The United Nations may still hold an anti-torture conference in Cairo after consultations, despite a decision to postpone it following an outcry from rights groups who criticise Egypt's human rights record, a member of the country's national rights body said.
The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights was to co-host the regional conference titled 'Defining and Criminalising Torture in Legislation in the Arab Region' with Egypt's National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) on 4 and 5 September. However, it announced on Tuesday that the gathering had been postponed.
NCHR member Hafez Abu Saeda said the move was "regrettable," describing it as a result of "intense pressure" on the commissioner.
Egypt, however, has not been ruled out as a host of the gathering, he said.
"There will still be consultations and discussions. Egypt has questions and the commissioner is under pressure," Abu Saeda told Ahram Online on Wednesday.
UN human rights spokesman Rupert Colville said on Tuesday that the UN had chosen to postpone the conference due to "growing unease in some parts of the NGO community with the choice of location."
The UN will "reopen the process of consultation with all relevant actors including a broad range of NGOs and national human rights institutions from all across the Middle East and North Africa,” Colville told Ahram Online by email.
The UN's decision to hold the conference in Cairo drew criticism from Egyptian human rights campaigners, who believe the conference was an attempt to whitewash the Egyptian government’s perceived abuses.
However, both the UN spokesman and Abu Saeda believe the location has major significance.
"Holding this conference in the Middle East and North Africa region is still a very worthwhile endeavour, which will hopefully contribute to some improvement in the situation in that region, where torture remains a major problem in several countries," Rupert said.
Egyptian authorities have repeatedly said that rights violations are merely individual cases and that perpetrators are held to account.
Egypt has frequently slammed reports by human rights group alleging rights violations as being unfounded and aiming to damage the country's reputation.
Abu Saeda says the conference is particularly important for the region given that torture is ill-defined in most Arab countries, adding that the government's readiness to host the conference is a "positive sign."
Torture, he says, still exists in Egypt but is no longer "systematic" as it was prior to the 2011 uprising, which was partially triggered by perceived police brutality.
Egypt has made progress in investigating abuse cases and holding police accountable for torture, Abu Saeda said, referring to a number of jail sentences handed to police officers in recent years over rights violations.