"The last spark of life in the initiatives was quashed once and for all with the arrival of a new US administration."
CAIRO, Egypt -- Human rights deteriorated across the Arab world in 2009 with torture widely practiced in several countries, an Arab watchdog said in a report released on Tuesday.
The report by the independent Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies surveyed 12 countries and said that most of them repressed human rights activists, press freedoms, and discriminated against religious minorities.
The state of human rights in the 12 countries--Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Morocco, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, and Yemen--"has worsened compared to 2008," the report said.
"Arab governments remained wedded to a broad array of repressive laws that undermine basic liberties," compared to the previous year, said the report, "Bastion of Impunity, Mirage of Reform."...
"Egypt continued to top the list of countries in which torture is routinely and systematically practiced," it said, adding that dozens had died in the country of torture or excessive force by police.
The report also found torture was "routine" in Bahrain, "rampant" in Tunisia, and practiced in Saudi Arabia against terrorism suspects.
Human rights advocates faced harassment in several Arab countries, with Syria, which has jailed dozens of democracy activists, holding the "worst record in this regard."
Religious and ethnic minorities also continued to suffer discrimination in several Arab countries, such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, the report said.
"Despite the Saudi regime's attempt to appear to champion religious tolerance and interfaith dialogue in international forums, in practice the national religious police continue to exhibit violent behavior," it said.
Egypt, where roughly 10 percent of the 80-million-strong population are Coptic Christians who frequently complain of discrimination, "is increasingly acquiring the features of a religious state," it added.
The report also said that US policies were "wholly inimical to reform and human rights in the region," and accused President Barak Obama's administration of abandoning support for reform initiatives in the Arab world.
"The last spark of life in the initiatives was quashed once and for all with the arrival of a new US administration," it said....
The rights group's representative in Geneva, Jeremie Smith, warned at a press conference that Arab countries had exported attempts to undermine accountability to the United Nations Human Rights Commission.
"Arab governments have largely taken strategies that they have perfected at a national level to avoid accountability, and they have exported them to the United Nations system," he said.