Cablegate: Forum for the Future: Ministerial Session On

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.




E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (U) November 12, 2005; 12:10 p.m., Manama, Bahrain.

2. (U) Participants: G8 and BMENA Foreign Ministers

Peter Mulrean (notetaker)

3. (U) SUMMARY. During the afternoon session of the Forum
for the Future, participants discussed Civil Society and the
Democracy Assistance Dialogue. With 40 civil society
representatives present at the Forum, and eight of them
taking the floor, this session demonstrated the progress made
in increasing the level of government-civil society dialogue
within the BMENA context over the past year. Government and
civil society reps praised this development. Specific issues
discussed were women's empowerment, transparency and
corruption, rule of law, human rights and political
participation. The Secretary announced that the Foundation
for the Future, launched earlier in the day, represents a
clear example of the parties responding to calls from civil
society for support. END SUMMARY.

Women's Empowerment

4. (U) Civil Society representatives reported on the results
of four thematic meetings held under the BMENA umbrella over
the past year. A Bahraini participant said the October
meeting on Women's Empowerment in Manama identified four
priority areas for potential action to strengthen the status
of women as equal partners: training, legal protections,
raising social awareness, and defining strategies for
broadening the role of women. The meeting also made
recommendations for the agenda of a planned follow-up meeting
in 2006 that will focus on specific areas for action,
including programs to combat illiteracy, increased women's
access to technology and employment, and micro-financing for
women's SMEs. A representative of the Bahraini Supreme
Council for Women explained the activities of the
organization, which works with both local NGOs and the
government to break down barriers to equal treatment of women
in Bahrain.

Transparency and Corruption

5. (U) The Transparency meeting representative reviewed the
work of three seminars held since July in Cairo, Amman and
Beirut on the impact of corruption on political, economic and
social development. The groups developed a list of priority
areas for follow-up work by civil society and governments.
First, all countries should ratify international conventions
on corruption and pass legislation implementing the
conventions. Second, there should be a public awareness
campaign on the corrosive impact of corruption and the
efforts being taken to combat it. Third, the media must be
free to provide constructive criticism of governments without
fear of retribution. The group is planning a February 2006
follow-up conference to address these issues and called on
the Forum to take up the recommendations of that conference
in its work as well.

Human Rights

6. (U) The Human Rights meeting representative reported on
the conclusions that emerged from that session: reforming
legislation on the registration and operation of NGOs,
obstacles to freedom of expression and assembly, and ending
emergency laws and other extraordinary legislation. He
criticized governments for invoking security concerns as a
means of disrupting full participation in the electoral
process, though he noted this was not the case in this year's
Lebanese and Palestinian elections. Progress in Egypt and
Saudi Arabia on the electoral front is significant, but much
remains to be done. He aimed his strongest criticism at
Tunisia for interfering with the media and Syria for its
persecution and detention of civil society and political
opponents. He called for a release of political detainees in
Syria. Gulf countries had made some progress in their
treatment of critics, though protections need to be codified
in law. In conclusion, the human rights representative
underscored political will as the sine qua non for progress
on human rights, which he said included G8 political will to
pressure Israel to withdraw from the Palestinian Territories
and a withdrawal of foreign forces from Iraq.

Rule of Law

7. (U) The Rule of Law (ROL) meeting representative reported
that the September meeting in Jordan operated from the
position that civil society was interested in dialogue and
not confrontation to resolve issues but needed the freedom to
operate, which is often not the case around the region. The
ROL thematic meeting made specific recommendations in two
areas: the ability of NGOs to operate, and the independence
of the judiciary. On the former, the meeting called for a
review of laws across the region that either prohibit or
restrict the functioning of independent NGOs. It also called
for a review of the tax status for NGOs, which should have
preferential non-profit benefits. The ability of NGOs to
receive outside financing was also considered a priority. On
judicial independence, the representative stressed the
importance of a separation of powers as well as the ability
of judges and lawyers to join independent associations.
Finally, it called for the abolition of extraordinary courts.
The Rule of Law representative asked the Forum to take up
these issues and called for a high-level international
conference to address them in 2006.

Democracy Assistance Dialogue

8. (U) This agenda item began with interventions by
government and civil society coordinators of the Democracy
Assistance Dialogue (DAD) from Italy, Turkey, and Yemen,
which have sponsored events on Political Pluralism, Women,
and Human Rights over the past year. Several common themes
emerged. First, they all stressed the tremendous progress
made since the DAD's launch at the Rabat Forum for the Future
last year. They underscored that the new spirit of
cooperation and dialogue between government and civil society
represents a true watershed for the BMENA region. Second,
they praised the creation of the Foundation for the Future,
which will give civil society the financial ability to play
its proper role. All three government reps committed to
continuing their support for these efforts. Turkish FM Gul
announced Turkey's intention to hold two more meetings on
women's empowerment in 2006, building on the Istanbul meeting
earlier this year. Italian NGO President Emma Bonino was the
most effusive in her praise for the Forum, to which she added
a caveat for the BMENA governments. She had heard many
promising statements by governments about their support for
civil society and reform. Civil society, she added, "will
take you seriously and come knocking at your door to see if
you mean it."

The Secretary

9. (U) In her intervention, the Secretary stated that the
Forum amplifies the growing calls for reform sweeping the
BMENA region. Elections in Afghanistan, Iraq, Egypt,
Palestine and the right for Kuwaiti women to vote are
examples of the people calling for change and the governments
responding wisely to those calls. The mission of the DAD is
to expand the dialogue between governments and civil society
and to take action on the results of that dialogue. At DAD
meetings in Venice and Rabat, there were calls for a
foundation to support civil society activities in the region.
The Secretary stressed that we had heard those calls and
responded to them in a concrete way by launching the
Foundation for the Future.

Other Interventions

10. (U) Interventions by France, Switzerland, Denmark and
Hungary were similar in content, praising the Forum,
particularly the inclusion of civil society, and outlining
their governments, particular areas of interest and/or
activity. Lebanese FM Salloukh gave a lengthy intervention
on the historical context that led to Lebanese elections this
year and the Commission currently working on electoral law
reform. The Sudanese FM broadly committed his government to
the principles of supporting democracy, human rights, the
rule of law, and combating corruption, all of which he said
are already being worked on. These are essential ingredients
to dealing with the situation in Darfur and the west. He
asserted that the international community needs to refrain
from unilateral action and to be more respectful of the
specific circumstances of individual countries.


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