The OHCHR Regional Office for the Middle East (ROME) was established in Beirut in 2002. The Regional Office covers nine countries: Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and the United Arab Emirates.
Human rights context in the Middle East
The 2011 “Arab Spring” was a broad and spontaneous upheaval - starting in North Africa and followed by the Middle East - that attempted to end decades of failed development and human rights violations. In many cases, the response of Governments to the massive 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. Freedom of assembly was largely undermined as security forces resorted to harsh and violent measures to disperse protestors who were often subject to arbitrary arrest and prosecution without due respect for the right to a fair trial. In some countries, as in the case of Syria, the situation degenerated into a non-international armed conflict with systematic violations of International humanitarian and human rights laws. In other cases, lack of adequate response for calls of change or reform has led to heightened tensions and various human rights violations.
Ongoing conflicts and political tensions in some countries greatly affect women, children, persons with disabilities and the elderly, as well as minorities. Gender inequality continues to be a matter of acute concern, and efforts to secure the rights of women have wielded few positive results to date. The Middle East is host to millions of non-citizens such as refugees, stateless persons, and migrant workers, including migrant domestic workers. However, these individuals often fall outside the legal protection structures required of host States and are vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.
The Regional Office works on thematic issues that require attention at the national and regional levels. Among others, the freedoms of opinion and expression, association and peaceful assembly require heightened attention, despite the fact that they are essential to democratic participation yet are gravely endangered. The Regional Office continues to advocate for the rights of vulnerable groups, minorities and non-citizens, whose legal status and rights are rarely discussed let alone protected. In addressing these issues, the Regional Office provides technical advice to Governments in the field of human rights with regard to, inter alia, the ratification of human rights treaties, and encourages States to establish national human rights institutions (NHRIs) and to reinforce existing institutions, especially with respect to their independence and ability to take action when violations occur. The Regional Office also designs training modules on human rights targeting civil society organizations, Governments and NHRIs on a variety of issues, including: developing laws that are in-line with international human rights standards, preparation for and follow up on the UPR process and its recommendations, follow up on the concluding observations and comments of treaty bodies and special procedures mandate holders.
The Regional Office actively cooperates with the UN human rights mechanisms, including treaty bodies and special procedures mandate holders. The Regional Office prioritizes gender equality and women's rights in its programs. All countries in the region are party to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).
In addition, the Regional Office compiles and analyses information on the human rights situation,, contributes to global or thematic reports of the High Commissioner and organizes awareness raising sessions and advocacy meetings to promote the protection of human rights.
The Regional Office has established strong relationships with key national and regional stakeholders and works closely with UN agencies and programmes, Governments and civil society including non-governmental partners. The Regional Office is providing support in establishing accountability and in delivery of justice, capacity development of Governments and civil society, and support to governance reform, rule of law and in tackling discrimination.
The Regional Office also provides technical advice and support for increased compliance of laws with international human rights standards in the area of the protection of migrant domestic workers; stateless persons, and freedoms of expression, association and assembly for human rights defenders, journalists and trade unionists; advocates for the formal adoption and implementation of the National Human Rights Plan of Action in Lebanon and for increased knowledge of human rights standards by Lebanese Internal Security Forces; and assists establishment of national human rights institutions in Lebanon, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates and increased compliance with the Paris Principles of national human rights institutions in Oman and Bahrain.
The Regional Office promotes increased participation of rights-holders, especially women, in the development and monitoring of economic, social and cultural rights policies within the right to development framework. The Regional Office also provides technical assistance in integrating human rights standards in the work of the UN policies and programmes by engaging with UN Country Teams, Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) and the Regional United Nations Development Group (UNDG) to introduce Human Rights-Based Approach in their development programmes and to incorporate principles of equality and non-discrimination including gender mainstreaming and implementation of Human rights Due Diligence Policy (HRDDP) to ensure compliance with the UN principles and State obligations.