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Just Leave Us Alone: The Arab League and Human Rights

Van Hullen, Vera (2015) Just Leave Us Alone: The Arab League and Human Rights. [Conference Proceedings] (Submitted)

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    Compared to a global trend towards governance transfer by regional organizations, the League of Arab States is clearly a latecomer in prescribing and promoting governance standards in its member states – and its efforts are more limited and weaker than in many other regional organizations (Börzel and Stapel in this volume). While the Arab League started to deal with selected human rights issues in the late 1960s, an Arab Charter on Humans Rights as the cornerstone of a regional human rights regime only entered into force in 2008 – much later than its American, European, and African counterparts. Continental organizations like the Organization of American States (OAS), the Council of Europe (CoE), and the Organization for African Unity (OAU), the predecessor of the African Union (AU), had developed regional human rights regimes early on. Moreover, many regional organizations worldwide turned to more actively prescribing and promoting standards related to human rights, democracy, the rule of law, and good governance in the 1990s. By contrast, only in the 21st century has the Arab League begun to step up its efforts at governance transfer. It focuses on human rights as compared to democracy, the rule of law, or good governance, but even the catalogue of human rights adopted in 2004 falls short of international standards and the Arab Human Rights Committee has only a limited mandate for its promotion and protection. 135 This empirical observation is not too surprising when one considers the ‘persistence of authoritarianism’ and the notoriously bad human rights performance of regimes in the region, backing the argument that a demand for governance transfer is often driven by an interest in ‘locking in’ democratic reforms in democratizing and newly democratic member states at the regional level (Börzel and van Hüllen in the Introduction to this volume). Accordingly, the evolution of governance transfer by regional organizations in Africa and more recently also in Asia is tightly linked to the democratization of individual member states (Börzel and van Hüllen in the Conclusion of this volume). In the Middle East and North Africa, however, member states of the Arab League have not yet experienced successful democratic transitions – Tunisia having been the last hopeful candidate in the wake of the ‘Arab Spring’ of 2011. From the first creation of a Permanent Arab Commission for Human Rights (PACHR) in 1968 to the adoption of the Arab Charter on Human Rights in 2004 and its subsequent ratification, there has not been a significant change in the ‘democratic quality’ of its member states that could account for the Arab League’s increasing efforts at governance transfer. So why do authoritarian regimes engage in governance transfer at the regional level at all – and how can we account for changes in the intensity of their efforts over time? The existence of a ‘global script’ for human rights as universally recognized governance standards can actually create a rational – rather than normative – demand among authoritarian regimes for governance transfer by their regional organization. Conforming to international (and domestic) expectations by creating regional provisions for governance transfer helps to fend off external attempts at interference in domestic and regional affairs and, at the same time, to remain in control of their design and application. This instrumental demand for ‘pseudo’-governance transfer results in particularly weak institutions designed to deflect external pressure instead of effectively promoting and protecting governance standards in member states. 136 The second section will start by sketching the evolution of the Arab League’s efforts at governance transfer, covering its early engagement in human rights issues in the 1960s, the intensification of cooperation in selected human rights fields throughout the 1970s up until the 1990s, and the subsequent ‘leap’ in governance transfer in 2004. The third section then accounts for this evolution by tracing changes in the international and domestic environment since the 1960s. Various bodies of the United Nations (UN) and transnational human rights organizations actively promoted the evolving ‘script’ for human rights and their protection by regional organizations, pushing the Arab League to selectively engage in human rights issues. The subsequent intensification of regional cooperation on women and children’s rights was facilitated by international human rights norms gaining prescriptive status in more and more member states and processes of political liberalization. However, changing security perceptions in the international community in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on 11 September 2001 were crucial for bringing about the 2004 ‘surge’ in the Arab League’s governance transfer. By drawing a connection between ‘bad’ governance, on the one hand, and a lack of socio-economic development and the risk of religious and ideological radicalization and terrorism, on the other hand, international actors like the United States (US), the European Union (EU) and its member states significantly increased their pressure on Arab regimes which in turn felt compelled to signal a more credible and comprehensive commitment to governance standards related to human rights, democracy, the rule of law, and good governance. The chapter concludes by discussing the ambivalent nature of ‘pseudo’-governance transfer by regional organizations and its potential impact on the stabilization or transformation of authoritarian regimes. While the Arab Spring brought a new dynamic of domestic change and regional cooperation to the Middle East and North Africa, recent initiatives such as the creation of an Arab Court of Human Rights suggest that the logic of governance transfer as a symbolic measure has not yet changed.

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    Item Type: Conference Proceedings
    Subjects for non-EU documents: EU policies and themes > External relations > EU-Middle East
    Subjects for EU documents: UNSPECIFIED
    EU Series and Periodicals: UNSPECIFIED
    EU Annual Reports: UNSPECIFIED
    Conference: European Union Studies Association (EUSA) > Biennial Conference > 2015 (14th), March 4-7, 2015
    Depositing User: Phil Wilkin
    Official EU Document: No
    Language: English
    Date Deposited: 23 May 2018 12:07
    Number of Pages: 19
    Last Modified: 23 May 2018 12:07

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