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Women, refugees vulnerable in Arab world: UN

New report says Arab states battling expanding list of issues

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Arab states must take measures to combat an expanding list of issues including rising populations, trafficking, unemployment and water scarcity, a U.N.-sponsored report said on Tuesday.

The 288-page report, "Challenges to Human Security in the Arab Countries," said poverty, civil wars, sectarian and ethnic conflicts, authoritarian repression added to the human rights problems faced by the region.

"In the Arab region, human insecurity -- pervasive, often intense and with consequences affecting large numbers of people -- inhibits human development," said the report, which was drafted mainly by Arab academics.

Refugees, displaced persons, children and women are at the forefront of vulnerable groups states must protect, the report said.

Violence against women

Though violence against women can be found in every country, women in societies with entrenched male dominance, patriarchal kinship patterns, and legalized discrimination - the situation in many Arab countries - are acutely vulnerable," said Munira Fakhro, former associate professor at the University of Bahrain and an advisory board member for the report.

"Much of the violence against Arab women is inflicted unseen in the home, on wives and sisters, daughters and mothers."

Female genital mutilation and "honor crimes" remained the most notorious forms of violence against women in several Arab societies, notably Jordan and Iraq.

Under-reporting makes the prevalence of such crimes almost impossible to define, but punishment for "immoral behavior" -- from mingling with men to extra-marital affairs -- can be as severe as death, according to the report.

It recommended states implement legal and institutional changes aimed at placing legislation in line with international conventions.
The fragility of the region’s political, social and economic structures, the absence of people-centered policies and the region's vulnerability to outside intervention were among the factors that had held back progress, according to the report.

The matter of refugees

Refugees and internally displaced persons continue to be an ignored problem in the Arab world, it said, as Palestinians, Iraqis and Sudanese suffer "at worst loss of life" and often are left homeless, unemployed and with no economic prospects.

"The fabled oil wealth of the Arab countries presents a misleading picture of their economic situation to live with the insecurities associated with their status," the report said.

"They are at the mercy of conditions in camps or political and economic events in their host countries, which could suddenly turn against them."

While statistics on refugees are often difficult to verify, the United Nations registers approximately 7.5 million refugees in Arab countries, almost half of the 16 million refugees registered worldwide.

Jordan, Lebanon and Syria have still not ratified the convention on the status of refugees, the report recalled.

The Arab world is also home to some 17 million people who were forced to leave their homes and live in economic, political and social uncertainty, rendering them more susceptible to violence and trafficking, the report found.

"From a human development perspective, only the end of Israel’s occupation of the territories it occupied in 1967 and the restoration of Palestinian rights, foremost among which is the right to self-determination, will bring about that lasting peace, the absence of which so far has contributed to frustrating human development in the region," the report said.

The fabled oil wealth of the Arab countries presents a misleading picture of their economic situation to live with the insecurities associated with their status

U.N. report