Issues related to human rights, the rule of law, recent political developments in the Middle East and prospects for change, demographic challenges, historical perspectives and the role of outside actors were some of the topics discussed in the Symposium with the theme “New and Old Challenges in the Arab Countries of the Gulf and the Levant” which was held at Oxford University on 16 November 2013. The Symposium was jointly organised by OxGAPS Forum and the John Smith Memorial Trust and was attended by around one hundred participants, including many from the region itself.
“This has been the best discussion on human rights I have participated in for a long time” said Baroness Helena Kennedy, renowned human rights barrister and campaigner, and Principal of Mansfield College, Oxford, at the end of the second panel of the symposium which focused on the theme “Human Rights and the Rule of law – a tangled tale”.
Speaking as a guest speaker on the panel Baroness Kennedy said that human rights and the rule of law were intertwined. The rule of law was fundamental to any successful society and nobody should be above the law. It was however meaningless without respect for human rights. She spoke about the origins of the declaration of human rights from the first discussions held by international lawyers and judges after World War II in order to find a way to inject a sense of justice and humanity into all legal systems.
She provided a brief historical overview of progress made on this front during the 20th century and following the challenges presented by 9/11, emphasizing that human rights is learned through experience, through learning stories and learning what it means to have universal values.
She concluded saying:
“Rule of law is meaningless without human rights. It is one coin and you can’t have one without other as they are entangled in each other. One cannot deliver rule of law without respecting human rights; human rights should be high on national and global agendas as the only way to attain peace and justice.”
The panel was Chaired by OxGAPS co-ordinator, Dennis Sammut and included Melkar al Khoury from Lebanon; Sarah al Sharji from Oman, Maimuna al Suleimanli from Oman; Mona Hejres from Lebanon and Adi Khair from Jordan.
A full report of the Symposium proceedings will be available shortly.