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United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR)
31 December 2010
OHCHR in the field:
Middle East and North Africa
OHCHR maintained five field presences in the Middle East and North Africa region in 2010: a regional office for the Middle East (Beirut), a human rights component in a peace mission (UNAMI – Baghdad), the UN Human Rights Training and Documentation Centre for South-West Asia and the Arab Region (Doha), a newly-opened country office in Mauritania (Nouakchott), and a stand-alone office in the occupied Palestinian territory.
Progress in the Middle East and North Africa region in 2010 was characterized by ongoing institutional reforms to address political, legal, economic and social challenges. While the pace of reforms differed, they essentially aimed at ensuring the rule of law, introducing human rights values and principles, creating or reinforcing national human rights institutions, and providing space for civil society actors to raise human rights concerns.
Key geographic focuses in the region included the situations in Iraq, the occupied Palestinian territory, Western Sahara, and Yemen. The security situation in Iraq remained of serious concern, with continuing violence throughout the country and particularly in Baghdad. Civilians were the main victims of such violence, which included attacks against journalists, Government officials, human rights defenders, minorities and ethnic and religious groups. The need to increase respect for human rights and international humanitarian law in the occupied Palestinian territory continued to be an urgent concern. OHCHR focused on reinforcing its ability to monitor the situation in the occupied Palestinian territory and, on the basis of information gathered, engaged with relevant duty bearers and prepared a wide range of official reports for the General Assembly and the Human Rights Council. Increasing political tensions also received focused attention, in particular in Bahrain, in light of their relevance to human rights defenders and civil society activists in the region.
Violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law were widespread in 2010, and were committed by all duty-bearers in the occupied Palestinian territory (OPT). Central to this situation is the Israeli occupation. A key problem is the issue of impunity, which continued to be prevalent in the OPT. International efforts to encourage duty-bearers to address the impunity issue continued throughout the reporting period.
The Israeli blockade of Gaza persisted in 2010. While the Government of Israel (GOI) modified restrictions on some categories of goods, this did not make a sufficient impact on the actual flow of goods into Gaza.
Though the GOI did continue to lessen movement restrictions on Palestinians within the West Bank, severe impediments remained, often resulting in persons effectively being prevented from exercising many economic, social and cultural rights. Movement restrictions into East Jerusalem remained particularly severe, and the GOI indicated that it intends to markedly tighten these restrictions in 2011. The situation in East Jerusalem worsened considerably in 2010, with increasing home demolitions and clashes between Palestinians and Israeli security forces. The GOI expanded its measures aimed at revoking the residency status of Palestinians. Not only did settler violence against Palestinians and their property continue, but there were indications that settler violence was developing beyond sporadic incidents into organized efforts to destroy Palestinian livelihoods and culture (e.g. through the desecration of mosques and the uprooting of olive trees).
The ongoing political divide between the two main Palestinian political parties resulted in increasing violations committed by both sides. Restrictions on the freedom of expression were increasingly noted, as were heightened restrictions on the activities of human rights defenders, in particular in Gaza. Both sides detained political opponents and there were many reports of ill-treatment and sometimes torture in detention.
In 2010 OHCHR-OPT continued to strengthen its capacity to carry out monitoring activities, in consideration of two 2009 Human Rights Council resolutions requesting that the High Commissioner strengthen OHCHR’s field presence in the OPT, especially with a view toward monitoring and reporting on the situation. OHCHR-OPT also established a presence in Hebron in 2010, in order to extend the reach of its monitoring activities. OHCHR-OPT is actively seeking to enhance its communications with relevant duty-bearers, who have all recognized the Office’s role in monitoring violations of human rights and international humanitarian laws.
National laws, policies and institutions (EA1)
Progress has been made by the Office in its attempt to reduce the number of death penalty sentences issued by the Palestinian Authority (PA) through its membership of the PA legislative working group that worked on creating a revised Penal Code. This working group brought together PA ministries as well as the National Human Rights Institution and NGO partners. This revised Penal Code would do away with the death penalty altogether.
Justice and accountability mechanisms (EA3)
Regarding gender, the Office co-organized with the PA a national conference on crimes committed in the name of honour, creating a task force to oversee the implementation of the recommendations of the conference. The Office also worked with its partners in the ongoing revision of the Palestinian penal code, highlighting the issue of honour crimes, and sensitized Palestinian judges on the issue through the organization of a workshop.
Access to justice and basic services (EA4)
Legal aid is now being provided on a systematic basis to victims of violations, in particular home demolitions, through a number of NGOs in the Legal Aid Task Force, a subgroup of the Protection Cluster, which is chaired by OHCHR-OPT.
Human rights defenders increased their advocacy work on promoting the compliance of OPT law with international human rights standards, in particular with regard to the situation of women, freedom of expression and association, and the overall administration of justice. OHCHR-OPT supported these initiatives through bilateral discussions with duty-bearers, public conferences and events such as Human Rights Day 2010.
Responsiveness of the international community
The international community was increasingly made aware and alerted to critical human rights situations and issues through official reports to the General Assembly and the Human Rights Council.
Challenges and lessons learned
OHCHR-OPT’s coordination of the inter-agency Protection Cluster Working Group became challenging due to a lack of sufficient resources, in particular of staff. Following the arrival of the new head of office in 2010, OHCHR-OPT commenced a process of strategic planning for the Protection Cluster, leading to new priority areas for 2011 and the submission of a project for the 2011 Consolidated Appeals Process aiming at strengthening resources in this area.
Access restrictions, in particular to and from Gaza, continued to hinder the effective functioning of OHCHR-OPT. Logistically, it is highly difficult for international staff to travel from the West Bank to Gaza to provide support to the Gaza sub-office. The GOI's non-issuance of permission for OHCHR-OPT’s armoured vehicle to enter Gaza also impeded the work of the Gaza sub-office, though in late 2010 permission was finally granted and it is expected the vehicle will be ready to operate in Gaza in early 2011.