The ICJ and other rights groups today sent an open letter to the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the member States of the League of Arab States (LAS) urging them to defer action on the adoption of the draft Statute of the proposed Arab Court of Human Rights (the Arab Court).
The organizations called on the LAS instead to allow for the draft Statute to be amended through a deliberative and transparent process.
The ICJ notes that the draft Statute was prepared by an LAS-appointed expert Committee, whose membership has remained a secret.
The entire drafting process was conducted behind closed doors. Despite repeated requests, civil society organizations and other stakeholders were excluded from the process.
The draft, if adopted, would reserve access to the Court primarily to States, and not to individual victims.
“While the ICJ welcomes, in principle, the idea of establishing the Arab Court, we are deeply concerned that the draft Statute falls woefully short of what would be required for a Court that is able to provide justice for victims of human rights violations,” said Said Benarbia, Director of the ICJ Middle East and North Africa Programme. “The inability for individual victims of human rights violations to access the Arab Court would defeat its entire object and purpose.”
A decision on the adoption of the draft Statute is due to take place at the upcoming session of the Ministerial Council, which is scheduled for 3 to 8 September 2014.
The ICJ and the other signatories to the letter said that the draft Statute needs to be amended significantly to allow for the establishment of an independent, impartial and effective judicial mechanism to protect rights and freedoms in the LAS member States.
The organizations called for a number of amendments aimed at ensuring:
the independence and impartiality of the Arab Court and its judges, through nomination, election, suspension and removal procedures and conditions of tenure that are in line with international standards;
that the jurisdiction of the Arab Court is restricted to the rights contained in the Arab Charter of Human Rights, interpreted consistently with States’ other obligations under international law;
that provisions on the requirement to exhaust local remedies are not overly restrictive and that the Arab Court has flexible discretion to decide on the admissibility of cases;
that all individuals within the territory of a State party, or otherwise subject to its jurisdiction, have access to the Arab Court when they claim to be a victim of a violation of a right, and that obstacles that limit NGO access are removed, such as the requirement that the State against which a claim is made accept such access;
that individuals and NGOs can also join proceedings as interested parties or as third party interveners;
that the Arab Court is mandated to issue interim measures where the applicant faces an imminent risk of serious, irreversible or irreparable harm and to order protection measures necessary for witnesses;
that mechanisms are in place to ensure that the Arab Court’s judgments are effectively executed, including by providing for an independent and effective monitoring mechanism; and
that the host State of the Court is determined based on that State’s commitment to and compliance with universal human rights laws and standards, and that the host State provides the necessary guarantees for the Court, its judges and staff, and for the protection of victims and their representatives, witnesses and NGOs.
Said Benarbia, ICJ Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme, tel: 41 22 979 38 17, e-mail: said.benarbia(a)icj.org