The Arab Charter on Human Rights: A new start for the protection of human rights in the Arab world

The Arab Charter on Human Rights: A new start for the protection of human rights in the Arab world


Professor, University of Macedonia

Άρθρο που δημοσιεύτηκε στο Revue Hellenique de Droit International, τεύχος 1,2009, σελ. 117-136

  1. Historical perspectives

Long before the creation of the UN the Arab states expressed their willingness to unite their efforts in dealing with common problems. The common language, religion, history and civilization were the main reasons for bringing together all the Arab states and thus making them into one separate geographical unit, despite the fact that some of them are on different continents (Asia-Africa).Following Egypt’s initiative, in 1944[1], the Arab states founded the first regional organization, the League of Arab States (hereinafter ‘LAS’), whose Constitutive Charter came into force on 10 May 1945[2]. The main purpose of the LAS was the cooperation between member states on different sectors, the maintenance of independence and sovereignty, the peaceful settlement of disputes, and the common obligation to tackle an external threat.

The provisions of the Constitutive Charter neither contain any reference to human rights or the right to self-determination, nor employ the term “people” or “peoples”. Instead, it is directed to governments and states. [3]

It was only at the end of 1960s, following the World UN Conference in Tehran in 1968, that was organized in honour of the 20th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, that the LAS first engaged with the protection of human rights. During the Tehran Conference, the UN called upon all member states and the regional organizations to promote the protection of human rights by founding Commissions and ratifying international instruments.

In response to the UN calling, the LAS established the Arab Standing Committee on Human Rights (hereinafter “ASCHR”)[4] entrusted with the mandate of supporting the common action of Arab states for the protection of human rights and the galvanization of the Arab world towards this direction. Despite its mandate of receiving reports from the member states regarding the protection of human rights, the ASCHR never received one single report. Eventually the ASCHR saw its gradual deactivation due to the fact that its members were not experts but official government representatives.[5] Moreover, the ASCHR dealt extensively with the Palestinian issue and the protection of the Palestinian people regarding the violations of human rights that were perpetrated by Israel.[6] However, the ASCHR managed to adopt an array of important regional instruments on the section of human rights, such as the “Plan of Declaration for an Arab Charter of Human rights”, of 1971, the “Declaration for the Rights of the Arab citizens” and the “Plan of Charter for the Rights of Persons and People in the Arab world”, of 1986, and the establishment of the regional “Committee for the Status of the Arab women”.[7]

It is worth mentioning that after the creation of the ASCHR, in 1969, the Arab states adopted the two UN Covenants while at the same time, NGOs in the region started working on the protection of human rights. One of them, the Arab Lawyer’s Union, which is the oldest in the Arab world requested from the LAS[8] to adopt an Arab Convention on Human Rights. Indeed in 1970, the Council of the LAS established a Committee of Experts entrusted with the mandate to work on a Charter of Human Rights of the Arab States.[9] It has been a long way till the adoption of the Charter, but following distinctions, suggestions and hesitations, on 15 September 1994, the Arab Charter of Human Rights was adopted by the Council of the organization.[10]

Despite the fact that the aforementioned Charter integrated an array of important provisions on the protection of human rights that are also mentioned in other international instruments, it was ratified by only one state[11] and for this reason it never entered into force. In the recent years, the LAS has attempted to overcome any international challenges and criticisms expressed both by the member states[12] and other international organisations. The LAS signed an Agreement[13] in 2002 with the High Commissioner of Human Rights, the result of which has been the galvanization of the ASCHR for the revision of the Arab Charter. This revision or otherwise “modernization”[14] of the Charter was completed by January 2004 and was submitted by the ASCHR to the Council of the LAS. It was adopted in its 21st plenary and the heads of states approved of the revised Charter in Tunis on 22-3 May 2004. The revised Arab Charter entered into force on 15 March 2008[15] in accordance to Article 49 (2).

  1. Contents

The Arab Charter on Human Rights (hereinafter “the Charter”) encompasses a Preamble and 53 Articles without chapters, sections or any other segmentation.[16] The Preamble mentions the role of the Arab nation as “the cradle of religions and the birthplace of civilizations” and connects the humanitarian values with the right to a life of dignity, based on freedom, justice and equality”. It puts emphasis on the belief in the unity of the Arab nation, the rule of law and its contribution to the protection of human rights, the enjoyment of freedom, justice and equality of opportunities. It further rejects all forms of racism and Zionism which lead to the violation of human rights and present a threat to peace and security. It recalls the principles of the UN Charter, the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the two International Covenants. Finally, it takes into consideration the Cairo Declaration in relation to human rights in Islam[17]. It is noteworthy that the Charter does not contain any explicit reference to the Arab Charter on Human Rights of 1994.

Two points should be drawn into attention regarding the Preamble. First, there is the reference to Zionism; this should have been set aside due to the political dimension of the statement as it refers to the policies of particular state and it is considered to be unnecessary for the purposes of an international instrument on the protection of human rights.[18] Second, the reference to the Cairo Declaration which can lead to the eventual conflict between the Arab Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenants which are also mentioned in the Preamble. The reason is that there is a certain distance between “the spirit and the letter of the Cairo Declaration” and the provision of the international instruments for the protection of human rights.[19] The Charter contains a long list of rights: civil, political, economic, social and cultural.

