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Research programme on anti-discrimination laws in the Middle East and North Africa

Duration: November 2022 – June 2023 

Regions: Middle East and North Africa 

Communities: Various

What was this programme about?

This programme was a collaboration between the Human Rights Centre Clinic (HRC) at the University of Essex and Minority Rights Group (MRG). Its aims were two-fold: to provide an understanding of the impact of anti-discrimination laws on minorities and indigenous peoples in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and to inform future MRG approaches to research, training and advocacy in the region. 

HRC was the programme lead and main investigator. It reviewed and analyzed anti-discrimination laws in a selection of countries in the MENA region, with a focus on religion, ethnicity and language, by applying an intersectional lens and combining comparative legal research with international human rights law. 

MRG took an advisory role. It provided expert knowledge about the region and its minorities, legal expertise on existing in-country legislation and its application, as well as local connections and contacts for participation in the research. MRG provided input at every stage of the programme and aimed to use the outputs for advocacy and strategic litigation in the region.

Why we delivered this programme

Many countries in the MENA region have undergone constitutional and legal changes following the 2011 uprisings. In Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, and Libya the principles of non-discrimination and equality before the law, and freedom of religion or belief, have been included in constitutions. In Iran and Iraq, these principles were in fact already constitutionally enshrined prior to the uprisings. Some governments even went as far as to issue specific anti-discrimination laws. In 2018, Tunisia’s parliament passed a law criminalizing racial discrimination. Alongside it, the parliament also issued two new laws on violence against women and against human trafficking. Turkish anti-discrimination laws can be found in five areas of its legislation, all offering some protection to citizens from discrimination before the law.

Recently, however, progress on anti-discrimination in the region has faltered. In Algeria, the passing of a law in April 2020 on preventing and combating discrimination and hate speech has been severely criticized by human rights groups for seemingly aiming to control public speech rather than fight discrimination. In Morocco, a draft law against racial discrimination presented in 2014 by a political party and re-launched in 2022 has yet to materialize in the constitution. Similarly, in Iraq, a draft anti-discrimination law was approved at its first reading in Parliament in October 2016, but did not progress further. In 2021, Türkiye withdrew from the 2011 Istanbul Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence. 

This research programme offered a comparative analysis which allowed MRG to deepen its understanding of anti-discrimination laws in the region and improve its future strategies in the region. It allowed post-graduate students from the Human Rights Clinic of the University of Essex to gain essential knowledge under the supervision of academics and MRG staff.

What did we do?

  • Conducted desk-based research and legal reviews to identify existing anti-discrimination legislation and policies with an impact on minorities and indigenous peoples 
  • Reviewed cases where anti-discrimination laws do not exist but either are debated or specific protections exist in the constitution instead
  • Conducted interviews with experts and minority and indigenous peoples’ representatives 
  • Created a network of experts on anti-discrimination law 
  • Engaged in strategic litigation both nationally and internationally based on the findings 
  • Co-produced a final report based on the programme’s findings 
  • Co-produced blog posts focusing on either thematic or geographic areas

Who were our partners?

  • The Human Rights Centre Clinic at the University of Essex, founded in 2009, is part of one of the oldest academic human rights centres in the world. It runs projects that enable students to apply their knowledge to practical situations and develop their professional skills, working in partnership with civil society organizations, international organizations, governments and national human rights institutions.

Clergymen who believe in Yazidi religion in the Kurdistan province of Iraq, August 2017. Credit: Duhok Laleş.