MIDDLE EAST AND NORTH AFRICA 2022
Governments failed to adequately respond to the devastating impact of worsening economic conditions, exacerbated by global events such as the war in Ukraine and local factors such as conflict and climate-related disasters, on the human rights of millions of people to food, water, housing and healthcare.
Armed conflicts continued to devastate the lives of millions of people across the Middle East and North Africa. Civilians faced indiscriminate attacks, destruction of vital infrastructure, forced displacement and abusive rule by unaccountable militias, armed groups or security forces. Lebanon and Jordan continued to host millions of Syrian refugees, but both countries adopted coercive policies to pressure refugees to return. Authorities failed to secure safe return of millions of internally displaced people to their places of origin.
Governments continued to use draconian measures to repress the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly. Authorities censored or silenced online and offline media. They subjected human rights defenders, journalists, protesters, women’s rights campaigners, political activists and other critics or dissidents to arbitrary detention, unfounded criminal prosecutions, unfair trials, imprisonment, travel bans, threats and other forms of harassment. Security forces used unlawful, sometimes lethal, force and mass arrests to crush protests.
Other human rights violations included discrimination against ethnic and religious minorities, enforced disappearances, torture and other ill-treatment, and the use of the death penalty and other cruel, inhuman or degrading punishments.
Three events in particular highlighted human rights issues in the region. In September, the death in custody of Mahsa (Zhina) Amini following her arrest by Iran’s so-called “morality police” for violating the country’s abusive veiling laws sparked unprecedented protests calling for an end to the Islamic Republic and the establishment of a system respecting human rights and equality. In November, Egypt hosted COP27, which exposed its abysmal human rights record and the plight of the tens of thousands of people languishing in Egyptian jails for political reasons. It also highlighted the failure of governments worldwide to take the necessary action to avert the climate crisis and tackle environmental degradation. Later in November, Qatar staged the football World Cup, drawing attention to the plight of Qatar’s migrant workforce, some working in conditions that amounted to forced labour. Many migrant workers across the region experienced similar conditions. The World Cup also highlighted discrimination against LGBTI people in Qatar.
Violations of international humanitarian law
Prolonged armed conflicts, military occupation and insecurity continued to devastate the lives of millions of civilians in Iraq, Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Libya, Syria, and Yemen. Parties to the conflicts, both state and non-state actors, committed war crimes and other serious violations of international humanitarian law, including indiscriminate and targeted attacks, leading to civilian casualties and destruction of infrastructure.
The armed conflict in Syria continued into its 11th year, although levels of violence decreased. Syrian and Russian government forces conducted unlawful ground and aerial attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure, including water stations and camps for internally displaced people, killing and injuring scores of civilians.
The devastating conflict in Yemen continued despite a ceasefire agreement. All parties to the conflict carried out unlawful attacks that killed civilians, obstructed access to humanitarian aid and destroyed civilian infrastructure.
In Libya, a national ceasefire in place since October 2020 generally held. Militias and armed groups, however, continued to engage in localized clashes over territory and resources, during which they carried out indiscriminate attacks and destroyed civilian infrastructure.
The conflict between Israeli military forces and Palestinian armed groups flared up again. On 5 August, Israel launched a three-day military offensive targeting the Palestinian Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip, which has been under a 15-year-long illegal Israeli blockade and discriminatory rule. Around 1,700 Palestinian homes were damaged or destroyed, and hundreds of civilians were displaced during the offensive. Seventeen Palestinian civilians were killed in Israeli attacks and at least seven were killed apparently by rockets launched by Palestinian armed groups that misfired.
All parties to armed conflicts must abide by international humanitarian law, in particular ending direct attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure and indiscriminate attacks. Foreign governments must stop transfers of weapons where there is an overriding risk that they will be used to commit or facilitate serious violations of human rights or international humanitarian law.
Rights of refugees, migrants and internally displaced people
The rights of refugees, migrants and internally displaced people continued to be undermined by ongoing and historical conflicts. Host nations, such as Lebanon and Jordan, violated the rights of refugees and international donor governments did not adequately fund humanitarian response programmes. Authorities continued to arrest and arbitrarily detain refugees and migrants and subject them to refoulement and mass expulsions.
