Egypt: Human rights under scrutiny

Published on Al-Ahram weekly online, by Doaa El-Bey, Nov 13, 2014: On Egypt’s defence of its record at the UN Periodic Review meeting in Geneva.

While the head of the Egyptian delegation to Geneva insisted Egypt had witnessed a qualitative “leap” in the status of human rights, human rights groups have widely condemned Egypt’s record on basic freedoms over the last four years.

More than 300 recommendations, questions and comments from member states were included in the UN outcome report that followed Egypt’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) last week. Reservations were expressed over laws regulating NGOs, human rights, judicial procedures and the right to protest. Egypt’s Foreign Ministry, however, was keen to point out that amid the criticisms there were positive remarks. “From at least 100 countries,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Badr Abdel-Atti told Al-Ahram Weekly.

“A number of countries praised the unprecedented human rights and freedoms given to people in the constitution. Egypt has also taken steps to improve human rights and increase awareness of these rights and spread their values by including them in the school curricula,” Abdel-Atti said.

UNHRC meetings are a procedural review of the human rights record of member states conducted every four years.

“The recommendations of member countries will be studied and we will decide which can be implemented straightaway and which will take a longer period of time to enact. Some recommendations, like abolishing capital punishment, contradict Islamic Sharia, the base on which all laws are issued” and are therefore likely to be rejected, Abdel-Atti explained.

Egypt is expected to respond to all recommendations when the general assembly of the UNHRC convenes in March 2015.
Many Egyptian human rights organisations have expressed deep concern at what they say is a noticeable deterioration in human rights over the last 4 years.

Leading human rights lawyer Amir Salem says the UNHRC recommendations are justified, and cover a wide range of issues including women’s status and rights, sexual harassment, NGOs and the absence of reliable mechanisms to implement justice.

“It is the first time a country receives so many recommendations. It is clear Egypt needs to develop its own mechanisms to safeguard human rights and freedoms,” he said.

While Baheieddin Hassan, the head of Cairo Institute for Human Rights, agrees that the UNHRC recommendations are significant, he is even more concerned by the extent of worry expressed by various countries during both the UPR meeting and the meetings that preceded it.

“It is a symptom of the genuine and great deterioration in Egyptian human rights. It is not only the US and European countries that are worried about the future of Egypt, but states close to Egypt like Saudi Arabia and UAE. Their concern is sparked not only by the deterioration in human rights but also out of worry for their interests in the country,” he said.

What these countries and other countries — most notably from Latin American — cannot understand is why the regime is entering into conflict with so many parties, says Hassan. “Why is it in a stand-off with the media and with secularists for instance?” he asks … //

… The Universal Periodic Review is held at the United Nations headquarters in Geneva. Egypt’s delegation was headed by Al-Heneidi and included Badr and Maha Abdel-Latif as representatives from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Hani Mehanna and Abu Bakr Al-Guindi representing the Ministry of Social Solidarity and Interior, and Tellawi from the National Council for Women. It also included Khallaf, Medhat Bassiouni, deputy justice minister for human rights and Ashraf Ashmawi, Al-Heneidi’s advisor for human rights.

The government submitted its own report on human rights in Egypt in July.

Egypt’s first review was held in 2010 when it received 165 recommendations. It adopted 119, is still working to adopt 25 and rejected 21.

(full text).


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