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Egypt’s defence of human rights record ‘cynical’

6th November 2014, 12:59:20 UTC

Egypt’s defence of its human rights record lay in tatters, Amnesty International said following the country’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) examination at the UN Human Rights Council yesterday.

The Egyptian delegation in Geneva rejected criticism from UN member states despite damning evidence of human rights violations collected by Amnesty International and others.

“As expected, we saw a lot of posturing today from Egypt. The picture of the country the delegation provided was unrecognisable,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa Programme at Amnesty Interantional.

“At best, they are completely disconnected from the scale of the human rights crisis engulfing the crisis. It was a pathetic attempt at a cover up.”

Leading Egyptian human rights organisations had earlier announced they were withdrawing from the UPR process altogether for fear of reprisals by the authorities.

Many fear a sweeping crackdown will begin in five days’ time, when a government deadline for NGOs to register under the current Mubarak-era repressive Law on Associations expires.

The authorities have set a deadline for NGOs to register with the government for five days after the UPR examination.

The deadline, and continued restrictions on NGOs, have sent a strong message to independent human rights organisations that the Egyptian government will not tolerate any dissent and there is no space for criticism in the international or national arena.

“The Egyptian authorities must heed the calls made today at the UN – particularly in regards to upholding freedom of association and respecting the work of human rights defenders,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui.

“Today’s performance by the Egyptian authorities seemed particularly callous given that the life of independent Egyptian NGOs hangs in the balance.”

The Egyptian delegation in Geneva was headed by the minister of transitional justice and parliamentary affairs and included representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Social Solidarity, the Interior Ministry and the Public Prosecution.

“The next few days will be critical. Egypt will need to answer questions and provide guarantees that independent civil society organisations can operate in the country free from interference and hindrance,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui.

“As the clock is ticking for NGOs, who played a vital role championing human rights and the rule of law, members of the Human Rights Council cannot let Egypt get away with wiping out its civil society.”

How Egypt responded to UPR recommendations and how it compares with Amnesty International’s research

The following recommendations summarise those made by states during the UPR examination.

UPR recommendation: Stop torture and other ill-treatment in places of detention

– Egyptian delegation: The law criminalises torture as a crime without a statute of limitations, and the Interior Ministry has produced new “standards” for prisons to facilitate complaints. There have only been a few cases of torture, carried out by a small number of individuals.
– According to Amnesty International’s research, torture and other ill-treatment is rife in police stations and other unofficial places of detention such as National Security offices. Detainees have reported horrific treatment at the hands of the security forces, including beatings, electric shocks and being handcuffed and suspended on open doors in stress positions.
UPR recommendation: End and investigate the use of excessive force against protesters

– Egyptian delegation: The law restricts the use of force by security forces in line with international standards to “self defence”.
– Amnesty International has consistently documented the use of excessive force by the security forces against protesters, including the use of unnecessary lethal force. Since 3 July 2013, more than 1,400 people have died in protests and political violence – most at the hands of the security forces. The mass killings at Rabaa al-Adawiya on 14 August 2013 have not yet been independently and impartially investigated. The Protest Law (107 of 2013) allows the security forces to use firearms against peaceful protestors.
UPR recommendation: Uphold the right to fair trial and due process

– Egyptian delegation: The judiciary is independent and all trials meet international standards.
– According to Amnesty International’s research, the judiciary’s independence and impartiality has been called into question by a pattern of selective justice. Judicial authorities have ordered the detention or indictment of thousands of members of the political opposition, while ignoring gross human rights violations by the authorities. Amnesty International has also documented flagrant violations of the right to due process, with detainees held without adequate access to a lawyer, or the ability to challenge the lawfulness of their detention, or participate effectively in their defence. The organisation has also documented grossly unfair trials.
UPR recommendation: Uphold freedom of expression and released detained journalists

– Egyptian delegation: The law guarantees freedom of expression. Freedom of expression has lately witnessed a “wide leap”.
– Amnesty International has documented a number of cases where individuals have been detained solely for exercising their right to freedom of expression, most notably the case of Al Jazeera media workers Mohamed Fahmy, Peter Greste and Baher Mohamed and the case of Mahmoud Abu Zaid who is detained over a year without charge.
UPR recommendation: Review the repressive ‘NGO law’

– Egyptian delegation: The 10 November deadline for NGOs to register under the Law on Associations followed “consultation” with civil society. Freedom of association is guaranteed by the constitution.
– Amnesty International’s research shows that NGOs are subject to crushing restrictions in Egypt, and Egyptian human rights organisations have been given an ultimatum of surrendering their independence to the authorities to face closure and criminal prosecution.
UPR recommendation: Revise or repeal the Protest Law

– Egyptian delegation: The Protest Law regulates the right to freedom of peaceful assembly. The government is reviewing the law. Freedom of assembly is guaranteed by the constitution.
– Amnesty International’s research has shown the authorities do not tolerate the exercise of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly. The Protest Law subjects protesters to arbitrary restrictions, and gives the authorities sweeping powers to prohibit or disperse demonstrations. Security forces have used provisions under the Protest Law to justify the excessive use of force to break up protests, and arrest demonstrators.
UPR recommendation: End the use of the death penalty

– Egyptian delegation: Death penalty is part of the criminal justice system and there is no international consensus on ending its use.
– Amnesty International’s research has shown that the death penalty is now being used against alleged members of the Muslim Brotherhood and their supporters, in what is an apparent purge of the political opposition.
UPR recommendation: Eliminate discrimination against women and investigate attacks on women protesters

– Egyptian delegation: Says the government is making efforts but blames the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood for the “unsatisfactory” situation. Criticised the international community for their lack of engagement under Mohamed Morsi’s administration.
– Amnesty International’s research has shown that women have faced decades of systematic discrimination in law and practice, as well as epidemic-levels of sexual violence.
UN member states largely failed to address economic, social and cultural rights, and discrimination against religious communities.