Egypt last week presented its response to the 372 recommendations it received from the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) on 13 November 2019.
In the report it submitted on 14 March, the Egyptian government stressed the care it took to study the recommendations and the inclusive and collaborative approach it adopted towards this end.
The process engaged all relevant national and government agencies, including the National Council for Women (NCW), the National Council for Persons with Disability (NCPD) and the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood (NCCM), in consultation with the National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) and NGOs. Participants in the process discussed the necessary policies and measures to implement the recommendations approved, in compliance with the 2014 constitution and its amendment and with Egypt’s commitments under international agreements.
In a telephone interview with Al-Ahram Weekly following the session in which Egypt presented it reply, Said Abdel-Hafez, coordinator of the Egyptian delegation in Geneva, said Egypt had reaffirmed its full cooperation with and support for the UNHRC’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) because of the principles of objectivity and transparency of this mechanism. He added that the government underscored its desire to promote all opportunities to attain the UNHRC’s aims and aspirations for protecting and strengthening human rights in the world.
According to Abdel-Hafez, Egypt fully accepted 270 recommendations, partially accepted 36, deemed 20 recommendations factually incorrect and rejected 36 as unacceptable. It noted that 29 recommendations were already implemented. It also described two recommendations, submitted by Turkey and Qatar, as “hostile”.
The government report noted that “accepted recommendations” were fully consistent with the provisions of the Egyptian constitution and Egypt’s commitments under international law and treaties. The “implemented” category refers to those recommendations the substance of which the government had already acted on before the review process and therefore required no further measures.
The non-acceptance of recommendations was based “on the fact that they contravene the constitution, the existing criminal justice system in Egypt, the principle of separation of powers, the principle of equality before the law, or the rights recognised in the International Human Rights Law”. Such considerations would have also informed the rejection of portions of recommendations in the “partially accepted” category, whereas recommendations deemed “factually incorrect” were so categorised because of “inaccuracy in wording or substance”.
As for the two recommendations deemed hostile, they were founded on “untrue and highly politicised allegations made by a party that publicly maintains a hostile attitude against the government of the Arab Republic of Egypt and its people, which runs counter to the established principles underlying the UPR process.”
During the session, there were 10 interventions by foreign human rights organisations which called for speedy implementation of certain recommendations of particular concern to them. For example, Lawyers for Lawyers urged immediate action to protect human rights defenders, lawyers and activists. The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom emphasised the need to translate the recommendations for ending violence against women and girls into practical measures and a realistic programme. Human Rights Watch, which was the most critical, held that Egypt had failed to implement recommendations from the previous UPR session, especially those concerning the protection of rights defenders and questions of torture. Referring to a recommendation on the Penal Code, it called for genuine and effective steps to safeguard human rights.
The Minority Rights Group underscored the need to act on the recommendations concerning the protection of houses of worship and the educational rights of minorities such as Nubians. According to the International Federation for Human Rights Leagues, the situation in Egypt has remained unchanged in terms of gross violations against human rights defenders and women’s rights activists. It called for the end to vindictive actions against human rights defenders such as travel bans. It also urged steps to foster a climate in which civil society organisations could operate more freely and effectively. The Cairo Centre for Human Rights Studies also drew attention to the ongoing crisis of human rights defenders in Egypt and to the continuation of torture, and asked the UNHRC to require Egypt to implement the relevant recommendations.
“The interventions took place in a manner that violated the recognised rules and principles of this process,” Abdel-Hafez said. “Normally the process provides for 10 interventions. All 10 opportunities were given to organisations that have negative attitudes towards Egypt. Yet, according to the rules, the opportunities should be given in turn to the first 10 organisations that ask to be given the floor. A number of national organisations had asked to speak early on, but were not given a chance. Clearly the organisations that were able to present interventions coordinated their presentations in a manner intended to distort Egypt’s record of progress and to keep the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights from adopting the Egyptian report. Their attempt failed.”
According to researcher Mahmoud Bassiouni, who attended the UPR session in November, the interventions were the result of the influence of “pseudo rights organisations” and, specifically, organisations affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood such as the Cairo Centre for Human Rights Studies, the Comité Forges, Human Rights Monitor, the London-based Shihab Centre for Human Rights in London, the Justice Foundation for Human Rights in Istanbul, the London-based Salam International for the Protection of Human Rights and the London-based Liberty Organisation. The latter is run by Azzam Al-Tamimi, a member of the International Organisation of the Muslim Brotherhood, and has spearheaded the Muslim Brotherhood’s drive to market its ideas to the British public since the 1990s.
“These organisations work year round to tarnish Egypt’s image abroad and to help Muslim Brotherhood elements escape punishment for their terrorist crimes,” Bassiouni said. “Their means toward this end is to campaign for prohibition of the death penalty and to cast aspersions against the integrity of the criminal proceedings against them. They organise similar campaigns against the Gulf countries that are boycotting Qatar, namely Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain. With regard to Egypt, their network targets the diplomatic channels that Egypt depends on. Countering this requires more intensive action on the part of civil society and research institutes in order to transmit correct and unbiased information about the rights situation in Egypt.”
Bassiouni continued, “Egypt’s full or partial acceptance of so many recommendations means that it is prepared to remedy outstanding problems and to cooperate with others towards this end. Egypt, in its responses to the partially accepted recommendations, made it clear that it subscribes to the freedom of civil society, access to information and the elimination of all forms of penalisation against rights defenders. It has also made clear that it supports expanding educational opportunities for women and girls, the elderly and persons with disabilities, eradicating discrimination against women and girls and preventing sexual exploitation and trafficking of people.
“It has pledged to review the personal status legislation and the Penal Code in order to further amend or delete articles that discriminate against women, and it has pledged to introduce legal provisions to combat rape and other forms of sexual-based violence, and to prohibit all corporal punishment of children in all settings.
“In addition,” Bassiouni said, “it has agreed to cooperate with the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, to ensure that competent authorities have the right to visit places of detention without advance notification, and to guarantee the right to a fair trial in accordance with international obligations.”
*A version of this article appears in print in the 19 March, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly