Middle East and North Africa
Penal Reform International (PRI) has been working in the region since 1991. PRI’s Middle East and North Africa programme currently operates in Jordan, Morocco, Algeria, Egypt, Yemen and Sudan. PRI’s regional office in Amman, Jordan, opened in 2005.
Political and social instability continue to pervade the region. Armed conflicts in Iraq, Lebanon, Israel and Palestine have resulted in many civilian deaths and casualties. War and conflict have destroyed resources and the social fabric of the region, threatening peoples’ livelihoods and generating serious humanitarian needs.
The ongoing global ‘war on terror’ has served to justify ongoing human rights violations. Arbitrary detention, torture, ill-treatment and unfair trials have characterised the region’s efforts to tackle terrorism. Restrictions on the freedom of expression and association in some countries have resulted in the detention of prisoners of conscience.
Democratic institutions are generally weak and political participation low. An inadequate separation of powers between government and the judiciary compromises the effectiveness of criminal justice systems.
Although a region rich in resources, almost a third of the population live on less that US$2 per day and nearly a quarter of the population do not have access to basic health and education services.
Penal reform challenges in the region
Although efforts are being made across the region to ensure criminal justice legislation meets international standards, progress is required to ensure the effective implementation of reforms on the ground and due respect for the rule of law. Systems to support the enforcement of sentences, along with legislation to provide alternative sanctions to imprisonment, are currently absent in the region.
More resources and targeted policies are required to ensure vulnerable prisoners such as children, women, and disabled people receive appropriate care and treatment.
Prison overcrowding, delays in the trial process, poor coordination between criminal justice agencies and the lack of reliable data about the prison system continue to pose significant challenges for reform across the region.
The death penalty is still applied in many countries, and in some cases, following unfair trials. In Iran, the death penalty is imposed and carried out on children under the age of 18. In Lebanon, capital punishment has been reintroduced following a five-year moratorium.
How PRI is addressing these challenges:
Juvenile Justice Programme
PRI is promoting human rights and good prison management through a comprehensive training programme across the region. In Jordan, Morocco, Algeria and Sudan multi-disciplinary training involving judges, lawyers, police and NGOs is helping to promote interagency cooperation on prison reform. The provision of training and support to institutions in the region is enabling local organizations to promote human rights awareness among the legal profession and prison staff. This has been supported by the development of human rights training tools in Arabic based on international standards and local legislation.
PRI is increasing civil society engagement in penal reform through the organization of national events and meetings. In Morocco, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Yemen and Algeria, PRI has focused on generating dialogue and information exchange on alternatives to imprisonment.
PRI in the region works on ensuring that the rights of children in conflict with the law are protected and that the detention of children is a measure of last resort and for the shortest time possible. We work with both governments and NGOs to promote international standards and guidelines related to juvenile justice, notably the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
We work with criminal justice agencies to promote and establish diversionary programmes and non-custodial measures for children.
Penal Reform International has set up an Arabic website to promote child’s rights and juvenile justice. For more information please visit:
Anti Death Penalty Campaign
PRI is also campaigning for the abolition of the death penalty in the Middle East and North Africa. The work aims to raise public awareness on arguments against the death penalty, increase the number of governments having existing or planned policies to restrict the use of the death penalty, as a first step towards abolition, and support civil society in building national and regional coalitions for campaigning and lobbying purposes.
Through research, publicity and media activities the project will also argue for appropriate alternatives to the death penalty including challenging the view that life imprisonment is an appropriate alternative. The focus countries for the project are Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, Palestine, Tunisia and Yemen.
Further information about PRI's work in the Middle East and North Africa
PRI's work on juvenile justice in the Arab world
PRI's work on pre-trial detention in Lebanon