Lebanon continued to host an estimated 1.5 million Syrians, but the failure of the government to mitigate the impacts of the economic crisis in the country left most refugees living in extreme poverty and unable to access their human rights such as food, housing, education and health. The Lebanese authorities also scaled up so-called voluntary returns for Syrians, despite well-documented persecution in Syria and a coercive environment in Lebanon that undermined the ability of Syrian refugees to provide free and informed consent to return.
Neighbouring Jordan continued to host around 2 million Palestinian refugees and more than 750,000 refugees from other countries in the Middle East and North Africa, most of whom had limited access to essential services due to severe underfunding. Israel welcomed tens of thousands of Ukrainian refugees and allowed thousands of Jewish Ukrainians to settle in the country, but continued to deny millions of Palestinians their right of return. It also denied asylum to tens of thousands of people fleeing from African countries, particularly from Eritrea and Sudan.
In Libya, state officials, militias and armed groups subjected refugees and migrants to widespread violations including unlawful killings, indefinite arbitrary detention, torture, rape and other ill-treatment, and forced labour. EU-backed Libyan coastguards shot at or deliberately damaged boats carrying refugees and migrants crossing the Mediterranean. Thousands of people intercepted at sea and disembarked in Libya were forcibly disappeared; thousands of others were expelled from the country’s southern borders without the opportunity to seek asylum.
At the border between northern Morocco and the Spanish enclave of Melilla, security forces on both sides used excessive force, killing 37 people from sub-Saharan Africa and injuring many more. In Algeria, authorities arrested or summarily deported dozens of refugees and asylum seekers. In Iran, security forces fired at Afghan nationals crossing the Iran/Afghanistan border, and arbitrarily detained and tortured others before expelling them unlawfully. Saudi Arabia forcibly returned tens of thousands of Ethiopian migrants after arbitrarily detaining them in inhumane conditions because they did not have valid residency documents and subjecting them to torture and other ill-treatment. In Iraq, Libya and Syria, internally displaced people were unable to return to their homes due to insecurity, risks of arbitrary arrest and harassment by security forces, and lack of essential services and job opportunities.
Governments must end the arbitrary detention of refugees and migrants on the basis of their migration status, and protect them from refoulement and mass expulsions. They must also take concrete steps to ensure the voluntary, safe and dignified return of internally displaced people to their areas of origin.
Freedom of expression, association and assembly
Authorities across the Middle East and North Africa region continued to arbitrarily arrest, detain, prosecute and harass people for expressing critical views, participating in peaceful protests, and engaging in human rights work or political activism.
Authorities used terrorism legislation or vaguely worded charges related to “national security” to silence dissent and impose long prison sentences. In Algeria, environmental activist Mohad Gasmi was jailed for three years for email exchanges relating to the exploitation of shale gas in the country. In Jordan, three journalists were arrested and charged with “spreading fake news” for their coverage of leaked documents that exposed the financial activities of companies, politicians and the king. In Morocco, human rights defender Saida Alami was sentenced to two years in jail for her social media posts denouncing the repression of journalists and activists, a sentence that was subsequently increased to three years on appeal.
In some states, authorities increased censorship or ramped up threats against free speech. The Huthi de facto authorities in Yemen shut down at least six radio stations in the capital and continued to imprison at least eight journalists, four of them on death row. Syria’s government passed a new cybercrime law imposing long prison sentences for criticizing the authorities or constitution online. A new decree in Tunisia mandated prison terms of up to 10 years for wilful misuse of telecommunications networks to produce, send or spread “fake news” or other false or defamatory content, and allowed authorities to dissolve entities found to have violated it. A new law in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) criminalized “anyone who mocks, insults, or damages the reputation, prestige or standing of the state” or “its founding leaders”.
Authorities cracked down on protests in Iran, Libya and Syria, including through the use of unlawful lethal force and mass arrests. The authorities in Iran responded to the unprecedented uprising against the Islamic Republic with live ammunition, metal pellets and beatings, killing hundreds of people, including dozens of children, and injuring thousands more. The authorities shut down or disrupted internet and mobile phone networks and blocked social media platforms. Thousands were arbitrarily arrested and subjected to unfair trials and prosecutions and two were executed. Palestinian authorities in the West Bank and Gaza Strip at times used excessive force to disperse peaceful gatherings.
Impunity for unlawful killings and other serious human rights violations prevailed domestically across the region, but at the international level some positive steps were taken. For example, in November, the UN Human Rights Council established a fact-finding mission to investigate human rights violations related to the Iran protests that erupted in September. Furthermore, European countries investigated and prosecuted individuals suspected of committing crimes under international law in Syria and Iran through their national courts under the principle of universal jurisdiction.
