CIPCR recently had the honour of hosting a delegation from our Middle East partners, the Arab Network for Tolerance.
Delegates from Palestine, Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen descended on Belfast for a week-long programme of events. Whilst coming from different countries, the group members are affiliated to the Arab Network for Tolerance which is a forum where activists, academics, media professionals and youth can come together to identify new strategies for improving human rights in the MENA region. The Network was formed in 2008 by the Ramallah Centre for Human Rights Studies and this study visit was led by the Centre’s Director Dr Iyad Bargouthi. We were also joined by a number of delegates from Bahrain, who are beginning to look more closely at these issues.
The visit to Belfast is part of a wider programme of activity that CIPCR is undertaking in partnership with the Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD). This involves working with the Ramallah Centre and members of the Network for Tolerance to build their capacity and capability in order to enable them to be more effective in their own countries and across the Middle East region.
WFD has been supporting a programme of political development in the Middle East and as part of this initiative requested CIPCR to provide a tailored study visit to Northern Ireland to see at first hand the transformation which has begun, and continues, in society generally and both within and across communities. WFD asked for a particular focus on human rights and equality issues and arrangements in Northern Ireland, linking this focus to the development of peace-building and conflict transformation.
The programme was specifically aimed at the higher level of engagement. Delegates met and were briefed by some of the key players in the Northern Ireland peace process, past and present. These included former and serving Human Rights commissioners; the Chief Executive of the Equality Commission; the Victims Commission; the Police Ombudsman and the Policing Board as well as the leadership of the PSNI. Delegates also visited a number of community groups who are working across the sectarian interface in Belfast to deliver comprehensive programmes focussed on rights and justice. Representatives from the major political parties in Northern Ireland also briefed delegates on their respective parties’ views on human rights and equality.
Both WFD and the programme delegates regard the Northern Ireland experience as providing a very relevant contribution to the objectives of the Arab Network for Tolerance. It is not the purpose of either the wider project nor this specific visit to replicate arrangements existing in Northern Ireland or to address specific issues but rather to discuss them in an open and transparent way as a contribution to the debate which is part and parcel of the Arab Network for Tolerance’s role and remit.