Middle East

Egypt Reviewed by U.N. Rights Council

Egyptian Muslims and Christians shout slogans during a protest condemning the recent deadly violence against Copts in Cairo on Jan. 9. (Photo: AFP-Getty Images)

Egypt's human rights record was reviewed by the United Nations Human Rights Councilon February 17. Egyptian human rights NGOs welcomed the inclusion of serious rights concerns and substantive recommendations to curb systemic abuses, including many that were presented by an independent NGO coalition, and were presented to the government by a number of states.

Unfortunately, the Egyptian government failed to engage constructively with the review and instead chose to justify or deny human rights abuses. The government presented false information to the Council on issues such as the State of Emergency, issues of due process, and discrimination based on religion or belief.

After Egypt's failure to seriously engage on human rights violations, many other states, including most Arab states, took the floor in mass to offer praise while avoiding making any substantial human rights recommendations. This "filibuster of praise" limited a more robust human rights scrutiny from taking place. However, the process did yield several substantial recommendations including recommendations to: (a) end the State of Emergency and ensure that future anti-terrorism legislation complies with international human rights law; (b) invite independent election monitors to observe the upcoming elections; (c) amend legislation and the definition of torture to bring it in line with international standards; (d) prosecute perpetrators of sectarian violence; and (e) revise proposed and current NGO laws to ensure the effective and free functioning of independent NGOs.

Human rights NGOs from Egypt call on the government to accept the above recommendations and release a concrete action plan to improve the human rights violations these recommendations address. In particular, they call on Egypt to:

1. Stop invoking the State of Emergency to violate the standards of fair trial by referring civilians to exceptional courts established under the Emergency Law, such as when the High State Security Court, Emergency Division, issued verdicts against defendants in the Mahalla al-Kubra case, where demonstrations and a call for a general strike were repressed on April 6, 2008. In this instance, the court convicted several protest organizers on confessions allegedly attained through torture. Moreover, authorities failed to identify those responsible for the death of three people killed as a result of excessive force by security forces during the protest.

2. Ensure that the amendments to Law No. 84 of 2002 on NGOs are made in consultation with all relevant parties (including NGOs) in order to comply with international standards on the right to association. Worth mentioning is that in May 2009 the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights received a notice from the Ministry of Social Solidarity according to Law No. 84 of 2002 warning of its impending dissolution after the organization applied for approval of a foreign grant from the ministry.

3. Ensure accountability for crimes of torture and extrajudicial killings. From June 2008 until February 2009 reports from rights groups documented 13 cases of death caused either by torture in various detention facilities or shootings by police in the course of a criminal pursuit.

4. Abolish all freedom-depriving punishments for press and publication crimes, and prohibit provisional detention for these crimes, including the crime of insulting the president. All articles in the Penal Code and the publications law should be reviewed to prevent the use of such punishments to stigmatize or deter freedom of opinion, expression and the press.

5. Take decisive measures to confront public calls for, or incitements to, religious hatred and sectarian violence against religious minorities, including Christian Copts.

6. Allow international and independent civil society monitoring of elections, and allow independent judicial oversight of the election process.

In addition to the aforementioned recommendations, they urge the government to consider and implement recommendations adopted by the forum of independent Egyptian human rights institutions.

The full version of the recommendations can be viewed at http://www.cihrs.org/Images/ArticleFiles/Original/528.pdf.