In a piece for PITAPOLICY on May 5, I wrote about M. Cherif Bassiouni‘s views on legal accountability in the Middle East: M. Cherif Bassiouni: Accountability, Legally Speaking.
PITAPOLICY represents the Politics, Interests, Technology, and Analysis of the Middle East & North African region, or the “pita-consuming” region. The owner of PITAPOLICY, Mehrunisa Qayyum, is an international-development consultant and a political-economy analyst of the Middle Eastern and North African regions.
Accountability, Legal Speaking…
Washington, DC~ On Tuesday, April 17th, the Elliott School of International Affairs at the George Washington University hosted the Institute for Middle East Studies 2012 Annual Conference. The theme of the conference was the legal dimension of the Arab Spring.
I had the opportunity to attend the keynote session presented by Egyptian-American United Nations war-crimes expert, M. Cherif Bassiouni. Among his lengthy list of titles and accomplishments, he is an Emeritus Distinguished Research Professor of Law at DePaul University College of Law, President Emeritus of the International Human Rights Law Institute, and President of the International Institute of Higher Studies in Criminal Sciences in Italy. Bassiouni is currently best known for chairing the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry. On a personal note, I will proudly add that he is an alumnus (SJD) of the George Washington University Law School.
Bassiouni’s talk revolved around his reflections on the Arab Spring and its impact on the legal order in several Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) countries. From the outset, Bassiouni expressed his concern that despite the “Arab Spring” label, it is difficult to say at this time whether there has been any radical significance to the removal of heads of state in the MENA region. He elaborated that although Arab states and citizens sincerely seek accountability, he questions how that could be achieved in light of a paradox Arab states suffer: Although each country professes adherence to the rule of law, Arab states tend to suffer from a “symptomatic” and “dysfunctional” relationship between what is intellectually aspired to, and what is actually achieved. Bassiouni attributes this “enormous gap” to the Arab world’s historically ingrained culture that enables the “word” to predominate any deed.
As a case in point, Bassiouni points out that during his work with the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry, the King of Bahrain expressed surprise that orders he made in Bassiouni’s presence were not followed, insisting that because he made the order, it was a done task. Bassiouni later noted that although Bahrain has a long way to go, it took significant steps to take action relative to other countries in terms of accountability and rule of law.
Bassiouni acknowledged Tunisia’s prosecution of the former head of state, Zine el-Abidine. However, he has been convicted in absentia and is currently in Saudi Arabia, which has no plans to extradite him to Tunisia.