The category of the civil rights contains: the prohibition of discrimination (article 3);  the right to life (articles 5); issues in relation to the death penalty (articles 6 and 7); prohibition of torture, inhuman or degrading treatment (articles 8); the prohibition to be subjected to experiments (article 9); the prohibition of slavery and trafficking (article 10); equality before the law (article 11); right to liberty and security (article 14); prohibition of imprisonment for breach arising out of contractual obligation (article 18); respect to the inherent decency of person (article 20), the right to recognition as a person before the law (article 22). Rights that concern rules of justice are:

the right of all persons to be equal before the law (article 12); the rights to due process and fair trial (articles 13, 15), presumption of innocence (article 16), securing a special legal regime for minors (article 17), prohibition of being to subjected to trial twice for the same offence (article 19).

The political rights category concern the following: the right to freedom of movement (articles 24, 26 and 27); the right of respect for private and family life (article 21); rights of minorities (article 25); the right to seek political asylum (article 28); the right to acquire a nationality (article 29); right to compensation (article 23); liberty of thought, belief and religion (article 30); the right of information and freedom of opinion, expression and research (article 32); the right to full consent to marriage (article 33).

The economic, social and cultural rights include the following: the right of private property (article 31); the right to work (article 34); the right to form trade unions (article 35); the right to social security (article 36); the right of development (article 37); the right to an adequate standard of living (article 38); the right to health (article 39); the right of education (article 41); the right to participate in cultural life (article 42).

The Charter adopts rights that are envisaged in other international instruments for the protection of human rights[20]; however, the Charter tends to differentiate from other international instruments regarding certain provisions on human rights by recalling the Shari’ah or national legislation. We shall draw our attention to these provisions.[21]


2.1. The objectives of the Charter

Article 1 of the Charter expresses the willingness for the attainment of a number of objectives which focus on: a) placing human rights “at the centre of national preoccupation in the Arab States”, to create fundamental ideals for guiding the individual’s will in these Arab States, and to help him improve his personal life in accordance with the noblest human values; b) teaching the citizens in the Arab world faith in their country, history and the common interests, and in this way encourage the principles of brotherhood, tolerance and sincerity towards the others; c) preparing the future generations on the rights and obligations that they share based on the principles of equality, tolerance and modesty; d) establishing the basic principle that all human rights are universal, indivisible, interdependent and interrelated. The latter reflects the contemporary perception that human rights are beyond categorisation.


2.2. Rights guaranteed by the Charter

2.2.1. The right to self-determination

The Charter makes specific reference to the right of self-determination (article 2). It puts emphasis on the right of peoples to control their natural wealth and resources, and to select on a deliberate basis their political structure, by pursuing economic, social and cultural development. Para. 2 of the article provides for the right to live under national sovereignty and territorial integrity. In para.3 it is mentioned that all forms of racism, zionism, occupation and foreign domination pose a challenge to human dignity and constitute a fundamental obstacle to the realization of the basic rights of peoples. The UN Charter through a number of decisions of the UN organs[22] and the two Covenants[23] guarantee this right. According to the Commission on Human Rights the right to self-determination is applicable in every case and that the people of a specific territory may determine its political and economical future.[24]

2.2.2. The right to life: although the right to life[25] is guaranteed in the Charter, a right from which a state cannot derogate according to Article 4, it is contradicted by the provision for the death penalty[26] which shall be inflicted only for the most serious crimes[27] in accordance with the law in force at the time of the commission of the crime. However, the Charter grants anyone sentenced to death the right to seek pardon or commutation of the sentence. Further more it is provided that the death penalty shall not be inflicted on a person under 18 years of age[28], unless it is otherwise provided by the law in force at the time of the commission of the crime.[29] It is noteworthy that this exception contradicts article 37 (a) of the Convention of the Rights of the Child[30] and article 6 (5) of the Covenant on Civil and Political rights which stipulate the strict prohibition of the death penalty of children under 18 years of age.

Almost all of the Arab states have ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child[31] and the Covenant of the Civil and Political Rights without any reservations. The only states that have expressed reservations are Yemen and Saudi Arabia as both states permit the death penalty on children under 18 years of age. The death penalty shall be neither carried out on a pregnant woman prior to her delivery nor on a nursing mother within two years from the date on which she gave birth –by taking into consideration the interests of the infant.[32] Articles 6 and 7 are not included in the non-derogable rights of article 4 of the Charter.

2.2.3. Prohibition of torture, experiments and prohibition on any form of slavery or servitude

The prohibition of torture, physical or mental, while being a non-derogable right, it is not stipulated in the text as it is in other international instruments on the protection of human rights. The absence of the term “punishment” suggests that physical punishment is not prohibited at all.

It is considered to be a positive development that article 9 prohibits any medical or scientific experimentation, or use of organs on any person without this person’s free and informed consent about the consequences resulting from it. The trafficking in human organs is prohibited under all circumstances. All forms of slavery and slave trade in all their forms are prohibited and punishable by law and noone shall be held in slavery and servitude under any circumstances. [33] The same article prohibits forced labour and trafficking for prostitution or sexual exploitation.

