In a resolution adopted in Cairo on Tuesday, Arab foreign ministers lambasted Hussein’s “assassinations, genocides, mass graves and killing of prisoners”.

 

And while the ex-Iraqi dictator’s reputation is well deserved, some will think it a bit rich for Arab leaders to pontificate about human rights. 

 

Critics argue the Arab world is characterised by severe limitations on personal freedoms, a strict control of the media, and strong repression of dissidence.

 

In their defence, Arab states claim some of the harsh measures they have taken are justified in a struggle against “domestic terrorism”.

 

Condemnation


But despite the claims, respected human rights organsation Amnesty International is unequivocal in its condemnation of Arab states. 

 

In its human rights report for 2003, Amnesty took three prominent Arab countries – Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Syria – severely to task.

 

According to Amnesty, in Egypt there are thousands of suspected supporters of banned Islamist groups in detention without charge or trial.

 

Others are serving sentences imposed after grossly unfair trials before military courts.

 

And torture and ill-treatment of detainees continues to be systematic.

 

Abuses


Amnesty said in Saudi Arabia g
ross human rights violations continue to be justified by the government policy of "combating terrorism".

 

Egyptian and Saudi leaders have
been criticised over human rights

Violations are perpetrated by the secretive criminal justice system and covered up by prohibiting political parties, trade unions and human rights organisations.

 

Hundreds of suspected religious activists and critics of the state have been arrested and no information is available about their legal status.

In Amnesty's judgment, the clampdown on political dissent is evident in Syria too with scores of people arrested for political reasons.

 

Unfair detention

 

In 2003, there was an increase in the repression of human rights defenders and lawyers.

And hundreds of political prisoners remained in detention without trial or following unfair trials.

 

Other Arab states, like Morocco and Jordan, fare somewhat better in human rights reports.

 

But they are still usually categorised as having only limited parliamentarianism and freedom of speech, and criticised for cracking down on dissent through the use of security services.

 

Hypocrisy

 

There is no doubt Saddam Hussein's Iraq has set new standards for brutality.

 

With the blood of several hundred thousand people on his hands, his regime is perhaps one of the most vicious the world has ever known.

 

But overall, independent analysts confirm the human rights situation in the Arab world remains stark.

 

And given this appalling record, many would say Arab leaders should take a hard look in the mirror before getting on their human rights soapbox.