The External Relations of the Arab Human Rights Movement

By Awad, Ibrahim | Arab Studies Quarterly (ASQ), Winter 1997 | Go to article overview

The External Relations of the Arab Human Rights Movement


Awad, Ibrahim, Arab Studies Quarterly (ASQ)


In the 1970s the first arab non-governmental organizations (ANGOHRs), active in the field of the defense and promotion of human rights, were created. In 1983, the establishment of the Arab Organization for Human Rights (AOHR) was a watershed and became a driving force that encouraged a number of citizens, from different Arab countries, to engage in committed action in the field of human rights. Thus, human rights organizations were established in a number of countries and, since the late 1980s, an Arab human rights movement was certainly in existence. Parallel to this process, cut off from the rest of the Arab World, human rights activism developed in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories. Eventually, Palestinian human rights groups joined other ANGOHRs and became integrated into the Arab human rights movement.

The fact that there was an Arab human rights movement did not mean that it had the means to subsist. In fact, the movement could be said to have been a weak, physically handicapped infant at birth. This weakness, especially during the initial part of the Arab Human Rights movement, had two major sources: 1) overall lack of solid relationship with the state, 2) conservative and protectionist position of leaders toward international connections.

The first source of weakness varied for each ANGOHR in gaining legal legitimacy and public support. Some ANGOHRs which failed to obtain legal recognition as civil society associations from public authorities, were relegated to the status of de facto organizations, thus their existence was left tenuous. Another category of ANGOHRs were able to acquire legal status as NGOs but were still subject to the whim of local authorities and were undermined by hostile attitudes of some officials toward them.

The lack of popular and financial support, as well as lack of trained human resources, further constrained the ability of emerging ANGOHRs to carry out their functions, and realize the objectives which they set for themselves. Since public authorities denied them due recognition, the general society was unable to provide them with necessary financial resources. Moreover, most of the citizens interested in the defense and promotion of human rights did not have the financial means that would allow them to support ANGOHRs. Additionally, the hostile attitude adopted by public authorities with respect to these organizations deterred interested and financially capable citizens from providing badly needed support. Besides, past or present authoritarian regimes had done away with whatever practices of participation in public life that had previously existed. As a result, training for effective, professional undertaking of Human Rights functions was lacking for these emerging ANGOHRs.

In the process of establishing their organizations, the founding members of ANGOHRs were aware that the international institutional system of human rights was accessible to them. Therefore, it was only legitimate for them to join the network of institutions which, by different means, supervise, monitor and promote the norms and values of Human Rights. This article considers that in the 1970s and 1980s, state relations and internal difficulties directly lead to the ANGOHRs' integration into the international system of human rights. The less internal strength and support these emerging NGOs had, the greater was their degree of integration with the international Human Rights structure.

Finally, differential integration into the international system by various emerging ANGOHRs was influenced by the ideological backgrounds and cohort experiences of the leaders of the movement. Arab Nationalists and Islamists, who had been active in Arab governmental politics in the 1960s, were often reluctant to engage in a comprehensive manner with international Human Rights bodies. In contrast, younger founders and activists who had leftist backgrounds, especially with liberal values, were more disposed to greater integration in the international system. …

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