2.2.4. Equality before the law, fair trial, security:

In a number of provisions, the Charter guarantees rights that are related to civil and criminal cases. It protects equality before the law and the right to enjoy its protection without discrimination.[34] It also guarantees the independence of courts and judges, the right to a fair trial conducted by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal established by law[35], the guarantee of financial aid to those without the necessary means to pay for legal assistance to enable them to defend their rights, while it emphasises that the hearing must be public save for the exceptional cases where the interests of justice so require in a democratic society which respects freedom and human rights.[36] Article 15 further recognises the principle of nullum crimen sine lege according to which there shall be no crime or punishment except as provided by a previously promulgated law. Article 16 guarantees also the presumption of innocence.

The Charter secures a special legal regime for the protection of minors[37], prohibits the imprisonment for the inability of the person to pay a debt or fulfil any civil obligation[38] and that no one shall be tried twice for the same offence.[39] The Charter avoids making any reference to certain guarantees in relation to places of detention, the conditions of detention especially for women and foreigners as they are envisaged in the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.[40] Finally, it protects all people from arbitrary arrest[41], search or detention, and sets out the preconditions according to which the arrest shall be deemed lawful, to be informed of the accusations against him and to be entitled to proceedings before a court.

 2.2.5. Prohibition of discrimination, women and children’s rights:

The Charter encompasses a long article on the prohibition of discrimination on the grounds of race, colour, sex, language, religious belief, opinion, thought, national or social origin, wealth, birth or physical or mental disability, while it requests all member states to adopt the appropriate measures which will guarantee effective equality in the enjoyment of all rights and freedoms guaranteed.[42] It makes a special reference to the equality between men and women within the framework of the positive discrimination established in favour of women by Islamic Shari’a. Given the special women’s role that we observe in Islamic law especially within the institution of marriage, it beggars belief how this will not contradict the reference to the equality between men and women.[43] The Charter further provides for the protection of family, privacy, home or correspondence[44], gives the right to women to take part in the conduct of public affairs[45] and to found family with the consent of both parties[46]. Regarding any issues that pertain to the institution of marriage and divorce, the law in force that shall regulate the rights and responsibilities of spouses is the one according to Islamic law. It is interesting that article 33 para.2 prohibits all forms of violence or abuse within the family, especially against women. Finally, by considering the best interest of the child, in all circumstances, as the basis for all measures taken, the state parties shall adopt legislative, administrative and judicial measures for the child’s protection[47]. Among these measures are the right to engage in sport activities[48], the protection from economic exploitation, and the forced labour, the definition of a minimum age for employment[49] and the prohibition of the children’s participation in armed conflicts[50].

Also, the provision of article 29 (2) is considered to be positive as it stipulates that states shall adopt all appropriate measures to allow a child to acquire the nationality of his mother with regard to the interest of the child[51]. Article 33 (2) encompasses a progressive provision on the protection of the child from domestic violence.[52]

2.2.6. The right to health and protection of persons with disabilities:

The right to health[53] is recognised as the right of every person to enjoy the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health and the right of every citizen to enjoy free and non-discriminatory access to health services and health care centres. An array of measures, that the state parties are obliged to undertake, shall lead towards the development of the health services, the prevention of diseases, the increase of health education of every person, the fight against traditional practices which are harmful to an individual’s health, the provision of basic nutrition and clean water for everybody, the provision of appropriate health systems and the fights against drugs, psychotropic substances, tobacco and other harmful substances to health. The people who work shall enjoy the right to the enjoyment of just and favourable conditions of work which provide for healthy conditions.[54] All the workers shall enjoy the right to a satisfactory level of living[55] and a health environment[56].

Special protection will be provided to the persons with disabilities in order to promote self-reliance and facilitate their active participation in society. For this reason, they will provide free of charge all the social services to all the persons with disabilities and their families so that they will be kept out of special institutions.  This provision of the Charter is identical to the relevant provision of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities that came into force at the same time with the Charter.[57]

Paragraph 3 of Article 40 is of significant importance as it provides for the measures to be taken in order to fight disability by all possible means, including preventive health programmes, awareness-raising efforts and education. Persons with disabilities shall have access to the educational system on a basis suitable to them so that they can be successfully integrated into society. Special hygiene services shall be at their disposal and they shall also have access to private and public services[58].

2.2.7. The right to education and cultural life

The state parties are obliged to eradicate illiteracy by providing education to everybody, at least on primary and fundamental level.[59] This right is granted to the citizens and not the residents of member states; this way the Charter introduces discrimination between those who are and those who are not nationals of the member states and it contradicts the provision of article 3 of the Charter which clearly prohibits the discriminationn against all individuals within the member states’ territory and subject to their jurisdiction.[60] Primary education is obligatory and without discrimination. It does not set minimum age for basic education as the Convention for the Rights of the Child does[61]. Instead, the state parties shall work to promote the principles of human rights and fundamental liberties through educational programs and activities[62], and shall guarantee the establishment of the necessary mechanisms in order to secure the long-term education to every citizen.[63] Great emphasis is given on the right to participate in the cultural life and the enjoyment of the benefits of scientific progress.[64] The state parties shall respect the freedom of scientific research, creativity, and shall ensure the protection of science and art.[65] Domestic law shall regulate the right of minorities to enjoy their own culture, their language and practice religion. [66]


