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. Activities 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.