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After threats, Egyptian human rights organizations decide not to participate in UPR



PRESS RELEASE

The joint press release reproduced below was issued by CESR's partners in Egypt in the light of their decision not to attend the country's appearance before the Human Rights Council's Universal Periodic Review mechanism on Wednesday. It echoes concerns about the silencing of Egpytian civil society in the UPR process that were previously made by CESR in an open letter to the Human Rights Council. The open letter can be
 be downloaded in pdf format here.

The review of Egypt’s human rights record over the past four years will begin this week as part of the Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review in Geneva.

The undersigned human rights organizations have decided not to participate in any of the UPR’s proceedings in fear that their participation might result in reprisal or possible persecution. This fear is especially pertinent in the context of the hostile climate in which they work. Several organizations have cancelled their side-events and conferences at the UPR session.

The UPR comes 5 days before the expiration of the government’s ultimatum for “non-registered entities” to register under the repressive Law 84/2002 by November 10. A number of organizations have attempted to open dialogue with the government and meet with the prime minister to discuss withdrawing the ultimatum and delaying it until a new law is put in place that concords with the constitution and Egypt’s international obligations. In this case, organizations could register under the new democratic law, or they would be allowed to continue to work with the understanding that there would be reforms in the laws that govern their work. The government met civil society’s attempts at dialogue, however, with cold indifference. In fact, on 26 October, the government published another announcement in al-Ahram newspaper affirming that a delay or an extension of the ultimatum was not a matter up for negotiation. Law 84/2002 on associations, which the government is seeking to forcibly impose on human rights organizations, circumvents Article 75 of the 2014 constitution. By imposing it, the Egyptian state has failed to meet its obligations, which it accepted in Egypt’s UPR in 2010, to reform the law to give more freedom to civil society.

The undersigned organizations have decided, therefore, to support the recommendations submitted by the Forum of Egyptian Independent Human Rights Organizations to the UPR. The undersigned organizations deeply regret their withdrawal from the UPR process, especially so because they see it as a unique opportunity to open a constructive dialogue, with the participation of the UN, with the Egyptian government on a number of issues to improve the state of human rights in Egypt and to help it build strategies to improve human rights in the next four years. We deeply regret that the Egyptian government, however, sees this process as an attempt to undermine its reputation.

The undersigned organizations see a stark difference between the government’s preparations for the UPR this year and the government’s preparations for the UPR in 2010. The committee tasked with writing the government report for the UPR in 2010 reached out to human rights organisations, including some of the undersigned organisations, seeking consultations about its report and asking for advise about the recommendations it should accept. The committee tasked with writing the government’s report this year did not seek meetings with human rights organisations, feeling it sufficient to meet once with a few select rights organisations and members of the National Council for Human Rights one week before the UPR session. Contrary to its obligations, the government of Egypt did not attempt to contact the undersigned organisations in the process of writing the government’s report.

Egypt’s last UPR was held in February 2010, during which a number of coalitions in human rights and development work at the time presented reports setting out the priorities that should be incumbent on the state in the following four years. Almost a year ago, in the same context of reviewing Egypt’s periodic report before the Committee on Economic Social and Cultural Rights, a number of civil society organisations presented concrete recommendations pertaining to respect for human rights and achieving developments goals. One recommendation, for example, called on Egypt to guarantee the provision of a more geographically equitable distribution of social services, such as health, housing, and education, in the annual budget. The organisations also called on Egypt to commit to its obligations to address the uninterrupted increase in poverty rates and to plan ways to reduce the poverty rate, which at the time stood at 26%. Other recommendations were also made, which the organisations hoped would be committed to through the UPR process.

The undersigned Egyptian independent rights organizations view the UPR, which all UN member states are subject to, as an opportunity for governments and different civil society organisations to engage, before all states including Egypt, in constructive dialogue, and which leads to a set of recommendations that would encourage states to respect human rights.

The human rights situation in Egypt cannot be separated from the goals of stability and development, which all Egyptians, the people and their government, aspire to. Political rights strengthen a sense of citizenship, participation, stability, and the legitimacy of the ruling regime. Economic rights enhance a citizen’s capacity to attain a dignified life, and engage in work and production, and can result in a genuine victory over terrorism, poverty, and marginalization.

We, the undersigned organisations, affirm that civil society organisations have an important role to play in preserving the link between the government and citizens and in strengthening transparency, accountability, and the fight against corruption.

Background to Egypt's involvement with the UPR process:

The UPR is one the unique mechanisms of the UN Human Rights Council, which in turns, each member state is subject to, and through which political, economic, social, and cultural rights situations are reviewed. At the end of the review, a set of recommendations are proposed, and each state is expected to apply the recommendations before their next review.

Facilitating the UPR session is a committee of three states – the Troika – (the states change with each UPR session). Egypt’s UPR session will be facilitated by Saudi Arabia, the Ivory Coast, and Montenegro. The questions posed during the session are based on three main reports submitted on the situation of human rights in the state under review. The first report is the government report, which Egypt submitted to the Council in July 2014, the second report is that of the UN Special Rapporteurs, and the third is the combined reports (which the council collated) of civil society groups.

In the past, Egypt has participated and facilitated the UPR of other member states, offering recommendations on a diverse set of issues. For example, it proposed recommendations to Holland, Pakistan, and India to provide sufficient resources to allow human rights organisations to work competently, independently, and to strengthen links between authorities and human rights organisations. Egypt also offered recommendations to Armenia regarding the protection of human rights defenders, and to the Philippines and the Czech Republic on combating torture in accordance with international law. To Brazil and Mexico, Egypt presented recommendations to improve the conditions of and over-crowding in prisons. To France, Egypt recommended that appropriate steps be taken against violations by the members of the security sector, to the US, it recommended that it respect the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in the framework of its battle against terror and to investigate and punish anyone who violates those rights. Bahrain, Holland, and Sweden were also offered recommendations by Egypt to develop their legal frameworks to increase respect for freedom of expression, and combat hate-speech. A program for combating poverty was Egypt’s recommendation for Canada and Botswana, and to Liberia and Malawi, Egypt’s recommendations pertained to the protection of the rights of the child and women. Egypt also made other recommendations that civil society currently proposes as important for Egypt itself to work towards achieving.

The UPR examines the human rights situation of member states every four years. The UPR assesses the commitments, obligations and recommendations, accepted, and evaluates the state’s efforts in safeguarding the rights of its citizens. Egypt committed to a number of recommendations during its first UPR in 2010, yet it has made no advances regarding them. Some of the recommendations committed to by Egypt concerned torture, women’s rights, strengthening freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, and religious freedoms.

Signatories:
  • Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI)
  • Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR)
  • Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
  • Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights (ECESR)
  • Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE)
  • New Woman Foundation (NWF)
  • Nazra for Feminist Studies

* For further information or to request interviews please contact CESR Communications Coordinator Luke Holland at lholland@cesr.org.

* You can learn more about CESR's work in Egypt on our Egypt page