A proper approach to human rights

Nourhan Moussa
Tuesday 6 Dec 2022

A proper approach to human rights is one that prioritises the rights of the overall population and the need to preserve national peace and security.


There is no doubt that the basic principles of human rights are universal and do not change with time, place, or political, social, or economic circumstances. However, due to the existence of different cultures, there are differences in perspectives on human rights issues.

The West is currently focusing on political rights, while other countries, particularly in the Global South, are interested in economic, social, and other rights without making political rights a priority.

The UN COP Climate Conference, held every year, is about rights that the world is not used to paying attention to – namely the right to live in a clean environment and the right to climate justice, something which has arisen due to the actions of the industrialised countries in producing harmful greenhouse-gas emissions and making it necessary for them to compensate the developing ones. 

Civil society groups should pay attention to environmental issues and highlight their demand that the human right to live in a safe and harm-free environment be respected. It was therefore strange that attempts were made to politicise the recent UN COP27 Climate Conference in Sharm El-Sheikh to divert it towards political and civil rights.

I refer to activist Alaa Abdel-Fattah, imprisoned in Egypt as a result of a court ruling convicting him of publishing false news that constitutes a threat to public security. He has previously been imprisoned on charges of inciting violence and organising illegal demonstrations. 

The issue here is not Abdel-Fattah, however, but rather how some have reacted to his case and the reasons for his imprisonment. This took place after a trial in which the court issued its decision based on the Egyptian Penal Code, which in Articles 188, 80, and 102 punishes anyone who works to spread false news or incites action that disturbs the public peace. 

Such penalties are not limited to Egyptian law. For example, the British law penalises those who incite sedition through various means and imposes massive fines on platforms that call for violence. Likewise, there was an important case in the US in 2009 when the lawyer of Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, in prison in the US on terrorist offences, was sentenced to 28 months in prison for merely communicating with the Islamist group to which Abdel-Rahman belongs. 

Those who defend Abdel-Fattah, in prison for spreading false news and inciting violence, are the same people who attack former US president Donald Trump for inciting violence by encouraging his supporters to storm the US Congress building in Washington after he lost the US presidential elections. 

Organisations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International deal with the issues surrounding human rights with duplicity, as they demand that the authorities respect the opinions of others while they themselves do not respect them. 

If we depart a little from the situation in Egypt, we find that the US itself has been guilty of many human-rights violations. One jury in the state of Missouri sentenced a young black man to prison on charges of involvement in the commission of an armed robbery that resulted in a killing, for example. After being imprisoned for more than four decades, it was shown last year that the man in question was innocent and that he had been a victim of racism. 

US law does not provide for compensation, which prompted some Americans to campaign for donations to compensate this wronged individual. Where were the human rights organisations at that time and why did they not stand up for the rights of this man and others in the US?

It is not the first time, and it will not be the last, that the double standards of foreign human rights organisations have been evident along with the bias of their dealings with the human rights issues of various countries. But what is clear has been the ongoing attempts of these organisations to mislead international public opinion. Unfortunately, I do not think that these attempts will stop, no matter how much effort the Egyptian state makes to correct them. 

It is for such reasons that we ourselves must not stop in our efforts at correcting these opinions, while at the same time working to maximise efforts to improve Egypt’s human rights situation through a comprehensive approach that prioritises the Egyptian population and the importance of preserving social peace and national security.

* The writer is a professor of international law.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 8 December, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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