UN Rights Council: Egypt rejects important rights reforms, accepts some
On Friday (19 February, 2010) as part of its review before the UN Human Rights Council, Egypt stood before governments from around the world and either rejected or failed to commit to important human rights reforms.
Key rights recommendations that were rejected include: to “allow independent national and international election monitoring in upcoming elections”, “end the state of emergency and abstain from legislation that introduces measures of the Emergency Law into the Constitution”, “release bloggers and human rights defenders detained under emergency laws” and “ensure that NGOs activities and activities of human rights defenders not be inhibited or their ability to raise funds be impeded.” Ironically, Egypt did accept proposals of Pakistan and Sudan to “speed up” the adoption of Emergency Laws within its Constitution in the form of “anti-terrorism laws.”
“While the government of Egypt accepted a number of important recommendations, it did not commit to some of the most important ones” said Moataz El Fegiery, Executive Director of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), “None-the-less, the fact that Egypt committed to some reform in front of the world is a small victory for human rights defenders in Egypt.”
“For those recommendations it has accepted, we now need the government to back up its promises with concrete plans of implementation that have clear deadlines,” continued Mr. El Fegiery.
Important recommendations accepted by Egypt include: to ensure that the definition of torture in Egyptian law conforms with the Convention Against Torture and that the government will “increase efforts” to combat torture, to repeal laws that allow for imprisonment of journalists for exercising their right to freedom of expression, to continue to promote political participation of women including in the judiciary, to not use Emergency laws against journalists and bloggers, to ensure the full observance of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, and to enable human rights organizations to monitor elections.
“This is only the beginning of the process,” according to Jeremie Smith, Director of CIHRS’ Geneva Office, “Egypt will again come under review before the UN Rights Council within the next four years. By that time Egypt must demonstrate that it has taken all possible measures to ensure compliance with the commitments it made today, and civil society will again have a chance to pressure the government to commit to improving the important human rights issues it rejected this time.”
Two days earlier Egypt had attempted to ensure that no meaningful review of its human rights record took place by getting other states, mostly from the Arab region, to take the floor and offer only praise during its review. The attempt failed in large part because of Coalition of Egyptian NGOs lobbied states both in Cairo and in Geneva to take the floor during the review and give substantial recommendations that could be monitored and followed up on.
Over the last week CIHRS Geneva office has held a joint press conference with FIDH on the review of Egypt, and facilitated the participation of NGO Coalition members during the rights review process. In January, the Geneva Office hosted a lobby mission of 5-6 members of the Coalition that met with a wide variety of states to share their recommendations and lobby for governments to ensure that the rights review of Egypt resulted in meaningful commitments by the government.