Amnesty International has been challenged, as never before, to respond to events in the Middle East and North Africa. Here, Amnesty teams explain how they work to support the struggle for freedom and justice in the region.

During the last 14 months in the Middle East and North Africa, millions of people of all ages and backgrounds – especially the young and often with women to the fore – flooded on to the streets to demand change. Many continue to do so in the face of extreme violence by the military and security forces of those who claim to govern in their name.

The protests have brought together people from many different ethnic and religious communities. After years of oppression, human rights violations, misrule and corruption, they have raised their voices with unprecedented energy and power – and succeeded in toppling the long-standing rulers of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen who, until 2011, had seemed invincible.

Bahrain’s rulers, backed by Saudi Arabia, faced down the protests by force, at heavy human cost and deepening divisions, but have committed to reform, reparation and reconciliation. Syria is on the brink of civil war as its President, Bashar al-Assad, is using relentless brute force to crush the protests.


Amnesty in action

As soon as the scale of the unrest became clear, Amnesty International went into “crisis response mode” and diverted resources to increase our monitoring of human rights developments in the region and step up our campaigning.

Researchers and other experts have been visiting hospitals and morgues, inspecting prison and hospital records, and interviewing a vast number of victims of abuses and eye-witnesses, government officials, local NGO representatives, health workers, lawyers, human rights and political activists, and many others. 

Because human rights organizations, among many others, were barred entry to Syria, our teams have been to Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan to speak to people who had recently fled Syria. The Yemeni authorities denied us access to Yemen but we were able to closely monitor developments there through long-established ties with individuals and organizations based in the country. This and other forms of research helped us to establish the veracity of many of the claims and counter-claims about human rights abuses, to publish reports and publicize on an almost daily basis some of the key human rights developments. The research also formed the basis for our global campaigning, advocacy and media work to support the demands of the people in the region for human rights change.

Urgent Actions have been issued every week on behalf of people at grave risk either because they faced a grossly unfair trial, or were in danger of execution or likely to be tortured, or because they disappeared. 

Press releases and news stories covering key developments, special features, blogs and videos are made available almost every day on, and translated, adapted and promoted through our national media and online networks around the world.

Ahead of Tunisia’s elections for the National Constituent Assembly on 23 October 2011, we published a 10-point manifesto for human rights. This challenged candidates to pledge to undertake key reforms, including reining in the security forces, reforming the justice system, combating discrimination, and abolishing the death penalty. Amnesty International campaigned for candidates to sign the manifesto, with Amnesty Tunisia leading the lobbying work. 

In March, people around the world added their name to a petition entitled “Ensure Accountability for the Excessive Force Used and a Call for the Protection of Protesters” in Bahrain. In August, along with the release of the report, Deadly detention: death in custody amid popular protest in Syria, an interactive website,, was created to focus attention on 88 reported deaths in custody.

In response to the deepening conflict in Libya, Amnesty International members called on both sides to respect human rights. Following the launch of our “Human Rights Agenda for Change” for Libya and the report, The battle for Libya: Killings, disappearances and torture, activists globally wrote to Libya’s National Transitional Council (NTC) urging it to put human rights at the heart of institutional reform to ensure that militias do not commit abuses. 

In response to the brutal treatment of protesters in Yemen, we have highlighted the extent of the human rights crisis in the country, notably in the report, Moment of Truth for Yemen, in April, and also focused on the supply of weapons being used to commit gross human rights violations against peaceful protesters. We identified at least 10 supplier countries – the USA and the UK in particular, but also Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Italy, the Russian Federation, Turkey and the Ukraine – and called on them to immediately suspend the authorization, supply and transfers of weapons, munitions, armaments and related material to Yemen. 

We campaigned with other organizations against a crackdown on dissent in the United Arab Emirates, in particular the case of five civil society activists who were sentenced in November after a grossly unfair trial to between two and three years in prison; they were released the following day under a presidential pardon.

In relation to Saudi Arabia, when we discovered that the government was preparing draconian anti-terrorism legislation, we initiated an online action enabling more than 28,000 people from around the world to call on King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz Al-Saud to bring the draft law into line with international human rights standards. We also issued a report in December, Saudi Arabia: Repression in the name of security, focusing on a new wave of repression in the context of protests and counter-terrorism measures. 

Urgent Actions and statements were also used to call on the Iranian authorities to investigate the apparent excessive use of force during demonstrations, and to call for the release of prisoners of conscience and others who were arbitrarily detained. A bill in the Majles (Parliament) that would have further restricted the operations of independent NGOs was sent for further study following an action against it. We also campaigned against a surge in the use of the death penalty, issuing in December the report, Addicted to death: Executions for drugs offences in Iran, and warning that, in the past, such increases had been followed by mass, often summary, executions of political detainees. 


As events in the Middle East and North Africa continue to unfold, we will carry on documenting the violations and mobilizing our members and supporters in support and solidarity with the people who are truly “in the frontline” in demanding reform, accountability and real guarantees for human rights. 


For ongoing updates on the Middle East and North Africa, go to


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