Middle East and North Africa Regional Overview

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Middle East And North Africa 2023

The devastating escalation of violence in the Israel-Palestine conflict had profound ramifications across the region, and worldwide. From October, Israeli forces killed more than 21,000 Gazans, mostly civilians, many unlawfully, while Hamas deliberately killed civilians in Israel and held hostages and captives. The conflict’s deep roots lie in Israel’s forced displacement and dispossession of Palestinians in 1948, the military occupation of Gaza and the West Bank in 1967, Israel’s ongoing system of apartheid against Palestinians, and its 16-year illegal blockade of the occupied Gaza Strip.

The impacts of other long-standing conflicts in Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen continued to blight the lives of millions of people, particularly those from marginalized communities, including internally displaced people, refugees and migrants, and ethnic minorities, many of whom were denied the most basic rights to food, water, adequate housing, healthcare and security. Indiscriminate attacks, destruction of infrastructure, forced displacement and abusive rule by security forces, militias and armed groups continued with impunity.

Regional governments failed to respond adequately to the impacts of sharp cost of living rises, economic crises and natural and climate change-linked disasters, all affecting the fundamental human rights of hundreds of millions of people. People expressing their political, social and economic grievances faced punitive measures intended to silence dissent. Authorities detained, tortured and unjustly prosecuted dissidents and critics, punishing them with harsh sentences, including the death penalty, travel bans, threats and other forms of harassment. Those targeted included journalists, online commentators, human rights defenders – including campaigners for the rights of women, LGBTI people and marginalized communities – political and trade union activists. In Egypt, Iran and Jordan, security forces used unlawful, sometimes lethal, force alongside enforced disappearances and mass arbitrary arrests to suppress protests. Most perpetrators of such human rights violations enjoyed impunity for their crimes.

Discrimination remained rife across the region on the basis of gender, race, nationality, legal status, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, religion and economic class. In some countries it was entrenched in law.

Although extreme weather events like drought and intense heat brought death and destruction to parts of the region, governments failed to take the necessary action to tackle climate change and environmental degradation; several announced plans to expand fossil fuel production, including Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which hosted COP28.

Israel-Palestine conflict

In October, the long-standing Israel-Palestine conflict exploded and the aftershocks for regional politics and international human rights law rippled across the region, and globally.

On 7 October, Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups committed war crimes, including deliberately killing hundreds of civilians in Israel, hostage-taking, and firing indiscriminate rockets into Israel. Subsequently, Israeli forces carried out heavy air bombardments of the densely populated Gaza Strip, committing war crimes including by killing and injuring civilians and destroying and damaging homes and other civilian objects in indiscriminate and other unlawful attacks, unlawfully imposing a total siege on the already impoverished civilian population, and forcibly displacing nearly 1.9 million Palestinians from their homes.

Over the following 12 weeks, Israeli forces’ relentless bombardment and ground offensive killed 21,600 Palestinians, according to Gaza’s health ministry, a third of whom were children, injured many others, and flattened much of Gaza’s built-up areas. Mounting evidence, supported by multiple testimonies, satellite imagery and verified photos and videos gathered by Amnesty International and others, showed how Israeli forces bombed crowded refugee camps and residential buildings, repeatedly wiping out entire families and destroying hospitals, churches, mosques, UN-run schools, bakeries, roads and other crucial infrastructure. Israel’s vague warnings to “evacuate” northern Gaza, even as they continued to bombard supposedly safe areas in the south, amounted to forced displacement of the civilian population, in violation of international humanitarian law.

Thousands of other Palestinians died needlessly as a consequence of Israel’s blockade and attacks on hospitals, which left 2.2 million Gazans without access to adequate drinking water, food, medical supplies and fuel, and the virtual collapse of the health system.

As international attention focused on Gaza, violent attacks on Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, by Israeli armed forces and state-backed armed Jewish settlers intensified, killing 511 and forcing thousands to flee their homes. Such attacks were carried out with impunity. Israeli authorities also demolished hundreds of Palestinian buildings without military justification, displacing 2,249 people, and significantly increased their use of administrative detention.