2.2.8. The right to work and social insurance

In a long article[67], the Charter recognizes the right to work as a natural right of every citizen, the equality of opportunities without discrimination, the enjoyment of just and favourable conditions of work which provide for: a fair wage and the protection of women, children and persons with disabilities in the workplace[68]. It is clearly stipulated that no distinction between men and women[69] shall be made in the exercise of the right to benefit effectively from training, employment, protection of work, and equal pay for work of equal value and quality. Furthermore, immigrants have also the right to work on the territory of the state parties according to the legislation of these states. [70]  Member states shall ensure the right of every citizen to social protection.[71] The Charter recognized also the right to form trade unions, or to join trade unions as well as to strike provided that it is exercised in conformity with the state’s laws. [72] It is noteworthy though that the right is granted to the citizens of the state in question and not to foreigners who are nonetheless subject to the same laws of these states.[73]

2.2.9 Participation in public life. This is an important provision which envisages freedom for political activity[74], and the right of every person to form and join freely associations with others, the freedom of peaceful assembly[75] and association[76]. This provision opens up in essence the opportunities for the establishment of NGOs or other associations which will serve as a platform for dialogue and recommendations by the people who are in favour of the effective protection of human rights in the Arab world. At the same time they will be free of projecting their work without any interference from the government.

2.2.10. The right to political asylum is recognized as a right of every person that is persecuted on political grounds and not for violation of common law. This provision is most welcome as it provides for the prohibition of refoulement of the political refugees, without any constraint or exception, following thus the spirit of the Convention on the Status of Refugees and especially article 33 which prohibits refoulement[77]. On the other hand, one cannot but observe that the protection is granted only to political refugees in contradiction to Article 1A of the Geneva Convention which protects more categories of refugees[78].

2.3. Limitation clauses

The principle that the rights of the person must be in harmonized with its obligations towards the community of which (s)he is a member, is a principle that was first established in article 29 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights[79]. Since then, a number of limitation clauses have been deemed absolutely necessary regarding the rights and freedoms of persons. It is also important that the nature of these limitation clauses is stipulated, i.e. the respect of human right and the freedom of other. All international instruments on human rights contain limitations in the exercise of human rights in order to secure the public order and the welfare of a democratic society.

The Charter included limitation clauses on the enjoyment of a number of rights such as those envisaged in article 24 (7) (participation in public life), 26 (2) (freedom of movement), 30(2) (freedom of thought and religion), 35 (2) (right to form trade unions). The aforementioned limitations should be envisaged by the legislation and they should be deemed necessary for the maintenance of national security, public order, public health, ethics or rights and freedoms of others.

2.4. Derogation clauses

A derogation clause presents the most serious form of limitation clauses on the rights that are recognized by the Charter and it is applicable only in extreme circumstances, such as war, internal conflicts, natural disasters, etc. States that invoke a derogation clause are able in setting aside temporarily a number of obligations regarding the protection of human rights. Derogation clauses are included in many international instruments on the protection of human rights such as the UN Covenant on the Civil and Political Rights (article 4), the European Convention on Human Rights (article 15), the American Convention on Human Rights (article 27), the common article 3 of the Geneva Conventions of 1949, article 30 of the European Social Charter, etc. It is noteworthy that the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights does not contain such a provision[80].

The invocation of the derogation clause should fulfill the preconditions that are laid out by the Commission on human rights[81]. The situation should amount to a public danger which threatens the life of the nation, the state should officially recognize the existence of danger, the measures should derogate from the obligations arising out of the international instrument as much as it is needed due to the situation that emerges, the principle of proportionality and non-discrimination should be respected, the measures that are taken should not conflict with other obligations of international law, and there should be no derogation from certain provisions that are already considered non-derogable.

The Charter contains a similar provision (article 4) according to which the state parties may invoke a state of emergency which threatens the life of the nation and may apply derogation clauses on the human rights that it recognizes. The aforementioned states should inform the rest of member states via the Secretary General of the League regarding the derogable articles and the reasons for which the derogation clauses will apply. In a second communication via the Secretary General they will announce the deadline of the derogation. The derogation should have a temporary character as it should stop immediately after the end of the danger[82].

Article 4 (2) contains a long list of rights, the derogation of which is not permissible even in a state of emergency. These rights include: the right to life (article 5), the prohibition of torture (article 8), the prohibition of being subject to experiments (article 9), the prohibition of slavery (article 10), the right to fair trail (article 13), the right to liberty and security (article 14), the principle of nullum crimen sine lege (article 15), the prohibition of imprisonment for breach of contractual obligation  (article 18), the prohibition of being tried twice for the same offence (article 19), the respect to a person’s dignity (article 20), the recognition of legal personality (article 22), the right to depart and return to the country (article 27), the right to request political asylum (article 28), the right to have nationality (article 29), the freedom of thought and religion (article 30).

A positive fact is that this list of rights is the longest one among the international instruments on the protection of human rights[83].

  1. Protection mechanism: The Arab Human Rights Committee

The Charter established as Arab Human Rights Committee (hereinafter “the Committee”) as a protection mechanism. In contradistinction to other regional instruments protecting human rights, the Charter contains only four (4) articles on the protection mechanism while the Covenant on Civil and Political rights and the African Charter promulgate eighteen (18), the former, and thirty (30) articles, the latter. Articles 45 to 48 refer to the set up of the Committee[84]. The Committee shall be composed of seven members, elected by secret ballot by the state parties, and who are nationals of the State Parties, they are highly experienced persons competent in the Committee’s field of work. It is important that the members of the Committee serve in their personal capacity with full impartiality.[85] The Committee does not include more than one person from the same state party[86] and they shall be elected for a four-year term[87] while being eligible for re-election only once based on the principle of rotation[88].

