- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 21, 2009

UNITED NATIONS | A U.N. assessment of security in the Arab world faults governments for curtailing the growth and development of their citizens.

The infringement on human rights, the report finds, is a larger obstacle to development than the “oil curse” or even foreign occupation.

The U.N. Development Program’s (UNDP) Human Development Report focusing on Arab states finds that governments increasingly view “security” as protecting the state from threat by citizens or interlopers, rather than securing for its citizens growth and progress.

“We were looking for the main challenge to human development in the Arab region,” said Adel Abdellatif, UNDP program director for the Arab region.

“Not to push [governments] forward, but to see what is holding them back.”

UNDP has for years broken down its data by region and theme. The latest report, which was not shown in advance to governments, will be formally released in Beirut on Tuesday.

The report recommends that Arab governments outlaw discrimination against women and minorities, protect the environment and create meaningful work, especially for the young.

Speaking to a half-dozen reporters in New York — none from Arabic media outlets — Mr. Abdellatif noted that most of the Arab states had signed treaties and adopted laws that ensure specific human rights, such as a fair trial, equality before the law and women’s rights.

But he said the laws are often upended by outsized internal security organizations, or government decrees.

The report lists six Arab countries that were under a declared state of emergency in 2008: Syria since 1963; Egypt since 1981; Algeria since 1992; Iraq since 2004; Sudan since 2008; and the Palestinian territories since 2007. The western Sudanese region of Darfur has been under a state of emergency since 2005.

Occupying military forces in the Palestinian territories, Somalia and Iraq undercut individual freedoms by destroying dignity, health and livelihoods, and by derailing democratic reforms, the report says.

UNDP’s report finds that oil wealth, which is sometimes blamed for excesses that limit human development, is not in itself a curse, as long as the state uses its proceeds to invest in schools, roads, clinics and other infrastructure to improve the lives of citizens.

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