Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies

Standing up for human rights and democracy in the MENA region

Freedom for Peace

The 2011 “Arab Spring” was a broad and spontaneous upheaval, which spread from North Africa to the Middle East, attempting to end decades of human rights violations and lack of freedoms, social justice and democratic participation. In many cases, governments' response to the large scale protests focused on security at the expense of human rights, and resulted in an increased crackdown on human rights defenders, civil society activists, and journalists. For human rights organisations working in the region today, uncovering and publishing details of rights violations can be extremely dangerous. Many face censorship, smear campaigns, travel restrictions and judicial harassment.

Widely respected both in the Middle East and in the international community, CIHRS is a regional human rights organization created in 1993 with global reach, mobilizing its connections with local human rights defenders and international decision-makers to advocate for human rights and democracy, with a focus on political & civil rights, the protection of public space, justice and accountability. CIHRS is on the front-line working side-by-side local rights activists to combat increasingly brutal repression and challenge the support of Western countries to autocratic regimes. Below represents a few examples of the important work CIHRS carries out.

In Egypt, the Assembly Law constitutes the principal legal basis for the mass imprisonment of peaceful demonstrators. In 2017, CIHRS released a ground breaking report showing the law had in fact been repealed in 1928. CIHRS' lawsuit, seeking the publication of the repeal decree, joined by 32 public figures, has set off an unprecedented public debate. While the legal action is still pending, its prospects are wide and far-reaching for tens of thousands of political prisoners. In parallel, CIHRS and partners opened a judicial investigation in Paris into the complicity of French authorities and several companies in the crackdown, recently denounced in an alarming report. The actions of CIHRS and local partners represent “a testament to what can be done by a few dedicated people in even the worst of times" explains The LA Review of Books. In recognition of such work, the 2017 Martin Ennals Award was attributed to CIHRS' Egypt Office Director Mohammed Zaree, currently under a travel ban and facing an investigation that could result in life-imprisonment.

In Libya, an environment of widespread impunity has prevented any meaningful political transition to take place. The Libya Platform, a coalition of 13 diverse Libyan non-governmental organizations, was launched in 2016 to empower a weak and isolated Libyan civil society to have a voice in international negotiations. As part of these efforts, eight Libyan short movies on human rights, justice and reconciliation were produced and screened globally.

Working alongside Yemeni activists, CIHRS also played in 2017 a central role in the establishment of the first and only international investigation into war crimes and crimes against humanity in Yemen crimes that have created “the largest humanitarian crisis in the world”. After the creation of the investigation at the UN Human Rights Council, Mona Sabella, CIHRS' advocacy officer, talking to the The New York Times said, “Many thought it impossible to challenge Saudi impunityThe creation of an international investigative body today has shown that the lives of millions of Yemeni people mean more than Saudi influence."

Seven years after the start of the uprisings that changed the face of the region, CIHRS’ mission to defend the MENA human rights movement and combat widespread human rights violations in the region remains more relevant than ever.

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