Six months following the entry into force of the Charter[89] the member states vote for the member of the Committee from a list of candidates that is submitted to the General Secretary of the League[90]. The majority of the states parties shall constitute a quorum[91]. The Committee elects its Chairman from its members, for a two-year term renewable for one further term of two years. The Charter envisages a long article on the issues related to the vacancy of seats[92] and it provides that the Committee’s members shall enjoy immunities for their protection from any form of harassment[93].

The task of the Committee consists of the assessment of reports that are submitted by the member states through the Secretary General of the League regarding the measures that have been adopted for the implementation of the rights and freedoms of the Charter and the progress that has been achieved for their best possible implementation[94]. The first report is submitted one year after the entry into force of the Charter and after that, then every three years. Additional information in relation to the implementation of the Charter may be submitted to the Committee, if it is requested so[95]. In contradistinction to other international instruments, the Charter does not contain any special reference for the submission of legislative measures that should be adopted by the member states. The Committee shall study in public the reports submitted by the states parties in the presence and with the collaboration of the representative of the state parties[96], whose report is being considered. The Committee shall include in its annual report[97] which is directed to the political organ of the League, the Council[98], through the Secretary General, comments and recommendations in general. The report being a public document is being published widely. Till now, due to the brevity of period of time since the entry into force of the Charter, no member state has submitted a report yet. The Charter does not mention anything relevant to the right of submission of individual communication- a procedure that is common to the protection mechanisms of other international instruments[99].

Following the practice of the Committees of international instruments on the protection of human rights, the Committee is expected to issue general comments that will enable the states in the better understanding of the provisions of the Charter and their means of implementation. This practice is taken up already by the Committees of CEDAW, CAT, CERD and the Committees to the two Covenants and the Convention of the Rights of the Child. Another issue that arises is the participation of the NGOs in the collection and the submission of information before the Committee during the examination of the member states’ reports. The Charter does not contain any relevant reference; however, the Arab world does contain NGOs that work on the protection of human rights and we believe that they shall be able to show their dynamic work in the future[100]. It is noteworthy that the importance of the role of the NGOs in the protection of human rights was highlighted in the Vienna Declaration of 1993[101].

  1. Conclusions

The Charter fills in the vacuum in the field of the international protection of human rights in this specific region of the planet and assists in the recognition of these rights. It is encouraging that it contains an array of positive provisions in relation to the independence of the judicial sector (Article 12), the violence against women and children (Article 33), the guarantee for the political representation and the protection of private life (Articles 21 and 24), which will have a special impact, if they are ever implemented in the Arab states.

The entry into force of the Charter was warmly welcomed by the UN High Commissioner for the Human Rights despite the sporadic condemnations of specific provision which are considered to derogate from the international precedent on the protection of human rights.

Specifically, among the Charter articles which are considered to be of problematic nature are the ones that refer to the death penalty, women’s rights, foreigners and any references to zionism.

Article 7 does not prohibit death penalty but instead it allows it for serious offences. This provision applies even to minors, where the national legislation legalizes the death penalty, and to pregnant women until they give birth and breastfeed their child.

Regarding women, minorities and foreigners’ rights, the Charter provides for their enjoyment according to the existing national legislation.

In addition, any reference to Zionism, which concomitant with racism is a violation of human rights and a threat to international peace and security, according to Amnesty International[102], could be modified to include a reference to international standards rather than a specified ideology.

Save for this reference, in the light of international standards the Charter does not integrate important principles of human rights and is lacking in the effective tackling of the violations of human rights[103]. This fact shows clearly the absence of a common vision among the Arab states which appear to be attached to Islamic values and not to be the common principles of human rights.

Despite the aforementioned negative points, the revised Charter represents a clear step forward in comparison to the corresponding 1994 Charter. The question that remains unanswered is what will happen in the future. With time many of the basic disadvantages of the Charter need to be reassessed and to be modified with the adoption of additional Protocols. The failure to include in the text certain provisions, will continue to  perpetuate the perception that the Arab states are not fully devoted to a universal system of respect of human rights. Nonetheless, the Charter is considered to be a positive step that offers the member states the opportunity to promote  and protect human rights in their region.


* To Emeritus Professor Mr. Ioannis Voulgaris, with whom I had the honour to cooperate for almost 20 years at the Law Faculty of Democritus University at the Dept. of International Studies, a distinguished professor and above all, a great person, who always supported me in my academic career.

This article was first published at the RHDI.

[1] The first Arab summit was held in Alexandria, from 22 September till 8 October 1944, and concluded in the signature of the “Alexandria Protocol”, which provided for the establishment of a Subcommittee responsible for the application of the Draft of the Arab League.

