Attacks on human rights defenders, including political activists continue and in many Arab countries are worsening. Inequalities and discrimination are among the main obstacles that prevent people from exercising their right to participate in public space. For marginalized ethnic and religious groups in MENA, space that was already limited is shrinking further. While new technologies and interconnectedness have helped civil society networks to grow, including across borders, they have also created new excuses to control civil society movements and speech, often under security pretexts.
The post 2011 uprisings’ period has witnessed a setback in the rights to freedoms of expression, association and assembly. A number of journalists, bloggers and human rights defenders have been subjected to interrogations, arrests, severe sentences on charges related to their work, enforced disappearances or were subjected to extrajudicial killing. Many civil society defenders have not been immune from threats. Some prosecuted and convicted based on suppressive anti-terrorism laws and procedures. Civil society actors, including those who cooperate with the United Nations continue to face a push back across the region. State of emergency is still imposed in some countries in the region affecting the interpretation of limitations to freedoms under emergency status.
Despite the fact that the constitutions of the respective countries in the region guarantee the right to access information, governments exert de facto control over media and internet. This implies that media outlets are subject to stately approval often guided by political rather than legal considerations. In addition, the rights to freedoms of association and peaceful assembly are under severe restrictions in many countries in which any peaceful public gathering or establishing an organization or receiving support or financing from abroad are subjected to rules and regulations as well as counter terrorism codes.
Informed by the assessment of the human rights situation in the MENA region and the apparent decrease in democratic space, the Regional Office will continue to focus on enhancing and maximizing efforts to strengthen the protection systems for human rights defenders, journalists, civil society organizations and other actors. Over the period 2019-2022, the Regional Office will work to protect civic space and those who stand up for human rights; strengthen monitoring of civic space and build public recognition of the role of civic space. The Regional Office will focus on systematic and regular monitoring of the civic environment, facilitate the collection and exchange of relevant data, through online platforms, and the implementation of SDG indicator 16 (number of verified cases of killing, kidnapping, enforced disappearance, arbitrary detention and torture of journalists, associated media personnel, trade unionists and human rights advocates).
Under its mandate of legal reforms, the Regional Office will focus on stronger laws, policies and practices protecting civic space and support the adoption and implementation of laws and policies that protect civic space and the right to participate. While embarking on regular and public reporting on trends and cases related to restrictions of freedoms in the region, the Regional Office will continue its good offices in addressing restrictions of civic space with relevant authorities through the existing mechanisms.