The Arab League

Menu: What is the League of Arab States? | What does it have to do with child rights? | The Arab Charter on Human Rights and conflict with the CRC | How does the League work?

What is the league of Arab States

The league of Arab States, or Arab League, is a voluntary association of countries whose peoples are mainly Arabic speaking.

The League was founded in Cairo in 1945 by Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Transjordan (Jordan from 1950), and Yemen.

Countries that later joined are: Algeria (1962), Bahrain (1971), Comoros (1993), Djibouti (1977), Kuwait (1961), Libya (1953), Mauritania (1973), Morocco (1958), Oman (1971), Qatar (1971), Somalia (1974), Southern Yemen (1967), Sudan (1956), Tunisia (1958), and the United Arab Emirates (1971). Palestine is also a member.

Read the Arab States charter here.

Egypt's membership was suspended in 1979 after it signed a peace treaty with Israel, so the league's headquarters was moved from Cairo, Egypt, to Tunis, Tunisia. In 1987 Arab leaders decided to renew diplomatic ties with Egypt, and it was readmitted to the league in 1989. The league's headquarters moved back to Cairo.

The main goal of the League, as described in the Charter, is to: "draw closer the relations between members States and co-ordinate collaboration between them, to safeguard their independence and sovereignty, and to consider in a general way the affairs and interests of the Arab countries."

What does it have to do with child rights?

In 1992, the First Arab High Level Conference on Children convened in Tunis and adopted a set of global goals for the year 2000. The build-up to the United Nations Special Session on Children, which convened in 2002, offered an opportunity to build on these initial discussions.

In preparation for the region's participation in the Special Session, the League of Arab States invited members in June 2000 to undertake national reviews of the situation of children and to participate in preparations for the special session.

The Arab High Level Conference on the Rights of the Child took place from July 1 to 4, 2001 in Cairo and concluded with the adoption of a draft declaration and framework for action on the rights of children for the period 2001-2010. This was called "An Arab World Fit For Children: Mechanisms for Joint Arab Action and an Arab Common Position". The meeting brought together some 15 delegates from all 22 member countries of the League of Arab States at the League's headquarters. The delegations, mostly led by ministers, also included civil society representatives, experts, and 33 young people, who convened separately to prepare for the meeting.

The Beirut Summit (March, 2003) adopted the "Arab World Fit for Children" declaration which had been issued by the Second Arab High level Conference on the Rights of the Child, in Cairo. This mirrored the "World Fit for Children" outcome document of the UN Special Session on Children.

More recently, the Arab Summit in Tunis (March, 2004) issued a Plan of Action 2004-15 which identifies strategies for achieving the Millennium Development Goals and improving the situation of children in the region. Read the Final Report, Recommendations and Resolutions, The Tunis Declaration, Youths Statement.

Other events which have taken place include the First Arab Media Forum on the Rights of the Child and Media, which took place in Dubai, from 6 to 9 December 2004 and the "Fourth Arab High-Level Conference on the Rights of the Child" held in Marrakech, Morocco, from 19 to 21 December 2001

The Arab Charter on Human Rights and the CRC

The Arab Charter on Human Rights (ACHR) was adopted by the Council of the League of Arab States by its resolution 5437 (102nd regular session) on 15 September 1994. The ACHR entered into force on 15 March 2008, 60 days after ratification by the seventh state, the United Arab Emirates, on 15 January 2008.

However, the then United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, noted that the Charter contains provisions that do not meet international norms and standards, including the application of the death penalty for children, and the treatment of women and non-citizens. She had initially endorsed the Charter.

Under the Arab Charter, the death penalty can be applied to children in certain circumstances, in contradiction with its prohibition in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Article 37 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child forbids the death penalty for children under the age of 18 years. However, Article 7 of the Charter states:

"Sentence of death shall not be imposed on persons under 18 years of age, unless otherwise stipulated in the laws in force at the time of the commission of the crime."

But, another provision in the Charter, Article 43, says:

"Nothing in this Charter may be construed or interpreted as impairing the rights and freedoms protected by the domestic laws of the States parties or those set forth in the international and regional human rights instruments which the States parties have adopted or ratified, including the rights of women, the rights of the child and the rights of persons belonging to minorities."

Read CRIN's story on the Charter here

Read an explanation of the Charter, and discussion of the death penalty, by Professor Kamel Filali, former Vice Chairman of the CRC

How does the League work?

The League is composed of a:


Included in the Council's subsidiary bodies are the: Arab Women's Committee, Human Rights Committee, Cultural Committee, Health Committee and the Organisation of Youth Welfare

According to the provisions of the Charter, the Council of the League is the 'supreme authority' within the League system.

The Charter defines the formation, competence, and rules of procedure and voting of the Council. It is made up of the representatives of Member States, usually at the level of foreign ministers, their representatives or permanent delegates.

The Council is mainly concerned with putting into practice the objectives of the League and implementing the plans and programmes drawn up by Member States.

In addition, the Council can decide on applications for membership and accept withdrawals from the League. It can also consider the introduction of amendments to the Charter.

The Council also mediates in disputes between two Member States, or a Member State and a third party.

The Council meets twice a year, in March and September in regular sessions and may convene in extraordinary sessions if need be and upon the request of two or more of the Member States.

Read the internal regulations of the Council.

General Secretariat

The internal regulations of the Secretariat provide that: "The Secretary-General shall, in the name of the League, implement the resolutions of the Council and shall take the financial measures within the limits of the budget approved by the Council. He shall also, in his capacity as Secretary-General of the League, attend the meetings of the Council of the League and of the Committees, and shall perform such other duties as may be entrusted to him by these bodies."

Departments include the Conference Secretariat, the Finance and Administrative Department, the Political Department and the Economic, and Communication Affairs Department.

Other subsidiary bodies of the League include the Defence and Economic Cooperation Bodies, the Arab Deterrent Force and the Arab Labour Organisation.