[2] A month before the signature of the UN Charter in St. Francisco. The Charter of the Arab League was signed in Cairo, 22 March 1945, UNTS p. 70. Today, 22 states are members of the LAS: Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Yemen, Syria (founding members), Libya, Sudan, Morocco, Tunisia, Kuwait, Alger, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, United Arab Emirates, Mauritania, Somalia, Djibouti, Iraq, Comoros and Palestine. For more information for the LAS, see among others, B. BOUTROS-GHALI, The Arab League, International Conciliation, 1954, no 498, B. BOUTROS-GHALI, La Ligue des Etats Arabes, RCADI, vol. 103, 1972, p. 1-82, B. BOUTROS-GHALI, La Ligue des Etats Arabes, in Les Dimensions Internationales des Droits de l’ Homme, UNESCO, Paris, 1978, p. 638, R. MACDONALD, The League of Arab States, A Study in the Dynamics of Regional Organization, Princeton University Press, N. Jersey, 1965, M. SHIHAB, Arab States, League of, in Encyclopedia of Public International Law, vol. 1, 1992, M. MOUSKEHEILI, La Ligue des Etats Arabes, RCADI, 1945, H. A. HASSOUNA, The League of Arab States and Regional Disputes, Ocean Publication, Leiden, 1975.

[3] According to B. E. HASSAN, Regional Protection of Human Rights in the Arab States In Statu Nascendi, in J. Symonides, Human Rights: International Protection, Monitoring, Enforcement, UNESCO, Ashgate, 2003, p. 241.

[4] By the Council Decision (R)2443/48 (XLVII), 3 September 1968 according to article 4 of the Charter, which provides for the establishment of Committees.


[5] See S. MARKS, La Commission Permanent Arabe des Droits de l’ Homme, RDH/HRJ, 1970, vol. III-I, p. 101 et seq., R. DAOUDI, Human Rights Commission of the Arab States, in R. Bernhardt (ed.), Encyclopedia of Public International Law, vol. 2, 1995, Amsterdam, N. Holland, p. 913-915.

[6] It is worth mentioning that during the first two years of its function, it adopted 20 Recommendations for the rights of the Palestinian people. See Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (2001), “On the relation between the problematique of human rights in the Palestinian issues”, Double standards.

[7] For more information, see P. SIEGHART, The Application of Human Rights Law in Islamic States, Human Rights Quarterly, vol. 12, no 2, May 1990, p. 214 et seq., and D. O’ SULLIVAN, The Arab European Inter American and African Perspectives on Understanding Human Rights: The Debate between “Universalism” and Cultural Relativism, Mediterranean Journal of Human Rights, vol. 8, no 1, p. 171 et seq.

[8] The Arab Lawyers’ Union, dated back to 1960, was present at the meeting of the Council of the LAS which was held in Damascus, 1970.

[9] Resolution (R)2668/30, 10 September 1970.

[10]  Resolution (R)5437, 15 September 1994. It is worth to mention that there was an attempt to adopt the Charter before 1993, when the Universal Conference on Human Rights was held in Vienna, so as the participation of the Arab states to be accompanied with a text for the protection of human rights adopted by the LAS. However, this attempt became fruitful one year later.

[11] By Iraq

[12] See the Sanaa Declaration, December 2003, and Beirut Declaration, June 2003.

[13] The Agreement was signed between the LAS and High Commissioner for Human Rights at April 2002, with the purpose of providing technical assistance and consultative services. It is mentioned that the former Committee on Human Rights supported as well the initiative of the LAS, through its Resolution (R)2003/76.

[14] See Η. Η. SAHRAOUI, “Modernizing” the Arab Charter on Human Rights, Yearbook of the International Commission of Jurists, 2004, Intersentia, Antwerp, p. 339 et seq.

[15] Two months after the ratification of seven states: Jordan, Bahrain, Algeria, Syria, Libya, Palestinian Authority and United Arab Emirates.

[16] For an analysis of the Arab Charter on Human Rights, see P. NASKOU-PERRAKI, Mechanisms of Protection of Human Rights. International Acts, Theory and Practice, Ant. N. Sakkoulas, Athens-Komotini, 2008, p. 509 et seq [in Greek].

[17] The Cairo Declaration on Human Rights was adopted in 5 August 1990 by the Council of Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference. It’s a text which reflects the Islamic perception of human rights, because of its frequent references to Sharia.

[18] See UN General Assembly Resolution (R) 3379(XXX) for the elimination of all forms of racism and racial discrimination, mentioning that zionism is a form of racism. It is noted that the UN Watch, a NGO established in 1993 with the purpose of supervising the implementation of the principles of the UN Charter, submitted a written complaint to Mrs. Louise Arbour, former UN High Commissioner on Human Rights. See U.N. Watch, 28/01/2008. Mrs. Arbour in her statement of 30th January 2008 welcomed the entry into force of the Charter, while expressed her criticism concerning specific articles, as well as the Charter’s reference to zionism.

[19] As mentions H.H. SAHRAOUI, ibid, p. 356.

[20] See M. RISHMAWI, The Revised Arab Charter on Human Rights: A Step Forward?, Human Rights Law Review, 2005, v.5:2, p. 361 et seq.

[21] For the social rights in particular, see A. ABOU-EL-WAFA, Les Droits des Relations Socials dans le Charte Arabe des Droits de l’Homme de 2004, στο Revue Egyptienne de Droit International, vol. 60, 2004, p. 1 et seq.

[22] G.A. Res 1514(XV) of 14th December 1960. Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples, G.A. Res 1541(XV) of 15th  December 1960 and G.A. Res 2625(XXV) of 24th October 1970, G.A. Res 1803(XVII) of 14th December 1962.

[23] The Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights include a common article 1 which guarantees the right to self-determination. The Committee on Human Rights has further identified the subject in its General Comment No 12, The Right to Self-determination of Peoples (art. 1), 13 March 1984, A/39/40 (1984), Annex VI, p. 142, see also E. ROUKOUNAS, International Protection of Human Rights, Estia, Athens, 1995, p. 301 et seq [in Greek].

