Amnesty International Warns of the Outburst of the Region’s People Unless Real Reforms Are Made

Amnesty International Secretary General Irene Khan warned the governments of Egypt and the countries of the region of a possible outburst of the people unless these countries took real reform steps that lead to the peaceful transfer of power.

Unless these reforms are real, this will lead to an extremely violent reaction, and will force people into secret and underground work, said Khan, who was speaking in a symposium organized by ‘Al-Masry Al-Youm’ on Wednesday.
Khan pointed to the widespread phenomenon of the emergence of unofficial players like the Hamas and the Hezbollah movements in the Middle East.

“People listen to these movements because, unlike the ruling regimes, they are attentive to their demands,” said Khan.

She added that the Hamas Movement did provide social services to the public, but stressed that this does not imply that these movements are not themselves guilty of human rights abuses, saying that Hezbollah, for example, had violated human rights during the last war.

She also made reference to the ongoing infighting between Fatah and Hamas in Palestine, but added that these movements were able to reach out to the people through social services.

Khan also stressed that governments, like the government of Egypt, place strong emphasis on the State security issue, putting it at the top of these governments’ priorities, and treating it as something separate from the security of the people themselves, pointing out that there are fundamental concerns, such as education, unemployment, and housing that will lead to an outburst if not addressed, even if governments tried to give the misleading impression that civil liberties were respected.

Unfortunately the West is ignoring the fundamental problems of human rights in the region and continues to back existing regimes, said Khan.

She added that the West has lost its credibility when it comes to human rights when it abandoned all the human rights values and principles with the first terrorist attack against it for the sake of combating terrorism.

She said that Egypt is a pivotal country in the region that could have an influential role in human rights issues in its neighboring countries, adding that this has led to the increased focus on Egypt and the repeated visits by Amnesty International to Egypt.

Recently, more pressures and restrictions have been imposed on human rights in Egypt. This is why Amnesty International issued a detailed report on the latest constitutional amendments, the emergency law, and the anti-terrorism law currently being drafted, said Khan, adding that this is a dangerous and critical moment for Egypt and the other States of the region.

Khan also pointed out that Egypt is a regional power and that the methods it resorts to in dealing with the different challenges have the potential of influencing neighboring countries, stressing that North African countries have had a well-established legacy and culture of repressing civil liberties, but what is happening right now is giving these traditions some sort of legitimacy, something Amnesty International finds unacceptable.

There is a new trend being consolidated in Egypt, and we hope Egypt’s membership in the Human Rights Council would represent an opportunity to push it to, first, adopt internal reforms, and for Egypt to take up a role in solving external problems also, such as in the case of Darfur, Khan said.

She added that the concept behind the Human Rights Council is marred by elitism which tarnishes the image of the council as it included member counties like Egypt, Sudan, and Saudi Arabia that do not host strong human right advocates. 

Khan also said that if governments of these countries continued to violate human rights, the council will lose its respect and credibility, pointing out that Egypt has joined this council due to the fact that it is a pivotal State in Africa and not because of its human rights record. 

Khan also stressed that the key human rights issue is for Egypt to start allowing UN experts on terrorism, torture, and other human rights issues to conduct visits to Egypt, which Egypt has been rejecting for a long time.