For more than a year, the Middle East and North Africa region has witnessed a series of uprisings against some of its long-standing regimes. Millions of people have taken to the streets to demand an end to oppression, respect for human rights and fundamental changes to the way they are governed. The military and security forces have generally responded with extreme violence in an attempt to quell the protest movements that have sprung up across the region; they have used often grossly excessive force to break up demonstrations, unlawfully killing thousands of men, women and children, arbitrarily detaining many more and subjecting some of them to torture and other ill-treatment in order to, among other purposes, punish them for their actions or extract information from them.


With the removal from power of rulers who had been in office for decades in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Yemen, and promises of reforms in countries such as Bahrain and Morocco, hopes have been raised that changes can be made to institutional and legislative frameworks that will lead to a new relationship between the state and its citizens. In Tunisia and Egypt, bodies have been created to draft new constitutions and similar initiatives are planned in Libya and Yemen.  Amnesty International is calling on these bodies to include basic guarantees that would protect people from the abuses they suffered under the old regimes such as torture, arbitrary arrests, unfair trials and restrictions on their rights to freedom of assembly, association and expression, as well as ensuring that those responsible for such abuses are brought to justice.


At the same time, fundamental reforms need to be made to the largely unaccountable security forces across the region, a need demonstrated in the starkest fashion by the continuing violence meted out to protesters in Egypt after the fall of Hosni Mubarak.  To achieve this, governments must invest in professional policing, engage with communities to improve policing by consent and promote, publicize and incorporate in law and practice UN standards for law enforcement officials. Only then will they be able to begin to restore legitimacy to security forces that have been defined more by the repression they have engaged in than the protection they have provided to the communities they are meant to serve.


This issue of Mawared aims to contribute to such a process by discussing how security forces can carry out their responsibilities in a human rights framework. It comes after issues focusing on freedom of expression and freedom of association and assembly, rights which, on the one hand, have been violated in dramatic fashion by security forces over recent months in the region but, on the other, could be protected in the future if reforms led to such forces following professional policing standards.  After highlighting Amnesty International’s work to document and campaign against policing-related human rights violations in the Middle East and North Africa over the last year, the issue presents the organization’s 10 basic human rights standards for law enforcement officials and a training manual it has developed on policing, recently translated into Arabic.  It also includes a number of contributions which discuss how international human rights law and international standards for law enforcement officials can be applied on a practical level to policing. We hope in this way that the issue will prove to be useful to legislators, other political actors and NGOs advocating police reform, as well as journalists interested in the topic.


 Philip Luther

Interim Director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme

Amnesty International

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