[24] Concluding Observations of the Human Rights Committee: Iraq. A/47/40 pars. 182-218, 31 October 1991, para 95.

[25] Article 5 of the Charter.

[26] Article 6, ibid.

[27] Regarding which crimes are considered to be the “most serious”, see Human Rights Committee, General Comment No. 6, The Right to Life (art. 6), 30 April 1982/A/37/40/Annex V at. 93: 1-2 IHRR 4 (1982).

[28] Article 7,1 of the Charter.

[29] The reaction of the international community on this issue was immense. The World Coalition Against Death Penalty (WCADP) denounced this article of the Charter and underlined that the General Assembly of the United Nations recently adopted a Resolution calling all member states which maintain the death penalty in their legal systems, to abolish it, respecting the international obligations. The WCADP was established in 2002 by 64 NGOs, bar, labour unions and local authorities.

[30] See, S. DETRICK, A Commentary on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, The Hague, 1999, p. 623, and P. NASKOU-PERRAKI, K. CHRYSOGONOS, CH. ANTHOPOULOS, The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Interpretation by article, Ant. N. Sakkoulas, Athens-Komotini, 2002 [in Greek].

[31] With the exception of Palestine and Somalia. Palestine prohibits the execution of children under 18 years old, and for this reason, the Palestine NGO Section, Defense for Children International, has criticized the specific provision with a press release on 2 February 2008 from Ramala. Available at <>

[32] Article 7, 2 of the Charter.

[33] Article 10, ibid.

[34] Article 11, ibid.

[35] Article 13,1 ibid.

[36] Article 13,2, ibid.. See also article 40 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

[37] Article 17, ibid.

[38] Article 18, ibid.

[39] Article 19, ibid. According to the principle Non bis in idem.

[40] Article 9 and 14 of the Covenant.

[41] Article 21, ibid.

[42] Article 3, paras. 1 and 2 of the Charter.

[43] Ibid, § 3. The enforcement of the position of the woman on a global level and the efforts to adopt on national level measures in favour of women in relation to men is encompassed by CEDAW, where article 4 makes the reference. Many Islamic countries have expressed a number of reservations on various article of CEDAW given that Islamic law (Sharia) makes a distinction on the position of woman especially after her marriage. See D. Abdur Rahman I, Women in Sharia (Islamic Law), London, Tatta Publishers, 1989, E. Asghar Ali, The Rights of Women in Islam, New Delhi, Sterling, 1992, G .Asha, Du Statut Inferieur de la Femme en Islam, Paris, Harmattan, 1987, I. Safia, Women and Islamic Law, Delhi, Adam Publishers, 1991.

[44] Article 21 of the Charter.

[45] Article 24, ibid.

[46] Article 33,1 ibid.

[47] Article 33, 3 ibid.

[48] Ibid, § 4.

[49] Article 34,3 of the Charter. See Convention 138 of the ILO, which defines the age of 15(article 2,3) as the minimum age for employment. It was complemented with the Convention 182 (1999) of the O relatively to the prohibition and direct abolition of all forms of exploitation of employment of the children, young people under 15 years old and under 18 years old in general (article 2). See as well M. JANKANISH, A New ILO Convention to Eliminate the Worst Forms of Child Labor, International Children’s Rights Monitor, Summer 1999, p. 16 et seq. The content of article 32 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child is similar.

[50] Article 10,2 of the Charter.

[51] Equivalent to Article 9 (2) of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

[52] Equivalent to Article 19, 1 ibid.

[53] Article 39 of the Charter.

[54] Ibid,§ 2.

[55] Article 34, 2 of the Charter.

[56] Article 38, ibid.

[57] At 3 May 2008. Regarding the Convention on Persons with Disabilities, it is worth mentioning that most parties of the LAS have already ratified this Convention.

[58] Article 3, § 5 and 6 of the Charter.

[59] Article 41, 1 ibid.

[60] Article 41,§ 2  is in contradistinction to article 13 of the Covenant for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and Article 28 of the Convention on Rights of the Child.

[61] Article 29 of the Convention of the Rights of the Child.

[62] Article 41§ 5 of the Charter.

[63] Ibid, § 6.

[64] Article 42, 1 of the Charter.

[65] Article 42,2, ibid.

[66] Article 25, ibid.

[67] Article 34, ibid.

[68] Article 34, § 2, ibid.

[69] Article 34, §4, ibid.

[70] This refers to the national legislation of member states. It is worth mentioning that none of the states have ratified the Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families, which came into force in 2003. See relatively to this Convention, K. MAGLIVERAS, Immigration and International Law: The Action of the UN and the Council of Europe, Academy of Athens, Publications of the Centre for Research for the Greek Society, Athens, 2008, pp. 59 et seq. [in Greek], and K. CHAINOGLOU, The Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families, in P. NASKOU-PERRAKI, Mechanisms of Protection of Human Rights. International Acts, Theory and Practice, Ant. N. Sakkoulas, Athens-Komotini, 2008, pp. 303 et seq [in Greek], D. JACOBS, Arab European League: The Rapid Rise of a Radical Immigrant Movement, Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs, 2005, vol. 25, pp. 97-115.

[71] Article 36 of the Charter.

