The UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) started on Wednesday its regular four-year review of Egypt’s human rights record amid continued tensions over a controversial draft NGO law.
On Tuesday, seven Egyptian rights groups said they would not attend any of their scheduled meetings at the review, fearing persecution back home.
They highlighted that the UN event comes days ahead of a 10 November ultimatum given by the Egyptian government to NGOs to abide by a new law regulating their activities, which they condemn as restrictive and oppressive.
Meanwhile, Transitional Justice Minister Ibrahim El-Heneidy, who represents Cairo at the review, reiterated his government’s commitment to support NGOs within a legal framework and to reach out to them as part of “national participation to strengthen future development,” state news agency MENA reported.
He said in a meeting on Tuesday with UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Raad Al-Hussein that Egypt aimed to uphold the goals of the 25 January 2011 and 30 June 2013 revolutions.
An outline of Egypt's position on human rights, expected to be presented to the UN in Geneva by El-Heneidy, was published in Al-Ahram daily newspaper on Tuesday.
The report defends Egypt’s human rights record, saying the government "insists on respecting and protecting rights and general freedoms," despite the wave of terrorism the country is facing.
This means enforcing the “rule of law, social justice, guaranteed rights and freedoms for all citizens without discrimination and positive interaction with the international human rights framework.”
Other issues are also expected to be tackled at the UNHRC on Wednesday, most notably violent events during Egypt’s 2011 uprising and the upheaval that followed the ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi.
Human Rights Watch on Tuesday urged the UN to condemn Egypt’s human rights record, referring to the NGO situation among other issues.
A controversial protest law passed last November bans unauthorised demonstrations and hundreds have been imprisoned under its provisions.
The UN has condemned the Egyptian government’s performance several times since 2011.
Its human rights chief said mass death sentences handed down in Upper Egypt last June were "obscene and a complete travesty of justice."
The government has maintained that it is acting within the boundaries of its laws in order to combat terrorism.
Attacks on police and army personnel have been on the rise over the past year in Egypt. Hundreds of police and army personnel have been killed in attacks by Islamic militants since the ouster of Islamist president Morsi last year.
UN has also condemned such attacks, which have also affected civilians.
Meanwhile, back in Cairo, an Egyptian fact-finding committee into the events that followed the 30 June 2013 protests that led to Morsi’s ouster is expected to make its results public in November.
The Egyptian delegation to Geneva is composed of El-Heneidy, Hisham Badr, deputy foreign minister for human rights, Abu Bakr El-Gendy, deputy interior minister for human rights, Mervat Talawy, secretary-general of the National Council for Women, Maha Abdel-Latif, deputy foreign minister for foreign NGOs, and Medhat Bassiouny, deputy justice minister for human rights.
It also includes Mohamed Khallaf, deputy prosecutor-general for international cooperation affairs, and Ashraf Ashmawy, El-Heneidy's advisor on human rights.