International response

Despite the staggering levels of civilian bloodshed, destruction and suffering in Gaza and Israel, the international community failed to act meaningfully with some states, particularly the USA, continuing to arm parties to the conflict with weapons used in flagrant violations of human rights. The USA used its veto power to block the UN Security Council from taking effective action or for calling for a ceasefire.

Powerful nations, including the USA and many western European states, publicly backed Israel’s actions, undermining respect for international humanitarian law and protection of civilians. The international community’s unwillingness to uphold human rights and international humanitarian law emboldened Israel to continue carrying out its military offensive without regard for its devastating toll on civilians in Gaza.

On 16 November, a group of UN experts publicly warned that the world was witnessing “a genocide in the making” in Gaza.

In contrast to the international community’s lack of meaningful response, hundreds of millions of people worldwide staged mass weekly demonstrations in solidarity with Gazans and to demand a ceasefire and an end to the blockade.

Such demonstrations also swept the region, including in countries that had normalized relations with Israel and where public protests were forbidden or dangerous. In Egypt, tens of thousands took to the streets nationwide with the authorities arbitrarily arresting dozens. In Bahrain, around 1,000 people demonstrated. Large demonstrations were also held in Algeria, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Syria, Tunisia and Yemen as well as in the West Bank.

On 11 November, at an unprecedented joint summit of the Arab League and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, leaders condemned Israeli aggression against the Gaza Strip, the war crimes and the “barbaric … and inhuman massacres” perpetrated by the government of occupation. In December, South Africa applied to the International Court of Justice for proceedings to be initiated against Israel regarding its breaches of the 1948 Genocide Convention in Gaza.

Meanwhile, concerns about the conflict spreading grew. From 7 October, cross-border hostilities between Israel and Hizbullah and other armed groups in south Lebanon resulted in at least four Israeli civilian deaths and at least 20 civilian deaths in Lebanon. Between 10 and 16 October, Israeli forces fired artillery shells containing white phosphorus in military operations along Lebanon’s southern border. Amnesty International called for the attack on Dhayra to be investigated as a possible war crime. On 13 October, Israeli artillery fire in southern Lebanon killed a journalist and injured six others. The same month, Israeli strikes in Syria killed eight soldiers and hit Aleppo airport four times. Since 9 October, the Israeli military struck the Rafah border crossing with Egypt numerous times, on one occasion injuring Egyptian border guards.

Globally, online hatred and racism against Palestinian and Jewish communities escalated, including incitement to violence, hostility and discrimination, and some governments repressed the rights to freedom of expression and assembly to stifle pro-Palestinian demonstrations and slogans.

Under international humanitarian law, all sides in a conflict must protect civilians and civilian objects. Amnesty International calls for an immediate ceasefire to prevent further loss of civilian lives, to allow life-saving humanitarian aid to reach those in desperate need in Gaza, and for independent international investigations into crimes under international law committed by all parties. It calls for the immediate release of all civilian hostages held by Hamas, and of all Palestinians arbitrarily detained by Israel. The international community should impose a comprehensive arms embargo on all parties to the conflict.

Other violations of international humanitarian law

Other long-standing regional armed conflicts and their aftermaths devastated the lives of millions of people, with parties to the conflicts – some backed by foreign governments – committing war crimes and other serious violations of international humanitarian law.

In the 12th year of the conflict in Syria, all parties and their allies carried out unlawful attacks, killing civilians and destroying vital infrastructure. The Syrian government, supported by Russian government forces, launched multiple unlawful ground attacks and from October escalated aerial attacks on civilians and civilian objects in north-west Syria, killing dozens of civilians and displacing tens of thousands.

In Libya, militias and armed groups carried out unlawful attacks and used weapons with wide area effects in residential neighbourhoods, killing and wounding civilians and destroying civilian infrastructure during armed hostilities. Thousands remained arbitrarily detained in relation to the conflict or for their tribal or political affiliations. In Yemen, despite a decline in armed conflict and cross-border attacks, all parties to the conflict committed unlawful attacks and killings with impunity.

All parties to armed conflicts must respect international humanitarian law, in particular ending direct attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure, and indiscriminate attacks. Foreign governments must stop transfers of weapons where there is an overriding risk of their use to commit or facilitate serious violations of human rights or international humanitarian law.

Repression of dissent

Across the region, authorities continued to violate the rights of people who expressed critical or dissenting views, including online, whether about their government or security forces, human rights, economic policies, international affairs or social issues deemed “immoral”.

In the aftermath of Iran’s “Woman Life Freedom” uprising in 2022, authorities intensified their crackdown on women and girls defying compulsory veiling, and the harassment of relatives of unlawfully killed protesters and bystanders seeking truth and justice. They also arrested scores of journalists, lawyers and human rights defenders. The authorities disrupted internet and mobile phone networks during protests, prevented mass nationwide demonstrations on the anniversary in September, of the 2022 uprising, by carrying out arrests, and crushed smaller local protests using unlawful force and mass arrests.

Ahead of Egypt’s December presidential elections, in which genuine opposition candidates were barred from running, the authorities intensified their targeting of opposition politicians and their supporters; relatives of dissidents abroad; trade unionists; lawyers; journalists; and people critical of the authorities’ human rights record and their handling of the economic crisis, and the military’s role. Security forces continued to forcibly disappear, torture, unjustly prosecute and arbitrarily detain dissidents.

Some states used terrorism legislation or bogus charges to silence opposition and inflict harsh punishments on their critics.

In Algeria, authorities prosecuted activists and journalists for expressing critical views, mainly online, and shut down media outlets. Iraqi authorities attacked the right to freedom of expression and attempted to introduce laws and regulations to curb this right.

In Tunisia, authorities escalated their crackdown on dissent, increasingly using unfounded conspiracy and terrorism charges against high-profile opposition figures and other critics, and frequently using a new draconian cybercrime law. Members of the Ennahda opposition party were particularly targeted, with many of its leaders held in long-term pretrial detention. Over 50 political activists were investigated under trumped-up charges of “conspiracy,” while dozens of social and environmental protesters were unjustly prosecuted.

In Saudi Arabia, the authorities relentlessly targeted perceived dissidents. The Specialized Criminal Court (SCC), established to try terror-related crimes, sentenced individuals to lengthy prison terms following grossly unfair trials for exercising their rights to freedom of expression or association, including peaceful online speech. The SCC appeals court upheld Salma al-Shehab’s conviction for terrorism-related offences, including publishing tweets that “disturb public order, destabilize the security of society and the… state” for her social media posts supporting women’s rights. She was sentenced to 27 years in prison followed by a 27-year travel ban.

During the annual climate change conference (COP28), hosted by the United Arab Emirates (UAE), a mass trial began of over 80 Emiratis, including human rights defenders and prisoners of conscience already imprisoned for a decade, on trumped-up terrorism charges. At least 26 prisoners of conscience remained held in the UAE for the peaceful expression of their beliefs.

Apart from pro-Palestine marches, the enduring or intensified repression across much of the region impeded mass protests, and the few that went ahead were usually met with unlawful use of force and arrests.

Hundreds of thousands of Israelis demonstrated against proposed judicial reforms and were occasionally met with arbitrary arrests and police use of excessive force. Meanwhile, Israel’s Military Order 101 continued to suppress Palestinians’ right to peacefully protest and assemble in the West Bank.

In Jordan, the authorities increasingly stifled the peaceful activities of political activists, journalists, workers, political party members, LGBTI people and others under abusive and vaguely defined laws. A new cybercrime law further repressed individuals’ right to express their opinions online. At least 43 individuals were investigated or prosecuted for online expression, under abusive and vague laws. Nine were tried by the military State Security Court.

Governments must respect the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly, including by ensuring that journalists, human rights defenders and activists can enjoy these rights without harassment, violence and prosecution, and releasing those detained for exercising these rights.

Denial of economic and social rights

Rising inflation, government failings and other factors – locally, regionally and internationally – continued to put intense pressure on energy and food prices across the region, hitting hardest the least resource-rich and most populous countries, some of which were still recovering from the Covid-19 pandemic’s economic and other impacts. This left millions of people food insecure, and undermined their rights to water, health and an adequate standard of living. Worst affected were people who experienced multiple forms of discrimination including women, low-paid workers, refugees, migrants and internally displaced people.

In Lebanon, the economic crisis deepened, with inflation hitting triple digits and food price inflation reaching over 300%. Many people, particularly those from marginalized groups, could not afford or access medication and other essentials, including potable water, sufficient food, power and other basic goods and vital services. Egypt’s economic crisis had shattering impacts on socio-economic rights. The government allocated about half of the budget to debt repayment while failing to meet its budgetary obligations for spending on health and education, or adequately adjusting its social protection programmes. Combined with rising inflation, this pushed millions more into poverty.

In many countries, including those with burgeoning oil- and gas-rich economies, governments failed to protect low-paid workers from labour abuses, and denied workers the right to join independent trade unions and to strike. In the Gulf states, low-paid migrant workers continued to face extreme exploitation, discrimination, grossly inadequate housing, physical and mental abuses, wage theft by their employers and limited access to healthcare.

In Qatar, despite the high-profile campaigning on migrant workers’ rights in connection with football’s 2022 World Cup staged there, migrant workers faced abuses, including wage theft, forced labour and restrictions on changing jobs, and had inadequate access to grievance and redress mechanisms. The low minimum wage prevented workers from having an adequate standard of living or freeing themselves from debt bondage caused by paying illegal recruitment fees. In Qatar and some other states, domestic workers, mostly women, faced harsh working conditions and a high risk of physical and mental abuse, including sexual assault.

Dozens of Nepali migrant workers contracted to work in Amazon warehouses in Saudi Arabia suffered human rights abuses, including treatment that may amount to human trafficking for the purposes of labour exploitation. They were deceived about their jobs, had wages withheld and were housed in appalling accommodation. Some were verbally or physically abused, particularly when they complained about their conditions.

Governments must take urgent action to establish social protection measures that protect everyone, including marginalized groups, against the adverse impacts of crises, and call for coordinated international efforts to guarantee the rights to health, food and an adequate standard of living. Governments must protect the right of workers to organize independent trade unions and to protest, and extend labour law protections to migrant workers.


Women and girls

Across the region, women and girls faced discrimination in law and practice, including in relation to the rights to freedom of movement, expression, bodily autonomy, inheritance, divorce, political office and employment opportunities. Gender-based violence remained common and perpetrators enjoyed impunity. In some countries, such violence increased and protections for women weakened. In Algeria and Iraq, the law allows rapists to escape prosecution by marrying their victim. Morocco rejected UPR recommendations to criminalize marital rape. “Honour killings” of women and other femicides continued including in Algeria and Tunisia.

In the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, the regional government allowed perpetrators of domestic violence to escape prosecution and failed to adequately protect survivors.

In Iran, authorities intensified their crackdown on women and girls who defied compulsory veiling by introducing new policies severely violating their social, economic, cultural, civil and political rights. Punitive measures included sending 1 million SMS warnings to women threatening the confiscation of their vehicles and referring thousands to the judiciary.

In Yemen, the Huthi de facto authorities and armed groups imposed restrictions on women’s movement and banned them from travelling without a male guardian or their guardian’s written approval. In Egypt, the authorities failed to adequately prevent sexual and gender-based violence by state and non-state actors, amid increased reports of women killed by family members or rejected suitors. Meanwhile, women were prosecuted for speaking out against sexual violence or on “morality” grounds.

LGBTI people

People across the region were arrested and prosecuted for their sexual orientation or gender identity, and many were given harsh sentences if convicted of consensual same-sex sexual relations. Attacks on the rights of LGBTI people intensified in Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya and Tunisia. In Lebanon, authorities incited violence against gay and lesbian people. In response, 18 media organizations jointly condemned the crackdown on freedoms; and a coalition of 15 Lebanese and international organizations urged Lebanon to scrap proposed anti-LGBTI laws.

In Libya, the Internal Security Agency in Tripoli and other militias and armed groups arbitrarily arrested individuals for their actual or perceived sexual orientation and/or gender identity, and aired their torture-tainted “confessions”. Iraqi authorities ordered media to replace the term “homosexuality” with “sexual deviance”. In Tunisia, courts handed down two-year prison sentences under provisions that criminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations. In Jordan, some parliamentarians spearheaded an anti-LGBTI campaign, calling for same-sex sexual relations to be criminalized, triggering hate speech and threats against LGBTI individuals and supporters.

Racial, ethnic, national and religious communities

Across the region, members of racial, ethnic, national and religious communities and minorities faced discrimination in law and practice, including in relation to their rights to worship, enjoy equal access to employment and healthcare, and live free of persecution and other serious human rights abuses.

Israel continued to entrench its extreme form of discrimination – a system of apartheid – via oppression and domination over Palestinians through territorial fragmentation, segregation and control, dispossession of land and property, and denial of economic and social rights. This was achieved by the systematic commission of a wide range of human rights violations, including forcible transfer, administrative detention, torture, unlawful killings, denial of basic rights and freedoms, and persecution.

In Iran, ethnic minorities, including Ahwazi Arabs, Azerbaijani Turks, Baluchis, Kurds and Turkmen, faced discrimination, restricting their access to education, employment, adequate housing and political office. Christians, Gonabadi Dervishes, Jews, Yaresan and Sunni Muslims also faced discrimination in law and practice. The Baha’i minority was particularly subjected to widespread and systematic violations.

Discriminatory law in Kuwait denied the Bidun (a native stateless population) access to free state services, including education, provided to citizens. In Egypt, authorities arrested and prosecuted members of religious minorities, and people espousing beliefs not sanctioned by the state. In Libya, Tabu and Tuareg communities, denied national identity cards due to discrimination, struggled to access basic services, amid rising racism and xenophobia.

Governments must take urgent action to end gender-based discrimination and violence against women and girls, and LGBTI people and bring to justice those responsible for such crimes. They must also decriminalize consensual same-sex sexual relations. Governments must end discrimination based on race, national origin, ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation and gender identity and expression and implement legal and policy reforms to grant equal rights for all without discrimination and to protect, promote and guarantee the right to freedom of thought, conscience, religion and belief.

Rights of internally displaced people, migrants and refugees

Protracted conflicts in Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen left vast numbers of internally displaced people struggling to survive. Most faced barriers to accessing services, discrimination, blocks on their right to return home or reprisals if they tried to return without authorization, and restrictions and cuts to vital humanitarian aid.

In Iraq, at least 1.1 million people remained internally displaced as a result of the conflict with the armed group Islamic State, with the majority remaining in precarious situations almost six years after the conflict. In April, Iraqi authorities closed, without warning or coordination with humanitarian actors, the last operating internally displaced people’s camp.

In Syria, around 2.9 million internally displaced people in the north-west continued to rely on UN-coordinated humanitarian assistance, and in 2023, at least 118,000 more people were displaced by armed clashes. The Syrian government restricted essential supplies from reaching civilians, including many internally displaced people, who lived in predominantly Kurdish areas in the northern Aleppo region, and already faced severe shortages of fuel and aid.

Natural disasters, the impacts of which were exacerbated by government mismanagement, impunity and the rule of militias, compounded the problems of displaced people and added hundreds of thousands to their ranks. Earthquakes in south-eastern Türkiye and northern Syria on 6 February displaced around 400,000 families in Syria and left nearly 9 million people in need of immediate humanitarian support. Many families lost their homes and were forced to live in temporary shelters and camps. The earthquakes also increased the humanitarian needs of all those previously displaced in north-west Syria, including the growing number living in tents with limited or no access to water, sanitation and healthcare.

Migrants’ and refugees’ rights took a battering across the region. In Lebanon, host to an estimated 1.5 million Syrian and more than 200,000 other refugees – the government’s failure to mitigate the impacts of the country’s economic crisis left around 90% of Syrian refugees in extreme poverty, without access to adequate food and basic services. Increasing anti-refugee rhetoric, sometimes fuelled by local authorities and politicians, intensified the hostile environment for refugees. In April and May, Lebanese armed forces raided Syrian refugees’ houses, deporting most of them; in September they raided refugee camps in the Bekaa region and Arsal town and confiscated property. In Jordan, 2 million Palestinian and approximately 750,000 other refugees faced poverty and deteriorating conditions, partly due to international aid cuts.

From July, Tunisian authorities forcibly expelled thousands of Black migrants, asylum seekers and refugees, including children, to the desert along the Libyan and Algerian borders, leaving them without food or water, resulting in at least 28 deaths. The authorities, including President Saied, instigated an unprecedented level of racist violence against Black migrants. Police used tear gas against migrants, asylum seekers and refugees staging a sit-in outside UN offices in Tunis and tortured protesters in custody. In Libya, refugees and migrants, including those intercepted at sea by EU-backed coastguards and armed groups and forcibly returned to Libya, were subjected to indefinite arbitrary detention, torture and other ill-treatment, extortion and forced labour; and over 22,000 were forcibly and summarily expelled towards Chad, Egypt, Niger and Sudan.

Saudi Arabia forcibly returned to their home countries hundreds of thousands of people in a crackdown on undocumented migrants. In Iran, the estimated 5 million Afghan nationals living there faced deep-rooted discrimination, including barriers to basic services. Authorities threatened to deport Afghans who entered Iran irregularly and prohibited Afghans from living and/or working in some provinces.

Governments must take concrete steps to ensure the voluntary, safe and dignified return of internally displaced people to their areas of origin. They must also end the arbitrary detention of refugees and migrants on the basis of their migration status, and protect them from torture and other ill-treatment in detention, refoulement and mass expulsions.

Death penalty

Most states retained the death penalty and some handed down death sentences, including for offences or acts protected under international law such as consensual same-sex sexual relations and apostasy, and for bogus or overly broad charges brought to silence dissent. Executions were carried out in Egypt, Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. In Egypt, the number of executions fell, but in Iran it rose, and in Libya there were threats to resume executions halted since 2011. A Saudi Arabian court handed down for the first time a death sentence imposed for social media activity.

Governments must immediately establish an official moratorium on executions with a view to abolishing the death penalty.

Climate crisis

2023 exposed the terrible consequences of climate change regionally, including water shortages and extreme weather conditions that increasingly affected vulnerable areas and populations, and revealed the poor preparedness of many countries for such impacts.

Storm Daniel triggered the collapse of two poorly maintained dams in Libya’s Derna city. Resulting torrents left 4,540 people dead, 8,500 missing and over 44,000 displaced. Unprecedented heatwaves in Algeria, triggered at least 140 fires that killed some 34 people and displaced 1,500. Record high temperatures were recorded in Morocco, reaching over 50°C in Agadir. Iraq and Syria faced sustained drought.

Meanwhile, regional states generally maintained a business-as-usual approach to fossil fuel production, contributing to the likelihood of an overshoot of the target to keep global warming to below 1.5°C, and failed to respond adequately to environmental degradation. Iraq reported record revenues from oil sales and announced plans to drill new wells and increase oil production. Saudi Arabia announced plans to increase its output by about 1 million barrels a day by 2027 and increase by 50% its production of natural gas by 2030. It continued to play a spoiler role in international negotiations on the phase out of fossil fuels, blocking a G20 initiative to reduce the use of fossil fuels, and was one of the strongest opponents of including fossil fuel phase out in the COP28 decision. Kuwait retained plans to increase fossil fuel production until at least 2035, with the state-owned Kuwait Oil Company announcing in June that it would spend over USD 40 billion by 2028 to expand oil production. Qatar expanded its production of liquefied natural gas. However, Oman launched a programme to reduce carbon emissions, focusing on carbon neutrality goals for 2030, 2040 and 2050, although it continued to rely on and produce non-renewable sources of energy.

The choice of UAE as the COP28 host proved controversial not least because the state-owned Abu Dhabi National Oil Company, one of the world’s largest producers of hydrocarbons which is headed by COP28 president Sultan Al Jaber, had announced plans to aggressively expand its fossil fuel production.

In December, at COP28, states agreed, for the first time, a decision that mentioned fossil fuels, but fell far short of what was needed, including by leaving loopholes allowing fossil fuel producers and states to continue with their current approach. States, including those most responsible for the climate crisis, also failed to provide adequate commitments on funding, either for climate finance to help other states transition to clean energy or to adapt to the harmful impacts of the climate crisis, and offered barely enough to operationalize the new Loss and Damage Fund.

Governments must urgently take steps to mitigate the climate crisis, and to keep global warming to within the limit of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, including by curbing their carbon emissions (particularly those most responsible for historical emissions), and ending the funding of fossil fuel extraction. All states with the necessary resources should significantly increase funding to countries in need of assistance for human rights-consistent mitigation and adaptation measures.

Torture and other ill-treatment

Torture and other ill-treatment continued in official and unofficial places of detention, with rampant levels in Egypt, Iran, Libya, Saudi Arabia and Syria that sometimes led to deaths in custody with impunity; and continuing reports emerging of its use from Algeria, Iraq, Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Lebanon, Morocco, Palestine (State of) and the UAE. Torture was often used to extract “confessions” and methods included beatings, electric shocks, mock executions, suspension in contorted positions, rape and other sexual violence, denial of healthcare and prolonged solitary confinement.

In Egypt, torture and other ill-treatment remained routine in prisons, police stations and National Security Agency-run facilities, and included deliberate denial of healthcare, prolonged solitary confinement, bombardment with bright lights, constant camera surveillance, and denial of family visits. In Iran and Libya, it remained widespread and systematic, with filmed “confessions” extracted under torture broadcast publicly. In almost all cases documented across the region, authorities failed to adequately investigate torture allegations and suspicious deaths in custody. Whistle-blower Mohamed Benhlima told an Algerian court in July that law enforcement officers had tortured him, including by stripping him naked, tying his legs and hands and pouring cold water on him, and that he was also sexually harassed, beaten and threatened. The judge did not open an investigation into his allegations and he was sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment.

Governments must ensure independent, impartial and effective investigations into allegations of torture and other ill-treatment, and implement measures to prevent these crimes.


States across the region continued to facilitate impunity for perpetrators of serious human rights violations, highlighting the failings of deeply flawed domestic judicial systems.

In Egypt, impunity prevailed for crimes under international law and other grave human rights violations committed in 2023 or the past decade, including the unlawful killings in August 2013 of at least 900 people during violent dispersals of sit-ins by supporters of the ousted president Mohamed Morsi. Similarly, the investigation into the 2020 Beirut port explosion in Lebanon, which killed at least 236 people, remained suspended since December 2021 due to legal complaints filed against the investigation’s judges by politicians implicated in the tragedy. In Iran, no public official was held accountable for unlawful killings, enforced disappearance, torture and other ill-treatment, including rape and other forms of sexual violence, and other crimes under international law or grave human rights violations committed during 2023 or previous years.

The international community failed to ensure accountability for human rights violations. In March, the UN Independent Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) on Libya issued its final report, concluding that “there are grounds to believe State security forces and armed militia groups have committed a wide array of war crimes and crimes against humanity”. However, the UN Human Rights Council did not extend the FFM’s mandate. Concerns remained over the impartiality, independence, transparency and effectiveness of the investigations announced by the Tripoli-based Public Prosecution into the death and destruction following Storm Daniel, including examining whether the Libyan authorities and those in de facto control failed to protect the population’s rights to life.

Governments must combat impunity by undertaking thorough, independent, impartial, effective and transparent investigations into human rights violations and crimes under international law, and bringing suspected perpetrators to justice in fair trials in civilian courts.