In several countries, authorities adopted other measures to crush dissent. In Algeria, they used bogus anti-terrorism charges to silence members of opposition political parties and movements. They also suspended at least one political party and threatened to suspend at least two others. Israeli authorities raided and ordered the closure of seven Palestinian civil society organizations and disqualified a Palestinian political party from standing in Israel’s parliamentary elections. In December, human rights lawyer Salah Hammouri was deported to France following nine months in administrative detention without charge or trial and the revocation of his East Jerusalem residency status.
Between April and the end of the year, the Egyptian authorities released 895 people held for political reasons, but 2,562 suspected critics were arrested and interrogated by prosecutors during the same period including hundreds in connection to calls for protests during COP27 in November. Thousands of human rights defenders, journalists, protesters and other actual or perceived critics and dissidents remained in arbitrary detention for exercising their human rights.
Governments must respect the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly, including ensuring that journalists, human rights defenders and activists can enjoy these rights without harassment, violence and prosecution, and releasing those detained for exercising these rights.
Women and girls
In 2022, women and girls continued to face discrimination in law and in practice across the Middle East and North Africa, including in relation to the rights to inheritance, divorce, political representation and employment opportunities. Gender-based violence remained prevalent and was committed with impunity. Authorities in Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Yemen subjected women human rights defenders and activists to prosecution, interrogation and/or other forms of harassment for speaking out against sexual violence and gender-based discrimination.
Women and girls were at the forefront of nationwide protests that erupted in Iran in September, challenging decades of gender-based discrimination and violence and defying discriminatory and abusive compulsory veiling laws.
So-called “honour killings” of women and other femicides continued. In central Iraq and the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, despite an increase in reports of such killings and other forms of gender-based violence including against trans women, the government failed to criminalize domestic violence. In Algeria, 37 femicides were recorded.
Legal protections from discrimination were further weakened in several countries in the region. In March, Saudi Arabia passed its first “personal status law”, codifying many of the problematic practices inherent in the male guardianship system and entrenching gender-based discrimination in most aspects of family life. An amendment to Tunisia’s electoral law removed provisions that improved women’s representation in parliament. The Huthi de facto authorities in Yemen banned women from travelling in governorates under their control without a male guardian or their written permission.
There were signs of progress in some countries, although women continued to face discrimination and violence. Morocco ratified the Optional Protocol to CEDAW, but domestic law still entrenched gender inequality. A constitutional amendment in Jordan declared men and women equal before the law and banned discrimination between them, but no steps were taken to amend the country’s laws. In Kuwait, the government introduced measures to increase women’s representation in public employment and leadership, but domestic law continued to discriminate against women. Omani authorities set up a domestic violence hotline, but failed to establish shelters or pass laws defining domestic violence.
Across the region, LGBTI people faced arrest and prosecution, and at times were subjected to torture such as forced anal examinations, on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Some criminal courts handed down harsh sentences for those convicted of consensual same-sex relations.
In some countries, there were signs of regression. In Lebanon, following demands by religious groups to “reject the spread of homosexuality”, the interior ministry banned peaceful gatherings by LGBTI people, but a court suspended the decision. In UAE, where the law criminalizes consensual same-sex relations, the government ordered schoolteachers not to discuss “gender identity, homosexuality or any other behaviour deemed unacceptable to UAE society”. In Yemen, authorities targeted people with non-conforming sexual orientation or gender identity with arbitrary arrest, rape and other torture.
Ethnic and religious minorities
Across the region, members of national, ethnic and religious communities and minorities continued to face entrenched discrimination in law and practice, including in relation to their rights to worship, enjoy equal access to employment and healthcare, and live free of persecution and other serious human rights abuses.
Israel maintained an extreme form of discrimination – a system of apartheid – through oppression and domination over Palestinians through territorial fragmentation, segregation and control, dispossession of land and property, and denial of economic and social rights. Israel committed a wide range of human rights violations against Palestinians to entrench this system, including forcible transfers, administrative detention, torture, unlawful killings, denial of basic rights and freedoms, and persecution, which constituted the crime against humanity of apartheid. In a move to further entrench the system of apartheid, the authorities in March re-enacted a law that imposes sweeping restrictions on Palestinian family reunification to maintain a Jewish demographic majority, and in July the Supreme Court upheld a law authorizing the interior minister to strip citizens of their citizenship if convicted of acts that amount to “breach of allegiance to the state”.
