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This article is written by Sneha Singh student at Dr Ram Manohar Lohia National Law University. The article tells about the Arab Charter on Human Rights with discussion on the background, significance and loopholes of the Charter. 

Introduction

The Arab Charter on Human Rights 2004 came into effect to provide for the rights of the people. Various regional laws were made by all the respective States to protect the rights of their people and this led to the need for the Arab States to have their law for the benefit of the citizens. The Charter seeks to address the grievances of the people and to provide for a society with access to basic human rights for all. The Arab Charter after coming into effect from 2008 still consists of certain issues which are not well discussed and there is a need for implementation of certain measures by the States to solve those problems which are stopping the better access of the rights to the individual.

Background of the Charter

All the regional organisations adopted various laws to protect the human rights of their people like the European Convention on Human Rights 1950, the American Convention on Human Rights 1969 and the African Charter on Human Rights 1981. Only in September 1994 Arab Charter on Human Rights was adopted. Later on, in 2004 the Council adopted a newer version of Charter on Human Rights.

Arab Charter on Human Rights, 1994

The Charter was adopted by the League in 1994 at its 50th year anniversary. The adoption of the Charter on Human Rights by the League was the symbol that Human Rights were recognized and respected in the Arab World.

The Charter of 1994 contained 43 articles, following the Preamble. The Preamble mentions principles of religion which confirm Right to life of dignity based on freedom, justice and peace. It also reaffirms the principles of the Charter of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as the provisions of the International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights, Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam. Significant tension exists between the UDHR and the Cairo Declaration due to their incompatibility.

The problem with the Charter is that there is no human rights enforcement mechanism when compared with the European and American Conventions on Human Rights, or with the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

The Arab Charter is also considered to be primitive due to the extremely limited system of monitoring state compliance with the provisions of the Charter. The only way of monitoring is by presenting petitions to an expert committee and there is no way individual or State petitions can be presented to this Committee for significant violations of an article of this Charter by a State party.

Arab Charter on Human Rights 2004 

After the passage of the Charter, there was a lot of criticism due to its deficiencies by experts, NGO’s, academics and others. To push the Arab Governments to modify the Charter there were numerous meetings and conferences which were organised in Europe and the Arab World. 

A resolution was passed on January 10, 2003, in which the Arab Commission on Human Rights invited the Arab States to present the observation and proposals to improve the Charter and a promise was made that the Commission would examine the Charter again in January 2004.

On a parallel track, the High Commissioner of Human Rights invited many Arab leaders to a meeting in Cairo in December 2003. They were asked to present some observations and proposals to improve the Charter.

And finally, a new version of the Charter was presented on May 23, 2004, to the Arab Summit in Tunisia and the newer version was adopted. The newer version of the Charter contained 53 articles after the Preamble. The Preamble resembles the Preamble of the previous Charter.

Article 2 of the Charter has similarity with the second Article of International Covenants of 1966 which discusses the rights of the people to self- determination, to control their natural wealth and resources, to freely determine the form of their political structure and to freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development. 

The newer version of the Charter came into effect from 2008 when seven of the member states of the Arab World ratified it. Algeria, Bahrain, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, the UAE and Yemen have ratified the Charter as of November 2013.

The Preamble of the Arab Charter on Human Rights

The Arab Nations believe in human dignity since God honoured it by making the Arab World the cradle of religion and the birthplace of civilizations which confirmed its right to a life of dignity based on freedom, justice and peace.

It is pursuant to the eternal principles of brotherhood and equality which are firmly established by the Islamic Shari’s and the other divinely- revealed religions among all human beings.

Being proud of the humanitarian values and principles which it has established in the course of long history has played a major role in disseminating centres of learning between the East and the West so as to make it an international focal point for seekers of knowledge, culture and wisdom.

The entire Arab World has worked to preserve its faith by having a belief in its unity, working hard to protect its freedom and also defending the rights of the nations to self-determination and to safeguard their resources, the belief in the rule of law and every individual’s freedom, justice and equality of opportunity is the way by which the merits of any society are determined. It rejects all kinds of racism and Zionism which leads to a violation of Human Rights and poses a threat to world peace. 

The Arab World reaffirms the principles of Charter of United Nations, Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the provisions of United Nation International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights and Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Cairo Declaration of Human Rights in Islam.

