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"As is" reference - not a United Nations document

Source: Amnesty International
31 December 2005



Regional Overview - Middle East/North Africa

Overview - Covering events from January - December 2005

Conflict, violence and crime under international law : Impunity, justice and accountability : Refugees and migrants : Women's rights : Economic, social and cultural rights : Death penalty : Human rights defencers



At first sight, the pattern of widespread abuse that has long characterized human rights in the Middle East and North Africa remained firmly entrenched in 2005. Indeed, considering the appalling toll of abuses perpetrated by all parties to the conflict in Iraq, the continuing struggle between Israelis and Palestinians, and some of the views expressed by Iran’s new President, the picture could have appeared very bleak.

Despite this and the persistence of grave violations across the region, there were some signs to suggest that 2005 might come to be seen as a time when some of the old certainties began to look less certain and a new dynamic began to take hold. The wall of impunity behind which so many perpetrators of torture, political killings and other abuses had sheltered for so long began to fracture. Former Iraqi President Saddam Hussain was brought to trial on charges relating to executions of villagers in 1982, and an unprecedented UN Security Council-mandated inquiry implicated senior Syrian and Lebanese officials in the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri.

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Impunity, justice and accountability

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Police and security forces also operated largely behind a shield of impunity when they used excessive force, causing deaths and injuries, whether in Iran and Yemen, where the victims were often members of religious or ethnic minorities; in Egypt and Morocco, where the targets included refugees and migrants; or in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, where Palestinian children were among those killed with impunity by Israeli troops. In Iraq, both US and other foreign forces and those of the Iraqi government used excessive force with impunity.

Killings of civilians by Israeli forces and Palestinian armed groups continued in Israel and the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, although on a lesser scale than in recent years. While Israel used a wide range of judicial and extrajudicial means to punish Palestinians individually and collectively for killings of Israelis, Palestinian victims were denied justice and redress. Impunity remained the rule for Israeli forces who unlawfully killed and ill-treated Palestinians. In July Israel passed a new law denying Palestinians the right to claim compensation for death, injury or damage caused by Israeli forces. The Palestinian Authority also failed to take action against Palestinian armed groups responsible for unlawful killings and abductions amid increasing lawlessness.

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In neighbouring Syria, senior government figures came under pressure as a UN investigation implicated them and Lebanese political leaders and security officials in the February bomb explosion that killed former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq al-Hariri and 22 others in Beirut. However, the killings and “disappearances” of thousands of Syrian and Lebanese nationals in past decades remained almost entirely uninvestigated.

Refugees and migrants


Most countries lacked a legal regime for the protection of refugees and asylum-seekers. Only seven – Algeria, Egypt, Iran, Israel, Morocco, Tunisia and Yemen – were parties to the UN Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol. Long-standing refugee communities within the region continued to face discrimination and denial of their human rights by governments in host countries. Palestinian refugees in Lebanon remained barred from working in certain professions, despite some easing of restrictions during the year, and faced other limitations severely affecting their rights to education and adequate housing. Despite the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, the situation for Palestinian refugees there and in the occupied West Bank continued to worsen because of land acquisitions, house demolitions, closures and other controls on movement imposed by the Israeli authorities and the increasing lawlessness arising from rivalry between Palestinian armed groups.

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Economic, social and cultural rights

Many communities faced denial of or were hampered from accessing basic economic, social and cultural rights. Marginalized people were particularly vulnerable, including Bedouins in Israel, Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, members of ethnic and religious minorities in Iran, and migrants, especially women migrant workers in Gulf countries and Lebanon. For Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, Israeli policies and controls made life especially harsh. Palestinians were left without shelter by destruction of their homes; without livelihood by the seizure of land and closures; and without access to adequate health care due to road closures and checkpoints. Access to scarce water resources increasingly emerged as a likely flashpoint for the future.

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Death penalty


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In September, Iraq carried out its first executions since the death penalty was restored in August 2004, and the effective moratorium on executions that had existed in the Palestinian Authority since 2002 was ended by five executions. Algeria, Israel, Morocco and Tunisia remained abolitionist in practice.

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