HRW world report reveals Egypt continues to ignore rights

HRW world report reveals Egypt continues to ignore rights

CAIRO: New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) lashed out at the Egyptian government at a press conference Sunday at Cairo’s Journalists Syndicate, giving five recommendations for the country that would help improve human rights in the North African nation. HRW’s Middle East director Sarah Leah Whitson told a few dozen journalists and activists that “what freedoms do exist are always under attack, always slipping away,” as part of the organization’s publishing of its World Report last week.

The 612-page report, the organization’s 20th annual review of human rights practices around the globe, summarizes major human rights trends in more than 90 nations and territories worldwide.

Egyptians suffer torture, abuse, and arbitrary imprisonment at the hands of the security forces, HRW said in reference to its report. The organization called upon the Egyptian government to lift the state of emergency under which the country has exercised severe restrictions on the rights of Egyptians to assembly and speech, and to significantly revamp the operational methods and accountability of the country’s security forces. And the criticism did not stop with the report.

“They [Egypt] are most successful in one area: keeping themselves in power,” Whitson told reporters, who in turn chuckled with laughter at each poke at the Egyptian government. “We should give special commendation to Mubarak and ‘Brother Gaddafi’,” she said, in reference to their continued human rights abuses.

Although the focus of the meeting was to discuss the rights groups’ findings in Libya and Egypt, Whitson took a few moments to attack Israeli policy, which she says continually argues its democratic principles, of which, Whitson vehemently denied being implemented in the occupied territories. “Israel has much in common with its neighbors in how they put down their citizens and others,” she said.

She added that akin to Egypt’s emergency laws – which allow arbitrary detention based on usurping the judicial structures laid down by the Constitution – the Jewish state employs similar measures as a means to crack down on Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank.

Those draconian laws, Whitson argued, are part of HRW’s recommendations for Egypt in the coming year. She said that Egypt must repeal the Emergency laws, revamp the security forces – often accused of torture and violence, suspend laws that restrict speech and release all those detained “for what they say,” end the climate of religious intolerance and end its blockade of Gaza.

“Egypt must come to terms with the fact that the environment that exists in the country is one the government must not avoid … and argue that incidents are isolated cases,” she said.

As for Gaza – where 1.5 million people continue to be strangled by Israel and Egypt, who have kept the small Palestinian territory’s borders closed – solutions to this problem must be sought. She pointed that Egypt must take responsibility for maintaining the siege.

“If Egypt wanted to put a hole in Israel’s siege on Gaza, it could by opening the Rafah border,” Whitson said, much to the disappointment of one activist who questioned Egypt being singled out by HRW. “We have been consistent on this matter and have spoken out against Israel, who is arguably more responsible as the occupier, but at the same time, Egypt’s role must not be forgotten.”

She did however, give one compliment to the Egyptian government’s openness and willingness to allow a press conference of this nature occur in the country. Egypt “remains one of the most open nations in the region, allowing people to travel freely and for that we are appreciative,” she added.

For Libya, Human Rights Watch also called on the Libyan government to immediately release unjustly detained prisoners, reveal the fate of disappeared prisoners, provide justice to the families of victims of the killings of 1,200 inmates in 1996 in Abu Salim prison, and reform laws that criminalize free speech and association.

Heba Morayef, HRW’s Egypt and Libya researcher, said that although last year marked a turning point in the country’s fight for increased human rights – which saw the Justice Minister demand greater accountability and implementation of its ruling on the Interior Ministry – there is “still not open human rights in the country.”

She said the road Libya and Egypt must travel is “long” and both countries need to move forward on what their citizens and human rights organizations are calling for in terms of reform.