Powell Should Urge Political Reform in North Africa
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell should use his visit to Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco this week to urge the governments of those countries to take meaningful steps toward expanding democratic freedoms for their citizens, Freedom House said today.
Secretary Powell's trip presents a unique opportunity for the United States to promote political rights and civil liberties throughout North Africa and the Middle East. It will be an important first step in implementing the vision outlined in the Bush Administration's Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI), which is designed to spur political reform in the region.
"Secretary Powell should make bold and specific statements calling for the countries in the region to take serious steps to enhance the rule of law, strengthen independent media, and expand democratic freedoms," said Freedom House Executive Director Jennifer Windsor. "Such calls would be fully in accord with American policy as outlined in the MEPI initiative, and would go a long way toward implementing the changes necessary for the region," she said.
The United States should also remind North African governments that the global war against terrorism should not be used as an excuse to violate basic rights, and that the expansion of democracy is central to the overall strategy of combating terrorism and improving regional stability, Freedom House said.
Freedom House encourages Secretary Powell to highlight recent specific cases of concern regarding political rights and civil liberties in each North African country, including:
Algeria: Secretary Powell should call on the Algerian government to increase the judiciary's independence and to expand press freedoms. The government's dismissal of 21 magistrates earlier this month raises serious doubts concerning the government's stated desire for an independent and impartial judiciary. Recent government prosecutions of journalists under a 2001 penal code amendment that allows stricter penalties for defamation of the President are a step backwards for press freedom. Secretary Powell should criticize the prosecution of journalists Hassan Bourras and Farid Alilat earlier this month as steps in the wrong direction for freedom and democracy.
Tunisia: Secretary Powell should call on Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to relinquish his government's monopoly on political life and to allow democratic competition for meaningful power. He should also condemn the Tunisian government's regular and systematic harassment of human rights defenders. In particular, Secretary Powell should call on the Tunisian government to release Lotfi Farhat, one of hundreds of political prisoners convicted in unfair trials.
Morocco: Secretary Powell should encourage Morocco to build on its success earlier this year to enhance political rights and civil liberties for women by taking further steps to expand democratic freedoms for all Moroccans. Specifically, Secretary Powell should stress the need for the Moroccan government to expand press freedoms and to stop unwarranted prosecutions of journalists, as well as the need to take concrete steps that enhances the authority of democratically elected bodies like the Chamber of Representatives.
Libya: Although Secretary Powell will not travel to Libya, he should use the occasion of his visit to the region to highlight Libya's ranking among the most repressive regimes in the world. Freedom House encourages Secretary Powell to highlight the plight of average Libyans who have suffered for more than three decades under Muammar Qadhafi's rule. He should stress that any discussions about normalizing ties with the United States should be conditioned on meaningful political and human rights reform in Libya.
Freedom House background reports on all four countries are available online:
Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights.