Human rights under review

Gamal Essam El-Din , Tuesday 8 Mar 2022

The House of Representatives this week discussed the strategy of the newly-reconstituted National Council for Human Rights.

NCHR meeting with parliament s Human Rights Committee
NCHR meeting with parliament s Human Rights Committee

On Sunday, parliament’s Human Rights Committee met to review the National Council for Human Rights’ (NCHR) 15th report. Released this week, the report covers 2019-20. The committee also invited NCHR President Moushira Khattab to discuss the future strategy of the council.

Noting that the new make-up of the 27-member NCHR was ratified by President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi in December, committee head Tarek Radwan said it is now time to assess the council’s strategy and vision.

Khattab told committee members that Egypt, like every other country of the world, faces criticism of its human rights record, but had nothing to either fear or hide.

She drew attention to the National Strategy for Human Rights 2021-26, launched in September, insisting “we were not under any pressure to launch the ambitious strategy which can be described as the first integrated strategy in the area of human rights in Egypt.”

Khattab said the NCHR’s immediate priority is to review legislation “in coordination with the state’s relevant authorities, particularly the House of Representatives and the Senate”, to ensure it protects human rights.

She also stressed that 2022 has been announced as the year of civil society in Egypt, and the NCHR would be working to enable “civil society organisations to join forces with the Egyptian state in implementing national development objectives”. In addition, the council’s complaints office will play a greater role in implementing the human rights.

“We have restructured the office so it is more effective in registering human rights violations filed by citizens, and complaints can now be sent online,” said Khattab.

The NCHR currently has branches in 11 governorates, but is seeking to expand its offices nationwide.

 “It is very important for us to be available everywhere in Egypt. We need to be in direct contact with ordinary citizens to receive their complaints and listen to their concerns,” said Khattab.

Two weeks ago, Khattab told the Senate that in the coming stage the council aims to focus on tackling the phenomena of child marriage and reducing school dropout, and recommended that the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood be given greater powers to address the two issues.

Meanwhile, Khattab is scheduled to meet with US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman this week. Sherman, who will be in Cairo on Thursday and Friday, is also slated to meet with Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri and other senior officials.

According to a statement released by the US State Department, Sherman intends to host a discussion with human rights advocates while in Cairo.

Senior figures within the Joe Biden administration, including US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, have repeatedly said they regularly raise human rights concerns in discussions with Egyptian officials, and the US recently suspended $130 million in military aid to Egypt, citing human rights reasons.

In a recorded address to the 49th session of the UN Human Rights Council on 3 March, Foreign Minister Shoukri said Egypt has adopted a comprehensive approach to promoting human and political rights.

“We have been able to develop a real partnership with civil society with the aim of founding a new republic that upholds the values of democracy, the principles of human rights, and the rule of law; a republic in which all citizens enjoy their basic rights and freedoms without discrimination,” said Shoukri.

Egypt’s foreign minister also reviewed the steps Egypt has taken to support freedom of worship and belief and uphold the values of citizenship, tolerance and dialogue. He explained that under the law regulating the construction and restoration of churches, 2,162 churches and places of worship had received legal recognition, and 74 new churches built.

Shoukri stressed that, when President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi launched the 2021-26 National Strategy for Human Rights in the New Administrative Capital in September 2021, the aim was to “enhance and respect all civilian, political, social, economic, and cultural rights”.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 10 March, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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