Friday, February 16, 2007

Syria to establish a National Human Rights Commission!

In February last year, the UN agreed to support the Syrian government in implementing its 10th five-year development plan (2006-2010). A technical assistance programme was signed at a cost of US$110 million and the UN agreed to absorb US$30 million of this cost.

The aim of the programme is to address mounting social and economic problems in the country and, in particular, reduce poverty and regional disparities. The key targets of the programme are to:

1) improve governance
2) improve transparency and accountability
3) create a participatory democratic society
4) create a socially responsible economy
5) generate sustainable economic growth
6) generate higher employment to improve human development and reduce poverty

These goals translate into more detailed plans and projects on the ground (see the Annex in the full report here).

Syria, in common with other countries that suffer from deep-seated corruption and maladministration, is better at making plans than implementing them. Reform campaigners should monitor in particular the following 4 targets and outcomes and take the government to task on these and other elements of the programme:

Target 1: Accountability of executive bodies reinforced towards the general public and in regard to committed United Nations conventions
1.1 Capacity of legislative bodies and elected representatives to oversee executive bodies strengthened
1.2 Capacity of civil society and media to monitor performance of public institutions and service delivery strengthened
1.3 Anti-corruption legislation and institutions in place

Target 2: Democratic electoral processes and civic education enhanced
2.1 Local electoral laws revised according to international standards of political participation and election commission/institution established
2.2 National programmes on civic education as well as free, fair and transparent election systems and practices implemented
2.3 Women's capacity strengthened to enhance their participation in political life and decision-making

Target 3: An empowered civil society involved in the development and implementation of public policies, planning and programmes
3.1 The legal framework improved and implemented to allow enhanced participation of civil society organisations
3.2 Capacities of civil society and private sector associations enhanced, including in the use of ICT tools, to participate in reform policy formulation
3.3 National dialogue on human development deficits promoted among stakeholders

Target 4: Improving administrative services for citizens and courts’ administrations taking into account citizens’ rights and the needs of vulnerable groups.
4.1 Better targeting, access to, and improved quality of some administrative services through reform of legal frameworks, processes (cutting red tape) and automation
4.2 Strategy for the management and development of human resources within the civil service defined and implemented
4.3 E-government and e-business introduced
4. 4 Awareness of human rights issues for actors involved in law enforcement and rule of law, education and media improved
4.5 National Human Rights Commission established
4.6 Court procedures and capacity of the justice sector improved

The government has already implemented some measures relating to local elections (see previous post on the forthcoming Syrian elections in 2007) but local democracy could be undermined if financial resources continue to be raised and allocated entirely by central government.

It is interesting that the programme envisages the establishment of a national human rights commission. Could Assef Shawkat perhaps be persuaded to lead it?!

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