In Iran, ethnic minorities, including Ahwazi Arabs, Azerbaijani Turks, Baluchis, Kurds and Turkmen, faced systematic discrimination, restricting their access to education, employment, adequate housing and political office. In Kuwait, the Bidun (native but stateless Kuwaitis) faced increased discrimination by law.
Members of religious minorities also faced deep-rooted discrimination in law and practice, including in their right to worship. In Algeria, authorities used a decree that restricts religions other than Sunni Islam to persecute members of the Ahmadi Religion of Peace and Light and to close at least three Protestant churches. Egypt’s authorities continued to prosecute and imprison Christians and other religious minorities, as well as atheists and people espousing religious beliefs not sanctioned by the state, for “defamation of religion” and other bogus charges. In Iran, Baha’is, Christians, Gonabadi Dervishes, Jews, Yaresan and Sunni Muslims faced discrimination in law and practice, particularly in terms of accessing education, jobs, political office and places of worship.
Governments must take urgent action to end gender-based discrimination and violence against women, girls and LGBTI people and bring to justice those responsible for such crimes. They must also decriminalize consensual same-sex relations. Governments must end discrimination on the basis national origin, ethnicity or religion, and implement legal and policy reforms to grant equal rights for all without discrimination and to protect, promote and guarantee freedom of religion and belief.
Economic and social rights
Economic crises in some countries had a devastating impact on the cost of living, food and fuel security, and the right to water, housing, health and an adequate standard of living. People from marginalized groups, including women, LGBTI people, ethnic and religious minorities, refugees and migrants, and low-paid workers, were hit particularly hard.
In Lebanon, the authorities failed to address the country’s acute economic crisis, classified by the World Bank as one of the worst of its kind in modern history, resulting in a drastic deterioration in the guarantee of economic and social rights. Almost half of Lebanese households were food insecure; the state provided less than two hours of electricity per day; medication became unaffordable or unavailable; and social protection programmes remained woefully inadequate. Egypt spiralled into a financial and economic crisis that undermined millions of people’s economic and social rights. Tunisia’s economic crisis also worsened, with unemployment reaching 15% and shortages of staple foods. In Syria, an estimated 55% of the population was food insecure. In Yemen, currency depreciation, high inflation and soaring global food prices meant people’s access to food was highly restricted.
Across the region, governments failed to protect low-paid workers from labour abuses and repressed workers’ right to join independent trade unions and to strike without fear of serious repercussions. In Egypt, Iran and Jordan, workers who staged protests or strikes, or sought to form independent trade unions, were penalized through unfair dismissal, arrests and prosecution. In the Gulf states, low-paid migrant workers, who make up the majority of the workforce, remained vulnerable to extreme exploitation, employment discrimination, highly inadequate housing, a wide range of physical and mental abuses, underpayment or non-payment of wages, limited access to healthcare, and summary dismissal and return to their country. In Qatar, the government continued to reform the country’s kafala (sponsorship) system for migrant workers, but the process failed to end widespread labour abuses including wage theft. The authorities still failed to investigate adequately the unexpected deaths of migrant workers, including those working in extreme heat and for long periods without breaks or rest days. Many migrant workers faced discrimination on the basis of their race, nationality and language, resulting in different rates of pay, worse working conditions, and tougher jobs. Meanwhile, domestic workers, most of them women, continued to face harsh working conditions and serious physical and mental abuse and sexual assault. The government also maintained its ban on migrant workers forming or joining trade unions, a right afforded to Qataris.
Governments must take urgent action to establish social protection measures that effectively protect everyone, including marginalized groups, against the adverse impacts of crises and call for coordinated international efforts to guarantee the rights to health, food and an adequate standard of living. Governments must also protect the right of workers to organize independent trade unions and to protest, and they must extend labour law protections to migrant workers, including domestic workers.
Failure to tackle climate crisis
States across the region failed to take the necessary action to tackle climate change and environmental degradation, including those party to the 2015 Paris Agreement, a legally binding international treaty on climate change. 2022 saw widespread evidence of the devastating impact of the climate crisis on human rights. In Algeria, wildfires destroyed large areas of forest and killed more than 40 people. Iran suffered continuing loss of lakes, rivers, wetlands and forests, high levels of air and water pollution, and land subsidence. In Iraq, intense droughts, heat waves and sandstorms displaced more than 10,000 families.
The region’s major oil and gas-producing nations failed to support the call to phase out all fossil fuels in the final agreement at COP27 or to take the required action at home to combat climate change. Saudi Arabia, one of the world’s largest producers of oil, did not update its NDC to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Kuwait, Bahrain and UAE, the world’s second, third and fourth highest carbon-dioxide-emitting countries per capita, respectively, and Qatar also failed to update their NDCs. The UAE even raised its levels of oil production during the year, contrary to its obligations under the Paris Agreement. Other states failed to update or revise their 2030 emissions targets to keep the rise of global temperatures below 1.5°C, or made their modest pledges contingent upon international financial support. Negotiations at COP27 were overshadowed by Egypt’s human rights crisis including a wave of mass arrests in connection to calls to protest during the conference. The event took place in a repressive environment with participants subjected to interrogations, surveillance and other forms of harassment.
Governments must take urgent action to curb their carbon emissions and stop funding fossil fuel projects. They must also review and respect their NDCs and meet all their obligations under the Paris Agreement.
Torture and other ill-treatment
Torture and other ill-treatment continued in official and unofficial places of detention with virtual impunity in Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Lebanon, Libya, Saudi Arabia, the State of Palestine, Syria and Yemen. Abuses were inflicted to extract confessions and punish detainees. Torture methods included beatings, electric shocks, mock executions, suspension in contorted positions, sexual violence, denial of healthcare and prolonged solitary confinement. In almost all cases, authorities failed to carry out adequate investigations into allegations of torture and suspicious deaths in custody.
Militias and armed groups in Libya systematically tortured and otherwise ill-treated detainees, sometimes to death, using electric shocks, flogging, sexual violence and other methods. In Saudi Arabia, authorities tortured and ill-treated migrant workers and denied them adequate healthcare, resulting in several deaths in custody. In Egypt, torture remained rampant in prisons, police stations and facilities run by the National Security Agency. In Israel, security forces continued to torture and otherwise ill-treat Palestinian detainees, and such abuses remained rife in detention and interrogation centres run by Palestinian authorities in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. In Lebanon, a military investigative judge indicted five members of a security agency on charges of torture in the case of a Syrian refugee who died in custody, but the case was being heard in the inherently unfair military courts.
Iran, Libya and Saudi Arabia maintained laws that provide for corporal punishment, including amputation, flogging, blinding, stoning and crucifixion. In Iran, between May and September, the authorities amputated the fingers of five men convicted of theft.
Prisoners across the region were often held in inhumane conditions, suffering from overcrowding, poor ventilation and hygiene, lack of sufficient food and water, and denial of access to timely and appropriate healthcare, family visits, or fresh air and outdoor exercise. In Bahrain, Ahmed Jaber Ahmed was denied medical care for 11 months, which left him unable to walk or dress himself. Eventually a hospital diagnosed tuberculosis that had spread to his spine. In UAE, human rights defender Ahmed Mansoor was held in solitary confinement throughout 2022 without a mattress, pillow, personal hygiene items, books and his glasses.
Governments must ensure independent, impartial and effective investigations into allegations of torture, extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances and other crimes under international law and serious human rights violations, and put in place measures to prevent these crimes, and ensure reparation for victims.
Most countries in the region retained the death penalty and courts handed down death sentences after unfair trials, including for offences not involving intentional killing, for acts protected under international law such as consensual same-sex relations and apostasy, and for bogus or vague charges brought against dissidents.
Executions were carried out in Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and the State of Palestine under the de facto Hamas authorities for the first time in five years. In Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Libya and Saudi Arabia, death sentences were passed after grossly unfair trials, including by emergency, military and special courts. In Iran, where the death penalty was widely used as a tool of political repression, executions increased in 2022 and public executions resumed. Iran was the only country in the region to execute people convicted of offences that occurred when they were children. In Saudi Arabia, the largest single mass execution in decades took place on 12 March when 81 men were put to death, and Saudi Arabia resumed executions for drug-related offences after an unofficial two-year moratorium. In Egypt and Iraq, fewer executions were carried out in 2022 compared with previous years.
Governments must immediately establish an official moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty.