laws and by applicable laws and legal instruments”.

The Charter guarantees that anyone whose rights or freedoms recognized within the Charter are violated will have an effective remedy, notwithstanding that the violation has been committed by persons acting in an official capacity (article 23).

In art. 50 and 52, the Charter allows for the adoption of optional protocols and for amendments of its provisions.

Among the most controversial provisions of the Charter, there is one related to the association of Zionism with racism, expressed in the Preamble and art. 2 of the Charter: “Rejecting all forms of racism and Zionism, which constitute a violation of human rights and a threat to international peace and security” (Preamble), “All forms of racism, Zionism and foreign occupation and domination constitute an impediment to human dignity and a major barrier to the exercise of the fundamental rights of peoples; all such practices must be condemned and efforts must be deployed for their elimination” (art. 2, paragraph 3). Also the allowed death penalty in certain circumstances for children expressed in art. 7 is a point of controversy.
In this sense, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour to that time, welcomed the 7th ratification required to bring the Arab Charter on Human Rights into force, but stated that “Throughout the development of the Arab Charter, my office shared concerns with the drafters about the incompatibility of some of its provisions with international norms and standards. These concerns included the approach to death penalty for children and the rights of women and non-citizens. Moreover, to the extent that it equates Zionism with racism, we reiterated that the Arab Charter is not in conformity with General Assembly Resolution 46/86, which rejects that Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination. OHCHR does not endorse these inconsistencies. We continue to work with all stakeholders in the region to ensure the implementation of universal human rights norms.”

The Arab Human Rights Committee established according to art. 45 of the Charter is the body that monitors the State compliance (see the file). The establishment of an Arab Court on Human Rights is on the agenda of many discussions within the specialized institutions of the Arab League.



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