[72] Article 35, ibid.

[73] See in contrast, article 6 of the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which provides for the right to employment for every person that resides in the specific state. See relatively, P. NASKOU-PERRAKI, Le Pacte International Sur Les Droits Economiques, Sociaux Et Culturels Et Le Controle De Son Application, in N. Aliprantis, Les Droits Sociaux Dans Les Instruments Europeens Et Internationaux Defis A L’ Echelle Mondiale, Bruylant Bruxelles 2008, p. 181-216.

[74] Article 24 § 1, 2, 3, 4, of the Charter.

[75] Ibid, §5.

[76] Ibid, §6.

[77] On this issue, see R. SEXTON, Political refugees, non-refoulement and state-practice: A comparative study, Vand. JTL 1985, pp. 731 et seq; G. STENBERG, Non-expulsion and non-refoulemt, Studies in International Law, vol. 9, Iustus Forlag, Uppsala, 1989, pp. 266 et seq, G PAPAGIANNI and P. NASKOU-PERRAKI, Migration and Asylum Law in the European Union, FIDE, 2004 (I. Higgins ed.) Cambridge University Press, 2004, pp. 145-157.

[78] Such as refugees on the grounds of race, religion, nationality and because they belong to a specific social group.

[79] See inter alia, E.E.DAES, Les Droits de l’ Individu Envers la Communaute et les Limitations des Droits et Liberte de l’ Homme en vue de l’ art. 29 de la Declaration Universelle des Droits de l’ Homme. ECOSOC, Commission des Droits de l’ Homme, E/CN.4/Sub.2/432/Rev.1, 1er Jullet 1989, p. 34 et seq., E.E.DAES, Restrictions and Limitations on Human Rights, Rene Cassin, vol. III, Pedone, Paris, 1971, p. 79 et seq.

[80] See with regard to the derogation clauses, P. NASKOU-PERRAKI, The Article 15 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Theoretical and Jurisprudential Approach (with special comparative reference to the articles 4 of the Covenant and article 27 of the American Convention), Ant. N. Sakkoulas, Athens-Komotini, 1987 [in Greek], T. STEIN, Derogations from guarantees laid down in Human Rights Instruments. Colloque sur les droits de l’homme, Frankfurt 9-12 April 1980; C WARBRICK, The protection of human rights in national emergencies, Human Rights Problems, Perspectives and Textx, (F.E. Dowrick, ed.) 1978; CH. SCHREUER, Derogation of human rights in situations of public emergency, Yale JWPO, 1982, pp. 96 et seq; A-C KISS, Permissible limitations and derogations to human rights conventions, Recueil des Cours IIDH, Strasbourg, 1983, pp.1 et seq.

[81] See General Comment 29: Status of Emergency (art. 4), CCPR/C/21/Rev.1/Add.11, 31 August 2001.

[82] In practice, however, there are cases whereby states have invoked the clause for a long-standing period. For instance, in Syria since 1963, in Egypt since 1981, in Algeria since 1992, while Sudan has continuously renewed its state of emergency. See relevant catalogue with countries in Ε/CN.4/Sub.2/2003/39, of 16th June 2003.

[83] The European Convention on Human Rights forbids the derogation from four rights (articles 2, 3, 4 and 7). The American Convention bans the derogation from eleven rights (articles 3, 4, 5, 6, 9, 12, 17, 18, 19, 20 and 23), while the UN Covenant on Civil and Political Rights the derogation from seven rights (articles 6, 7, 8 §1 and 2, 11, 15, 16 and 18).

[84] Article 45, 1 of the Charter.

[85] Ibid, §2.

[86] Ibid, § 3.

[87] Ibid, § 4.

[88] Ibid, § 3.

[89] Ibid, §5.

[90] Ibid, § 6.

[91] Ibid, § 7.

[92] Article 46 of the Charter.

[93] Article 47, ibid.

[94] Article 48, 1 ibid.

[95] Ibid, § 2.

[96] Ibid, § 3.

[97] Ibid, § 4 and 5.

[98] The Charter came into force at 15 March 2008.

[99] In regional level, the European and American Convention on Human Rights and the African Charter, while in universal level, the UN Covenants and the Conventions against racial discrimination, torture, discrimination against women, migrant workers, persons with disabilities and forced disappearance.

[100] In LAS, the NGOs are recognized and activated within the context of PACHR when they have counseling role. Their counseling status is granted with the consensus of member states after the NGO is recognized as such in the domestic legal order of that state. Regarding the NGOs see A. F. BAYEFSKY, The UN Human Rights Treaty System in the 21st Century, The Hague, Kluwer Law International 2000, p. 181 et seq, where there is reference to the role of NGOs.

[101] See Vienna Declaration and Action Programme, 14-25 June 1993. Α/conf.157/23, 12 July 1993, § 38

[102] See Amnesty International: Middle East and North Africa Region, Re-drafting the Arab Charter on Human Rights: Building for a better future, AI Index MDE 01/002/2004, 11 March 2004. It is worth to mention that this clause opposes UN General Assembly Decision A/RES/46/86, relating to the elimination of racism and racial discriminations, which was adopted at 16th December 1991, and mentions that zionism is not a form of racism and racial discrimination.

[103] See the critique that is put forward by M. RISHMAWI, The Revised Arab Charter on Human Rights: A step forward?, p. 36 et seq.