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Egypt defends its human rights record during UN review

Wednesday's review by the UN Human Rights Council is the third such appraisal since 2010 and the first in five years. It is part of the council's periodic review of all 193 UN member states

Ayat Al Tawy , Wednesday 13 Nov 2019
Egypt/UN Review
U.N. Egypt review in Geneva, Switzerland, Wednesday, November 13, 2019
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Egypt has defended its human rights record during a UN review in Geneva, with officials saying there is no systematic torture in the country and that the vast majority of allegations of forced disappearances have proven false.

Egyptian Minister of Parliamentary Affairs Omar Marawan told the gathering that Egyptian laws and the constitution criminalise all forms of torture and penalise perpetrators.

"Anyone arrested or imprisoned shall not be subjected to any torture, intimidation or suppression or be psychologically or physically harmed," he told the UN Human Rights Council review session in his opening speech.

All Egyptian prisons are subject to full judicial supervision, he said, adding that the public prosecution has carried out around 150 visits over the past five years and set up a special human rights department concerned with human rights violations.

The Egyptian minister was responding to allegations of abuses in Egypt, including police torture, forced disappearances and poor conditions in prisons.

"There is no systematic or widespread torture in Egypt," public prosecution representative Hany Georgy told the gathering. "Those are individual, isolated cases that are investigated by the public prosecution and referred to criminal court if proven true."

Wednesday's review by the UN Human Rights Council is the third such appraisal since 2010 and the first in five years. It is part of the council's periodic review of all 193 UN member states.

The public prosecution representative said that Egypt is taking all the necessary measures to investigate reports of forced disappearances, stressing that the prosecution carries out "impartial and transparent investigation" into all reports of such allegations.

He said that "the vast majority of allegations of forced disappearances have proven untrue," adding that many cases of disappearance are of individuals who join a militant group, illegally migrate or face tough social conditions. 

Over the past five years, 412 cases of forced disappearance have been dropped after proving false, he said.

Minister Marwan, who headed Egypt's delegation in the session, said his country has taken major steps to implement the UN recommendations of the last review in 2014. These include, he says, enacting laws that guarantee the independence of journalists, amending the protest law to allow demonstration after merely notifying authorities, and enacting earlier this year a civil society law that "negates the negative aspects" of the 2017 legislation.

Recommendations on human rights

During Wednesday's session, some representatives, including those of Portugal, Rwanda, and Slovenia, recommended that Egypt abolish the death penalty.

In response, Egypt's prosecution representative said that the country "enforces the death penalty against the most serious crimes in line with international standards, while ensuring the just and fair trial of defendants."

"Identifying the most serious crimes is a matter that is decided upon by each society," Georgy said.

The UK, which served as rapporteur for the review along with Fiji and Senegal, said it remains "particularly concerned by restrictions on human rights defenders and political activists," including arrests and asset freezes.

"We recommend that [Egypt] release those detained for exercising their rights to freedom of expression, including all journalists, activists and human rights defenders, unblock news and social media websites and ensure access to medical assistance and family visits in prisons," the UK's representative told the gathering.

The Egyptian minister said that the government is only blocking websites that "threaten national security" following court orders that can be appealed.

Meanwhile, the United States recommended that "Egypt address impunity by credibly investigating allegations of extrajudicial killings, torture and forced disappearances by security forces, publicly release findings, and prosecute those responsible"

"While recognising the terrorism threat Egypt faces, we call upon the government to better counter that threat by easing restrictions on freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association and by ensuring fair trial guarantees," US rights counsellor Daniel Kronenfeld told the council.

He also called for "supporting a free and active civil society" by ending foreign funding investigations, travel bans and asset freezes against members of civil society.

Progress and praise

Maya Morsi, the head of Egypt's National Council for Women, said that Egypt has made significant progress in reinforcing women's rights and freedoms.

She cited the appointment of women to a quarter of the current cabinet's portfolio and 15 percent of parliament seats. She stressed that the 2014 constitution largely protects women against all forms of violence and discrimination, and highlighted a 2016 law that toughens penalties against sexual violence and female genital mutilation.

Delegates from the Philippines, Portugal and the Republic of Korea hailed Egypt's efforts in female empowerment and fighting violence against women.

The representatives of Saudi Arabia and Tunisia hailed the steps taken by Cairo to implement the recommendations of the previous UN review in 2014, and the country's efforts to improve its legislative and institutional structures.

The United Arab Emirates, meanwhile, praised the country's efforts to achieve social justice.

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