Human rights deteriorated across the Arab world in 2009 with torture widely practised in several countries, namely Egypt, an Arab watchdog said in a report released on Tuesday.
The report by the independent Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies surveyed 12 countries and said that most of them repressed human rights activists, press freedoms and discriminated against religious minorities.
The state of human rights in the 12 countries — Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Morocco, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia and Yemen — “has worsened compared to 2008,” the report said.
“Arab governments remained wedded to a broad array of repressive laws that undermine basic liberties,” compared to the previous year, said the report, “Bastion of Impunity, Mirage of Reform.”
“Peaceful rotation of power through representative politics, and clean and competitive elections remained a dream in most countries covered by this report,” it said.
Egypt and Syria were singled out as leading offenders, with Cairo said to lead the region in practicing torture and Damascus for repressing rights activists.
“Egypt continued to top the list of countries in which torture is routinely and systematically practised,” it said, adding that dozens had died in the country of torture or excessive force by police.
The report also found torture was “routine” in Bahrain, “rampant” in Tunisia and practised in Saudi Arabia against terrorism suspects.
Human rights advocates faced harassment in several Arab countries, with Syria, which has jailed dozens of democracy activists, holding the “worst record in this regard.”
Religious and ethnic minorities also continued to suffer discrimination in several Arab countries, such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, the report said.
“Despite the Saudi regime’s attempt to appear to champion religious tolerance and interfaith dialogue in international forums, in practice the national religious police continue to exhibit violent behaviour,” it said.
Egypt, where roughly ten percent of the 80-million-strong population are Coptic Christians who frequently complain of discrimination, “is increasingly acquiring the features of a religious state,” it added.
The report also said that US policies were “wholly inimical to reform and human rights in the region,” and accused President Barak Obama’s administration of abandoning support for reform initiatives in the Arab world.
“The last spark of life in the initiatives was quashed once and for all with the arrival of a new US administration,” it said.
Bahey eldin Hassan, the rights group’s director, said the 12 countries surveyed were indicative of the region.
“We think that through analysing these countries we can get a general picture of the region,” he said.
Hassan said the report did not include recommendations because the governments would ignore them. “These are not governments that are going through a reform process and are waiting for advice.”
The rights group’s representative in Geneva, Jeremie Smith, warned at a press conference that Arab countries had exported attempts to undermine accountability to the United Nations Human Rights Commission.
“Arab governments have largely taken strategies that they have perfected at a national level to avoid accountability, and they have exported them to the United Nations system,” he said.