Key features of the Charter

The key features of the Charter comprise of-

  • The first category of right comprises individual rights which includes the right to life dealt in Articles 5, 6 and 7; the Right to not be subject to inhuman or degrading treatment, torture mentioned in Articles 8, 9, 18 and 20; the right not be anyone’s slave given in Article 10 and finally the right to security of the person given in Article 14 and 18.
  • The second category of right comprises rules of justice which includes the right of a person to be treated as equals before the law given in Article 12 and the right to due process and fair trial mentioned under Articles 13, 15, 16, 17 and 19.
  • The third category comprises civil and political rights which includes the right to freedom of movement given in Articles 24, 26 and 27, the right to have respect for private and family matters mentioned in Article 21, the right of minorities protected by Article 25, the right of political asylum given in Article 28, the right to acquire nationality mentioned in Article 29, the liberty of thought, belief and religion under Article 30, the right of private property given under Article 31, the right of information and liberty of opinion, expression and research given in Article 32 and the right to full consent to marriage given in Article 33.
  • The fourth category comprises economic, social and cultural rights which include the right to work given in Article 34, the right to form trade unions mentioned in Article 35, the right to social protection given under Article 36, the right to development protected under Article 37, the right to education mentioned in Article 41 and the right to participate in cultural life given in Article 42
  • In the newer version of the Charter i.e. the Charter on Human Rights 2004, there is confirmation of equality between men and women in the Arab World mentioned in Articles 3 and 1.
  • The newer version of the Charter provides for the protection of the rights of a child under Article 34 and 3.
  • The newer version also provides for the rights of the handicapped persons under Article 40
  • An additional treaty was elaborated by the Arab League in 2014 ‘the Statue of the Arab Court of Human Rights’ which allows for inter-state litigation concerning violations of the Charter. This statute will come into force after it is ratified by seven states. Saudi Arabia became the first country to ratify it in 2016. 

Significance

The Arab Charter on Human Rights has played a major role in helping people realise their rights to self-determination, human dignity and to fight against any degrading treatment etc. To place the individual’s human rights at the centre of national occupation in the Arab State and to improve one’s situation in accordance with the noblest human values. The newer version has also played a major role by addressing the rights of the children and handicapped persons. In this way, the Charter tries to address the grievances of each section of the society and tries to make the Arab World a better place for people to live in with a guarantee of securing the people the basic human rights.

Loopholes in the Charter

The Arab Charter on Human Rights 1994 was passed but it never came into effect as there were certain issues in the Charter. There were questions raised by various NGOs, States to make certain changes and to bring the changes into effect. The newer version of Arab Charter on Human Rights 2004 tried to tackle the issues but certain of them still remain. The various loopholes in the Charter are:

  • The enforcement mechanism still remains a problem. The only system of monitoring state compliance is the expert Committee. This committee consists of 7 members who receive periodic reports from state parties but there is no such mechanism through which the petitions from the State party or by an individual be laid before the committee if there are any violations of the Charter. There is no other mechanism too suggested by the Charter. 
  • The then UN Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour on 24 January 2008 said the Arab Charter to be incompatible with the Universal Human Rights understanding regarding certain provisions like with respect to women’s rights and capital punishment for children.
  • There was a criticism of the Charter for not setting the human rights standard in the region below the internationally recognized regime.

Suggestions for the better implementation of Charter

By bringing about certain changes, the Charter can be implemented in a better way to fulfil the aspiration of the people of the Arab World-

  • For the better implementation of the Charter it becomes necessary that the concerned groups and individuals mount a significant campaign to persuade the Arab States that the Charter reflects the demands and aspirations of the people of the Arab World and also a desire for meaningful, enforceable human rights in the region. 
  • As the issue discussed above shows that there is no mechanism except for an expert committee for monitoring state compliance. There was hope for an Arab Court on Human Rights so that the monitoring can be done in a better manner.
  • There is a need to reform the Arab Charter on Human Rights to bring it in conformity with the universal human right standard and also to acknowledge that by reforming the league and its relevant mechanism the full protection and promotion of human rights in the region can be ensured which has become a pressing requirement which can neither be overlooked nor be condoned.

Conclusion

The Arab Charter on Human Rights is a way for the people of the Arab World to get their grievances known to the States and to demand a remedy if the rights of which are being deprived of, are legitimate. The various Articles represent the various rights the people possess which vary from the right to self-determination to various socio-economic rights. Although there are still certain loopholes in the Charter still it is a new beginning for the Arab people in the path of realising their rights and getting representation and protection from the State as the people of the other countries do have in their respective countries.

References


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