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A controversial review
A controversial review
Among the UNHRC recommendations approved by Egypt is the ending of the state of emergency in place since 1981.
Wednesday, March 3,2010 22:55
by Gamal Essam El-Din Al-Ahram Weekly

The first universal periodic review (UPR) of Egypt's human rights record, completed by the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) on 19 February, was met with mixed reactions. Government officials insisted the international community had expressed its appreciation of their attempts to improve Egypt's human rights record while the independent civil society organisations that participated in the UNHRC lambasted government officials for failing to engage seriously with human rights violations and for sidestepping any concrete proposals to improve human rights in Egypt.

    Addressing the Shura Council on Sunday, Moufid Shehab, minister of state for legal and parliamentary affairs and the head of Egypt's official 11-member delegation in Geneva, insisted "Egypt's 50-page report submitted to the UNHRC on its record of human rights over the last four years was applauded by most of the countries participating in the UPR because it answered their questions in a transparent and responsible way."

    The delegation, said Shehab, had approved 146 of the 173 recommendations made by UNHRC.

    "We announced our complete approval of 120 recommendations and said that an additional 26 would require further study as well as the approval of parliament since they would necessitate legislative amendments."

    The remaining 27 recommendations were rejected outright by the Egyptian delegation. "They were unacceptable because they contradicted our religious values and culture," said Shehab. "It is not only technically illegal in Egypt, but would also broach religious taboos for us to adopt recommendations acknowledging that homosexuals had rights or that amend personal status laws on marriage, divorce and inheritance."

    Among the UNHRC recommendations approved by Egypt is the ending of the state of emergency in place since 1981.

    "We promised UNHRC's 47 member states that Egypt would lift the state of emergency as soon as the new anti-terror legislation was completed and passed by parliament," said Shehab. He noted that the current emergency law expires on 31 May but would only be replaced should counter- terrorism legislation be ready beforehand.

    "I explained that in extending the state of emergency, the authorities have always made it clear that the extraordinary powers will be used mainly to combat terrorist and drug-trafficking crimes," Shehab said.

    He explained that during the review some Western European countries, most notably Britain, had recommended that Egypt amend laws on freedom of expression, assembly and religion before the parliamentary elections scheduled in November.

    "Countries like Britain, France and the Netherlands argue that it is necessary to introduce these amendments ahead of parliamentary elections at the end of this year, while the US recommended that the majority of political detainees be released before the poll," said Shehab.

    The prevalence of torture in Egypt, Shehab told the Shura Council on Sunday, was a major concern of many European countries taking part in the review.

    "We answered questions on this issue by saying that we were serious about eradicating the practice and had already referred 16,000 police officers and prosecutors for training in the respect of human rights in an attempt to reduce the prevalence of torture."

    Pledges, though, were not enough to satisfy independent local and international human rights groups which accused Egypt of presenting false information and making hollow promises on issues such as the emergency laws, torture, freedom of speech, systematic rigging of the elections, and discrimination based on religion, gender and sexual orientation.

    Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director of the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), says: "Since Egypt insists that it is taking the review seriously now is a perfect time to announce the end to the state of emergency and return to judicial supervision of arrests and detentions." HRW believes that the "longstanding abuse of emergency regulations in Egypt means that between 5,000 to 10,000 citizens are held behind bars without charge."

    In recent weeks, the government invoked emergency powers to arrest a number of Muslim Brotherhood leaders.

    Arab states participating in the review, say independent NGOs, rallied behind the Egyptian delegation, hogging the floor to praise the Egyptian government and, according to one human rights activist, "prevent a more robust human rights review from taking place".

    Countries like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Morocco, Lebanon and Algeria heaped praise on Egypt "for the steps it has taken in recent years supporting the rights of women and children and broadening the scope of press freedoms".

    Hossam Bahgat, director of the Cairo- based Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, who attended the review in Geneva, said "the participation of Arab countries was clearly coordinated in advance with the Egyptian government in an attempt to paint a positive picture of Egypt, especially in the field of social and economic rights."

    In its report on the three-day review, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies said it was positive that "the Egyptian delegation was forced to adopt recommendations toughening penalties in the penal code on torture as well as redefining torture to bring it in line with internationally accepted standards."

    "Egypt also expressed its willingness to prosecute the perpetrators of sectarian clashes and to propose amendments to current NGO laws to ensure the free functioning of independent NGOs."

    The Cairo Institute report also noted the concern of human rights NGOs over the Egyptian delegation's failure to release concrete proposals to end custodial sentences for publication offences and allow either independent civil monitoring of elections or judicial oversight of the process.

    "The government is against complete international monitoring of the elections though it might accept some foreign monitors," said Shehab. "This is one of the recommendations we said we would study further."

    Shehab further indicated that the delegation was against abolishing capital punishment. "We said capital punishment is necessary in a country like Egypt to control serious crimes like terrorist attacks and espionage."

    According to Shehab, the list of recommendations which will be studied further includes "ending discrimination against non- Muslims in the exercise of religious rituals, issuing a unified law on the construction of places of worship, eliminating prison sentences for users of the Internet, joining the International Criminal Court, issuing identity cards for Bahaais and adopting a new definition of torture".


tags: Torture / Human Rights Record / UNHRC / UPR / Civil Society / Shura Council / Parliamentary Affairs / legislative Amendments / Human Rights in Egypt / Human Rights Activists
Posted in Human Rights  
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