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Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Book Review: Why does South Korea progress and Egypt decline?

This academic study focuses on the effectiveness of the official national human rights bodies in Egypt and South Korea over the past two decades, concluding that Egypt’s National Council for Human Rights must be given more powers

Mahmoud El-Wardani, Sunday 2 Apr 2017
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Al-Mou’assasat Al-Wataniyya li Huquq Al-Insan – Dirasa Muqarana li Halatiyy Misr wa Korea (“The National Institutions of Human Rights – A Comparative Study of Egypt and Korea”) by Dr. Reda Al-'Agouz, Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, Strategic Series 2016 pp. 36

This is a comparative study of Egypt and South Korea focusing on the effectiveness of the role of the national human rights bodies in the two countries over the past two decades.

The author observes that the two countries have a number of common characteristics; both are developing countries that have suffered from grave human rights abuses, and the National Human Rights Commission in South Korea and Egypt’s National Council for Human Rights were established at approximately the same time.

The study's author, Dr. Reda Al-'Agouz, points out that studying the effectiveness of national institutions concerned with human rights is a project of significance for a number of reasons.

Chief among these is that international interest in human rights issues has increased globally, along with concern for the organizations and institutions focused on protecting and enhancing them. International bodies such as the UN are particularly concerned about human rights issues. Moreover, all international treaties, charters and conventions to which Egypt is a signatory stipulate the existence of independent human rights NGOs.

These independent institutions have played a positive role in entrenching principles of good governance and respect for human rights.

These institutions have sometimes served as a check to limit the indulgence of despotic behaviour by political regimes, particularly in the developing world.

Additionally, there has been the establishment of regional and international coordinating networks that enable these institutions to facilitate regular consultation on key areas of concern, including the formulation of new efforts and strategies to increase their effectiveness.

The period on which the study focuses (1995–2015) is of special significance, as it witnessed widespread political mass movements. This period also witnessed an attempt by the authorities in both countries to confront these mass movements using repression and circumvention.

In this context, the study discusses the extent of the effectiveness of the Korean and Egyptian human rights institutions in carrying out their three primary roles, namely: education and awareness-raising; monitoring; and legislating.

Regarding the first role, education and awareness-raising, there is a strong contrast between the Korean and Egyptian experiences. The South Korean president issued a decree with the force of law, along with executive regulations, that made it accountable to the leadership of several institutions.

The education minister and the human resources minister further agreed to work jointly with the National Human Rights Commission in order to incorporate human rights values and principles into the curriculum of the primary-school pupils, as well as into examinations for the promotion and employment of public officials.

The law additionally forced heads of research institutions and scientific associations sponsored by the government to consult with the commission regarding the conduct of joint research and the holding of training courses focused on human rights.

In Egypt, the law that established the National Council for Human Rights stipulated, in its third article, 14 specialisations for the council. Ten specialisations related to the education and awareness-raising function, all of which are solely restricted to expressing opinions and submitting viewpoints, suggestions and recommendations.

Also included were generalized formulations such as “working on promoting human rights culture and raising the citizens’ awareness” and “announcing standpoints towards main issues should be done through statements and sharing information and expertise with those concerned.”

No authority is legally or otherwise obliged to adhere to these standards and there was no establishment of specific funds. The activity and work of this council relies entirely on the financing of the UN, the EU or private institutions in the United States and Europe.

Therefore, the study notes the lack of cooperation between state institutions and the council.

The study quotes from one of these documents that the suggestions of the Ministry of the Interior, for instance, “were devoid of any statistical data used as a performance evaluation index regarding the welfare of prisoners and the detainees.” The suggestions were also devoid of a “statement on the evaluation of the feedback of human rights education in the Police Academy or evaluating the extent of benefit and effect of training courses held for police officers.”

The study discusses and analyzes both the legislative and the monitoring roles of the Korean commission and Egypt’s National Council for Human Rights, pointing out that the fatal flaw in the education role in Egypt was replicated in the other two roles.

While the law in Korea obliges the concerned authorities and the Korean commission to participate in a detailed and transparent way in legislative and monitoring processes, and granted it certain powers and activated them through specific terms of reference, the powers of the Egyptian National Council for Human Rights are almost non-existent.

All of these powers revolve around submitting suggestions and expressing opinion. Thus, it is just a consultative council absent any genuine effectiveness.

The study's conclusions call for the amendment of the council’s law along with its executive regulations so as to commit the competent authorities to allow access to information and commit them to investigate complaints, grant the council the right to bring lawsuits and stipulate the council’s right to visit prisons and detention centres, according to international standards, along with other recommendations.

The author of the study concludes that these necessary corrective measures should be taken in order to revive the council’s influence, which is currently very limited in scope, and to increase its effectiveness.

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