CAIRO: The government has always procrastinated in submitting periodic reports on the human rights situation in Egypt before United Nations committees, according to a recent report which claimed that the government only published two such reports between 2000 and 2009.
At a press conference held Tuesday, the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR) released its 20th annual report on “The Situation of Human Rights in Egypt for 2009.”
There are eight committees, the report said, based on international conventions and treaties ratified by the United Nations (UN), which tackle issues like torture, discrimination against women, human rights, and social and economic rights.
According to the 578-page report, all UN member states, including Egypt, are committed to submit periodic reports to these committees.
However, government procrastination in presenting its reports was clear. Aside from a report submitted to the committee on women in 2007 and another to the committee on children in 2008, the government hasn’t submitted any reports between 2000 and 2009, the EOHR report added.
The report analyzes the state of human rights in Egypt with numbers and statistics of cases and incidents monitored by EOHR last year.
“EOHR worked on the report from October 2009 to January 2010. It is based on the cases the organization handled last year,” EOHR head Hafez Abu Saeda told Daily News Egypt.
In 2009, EOHR received 1,532 complaints regarding infringements of political and civil rights. They were mainly torture crimes which violate the rights to life and to maintain physical integrity.
The report monitored cases of torture, arbitrary detention, forced disappearance, collective punishment, and persecution and ill-treatment at police stations.
In 2009, EOHR monitored 29 torture cases in different governorates across Egypt. The same year witnessed the highest number of arbitrary detentions, reaching 71 cases nationwide.
The situation of prisoners and detainees, the report said, continued to deteriorate, which contradicts national legislative provisions and international human rights conventions.
Moreover, EOHR observed numerous violations as to the right to a fair trial. Three cases were heard in military courts last year, while one case, known as the “Hezbollah Cell” case, was heard before the State Security Court.
In addition, a total of 164 citizens were interrogated by the Supreme State Security Prosecution.
The year 2009 witnessed a rise in the number of cases related to freedom of opinion and expression; most of them involved journalists.
Numerous infringements were committed against bloggers and online activists including detention, ill-treatment, persecution and trials. Such measures resulted from the absence of legislation that can regulate the use of the internet, the report explained.
Many books and publications were confiscated in 2009.
The organization stressed the right to organize peaceful demonstrations, protests, sit-ins and strikes. About 92 such actions were held in 2009.
According to the report, no developments were seen in 2009 in the legislative structure regulating the right to establish political parties. The law is marked by flaws that impede the freedom to found a political party, a right granted by the Egyptian constitution.
Moreover, there has been no clear progress on how NGOs are treated by the government.
The report pointed out that NGOs were exposed to a number of violations last year, such as the threat to dissolve EOHR and the rejection of requests to establish new organizations.
The report shed light on the rights of Egyptians living aboard. EOHR monitored 34 cases of violations committed against Egyptians in Arab countries, including 17 in Saudi Arabia in 2009. EOHR also identified five cases in the US, Hungary, France, Germany and Italy.
The report pointed out that women still suffer from several restrictions, whether on legal or practical levels.
Figures indicate a decline in the participation of women in political life, the report explained.
During the period from 2003 to 2009 EOHR monitored about 83 cases of violations against women all over Egypt.
The report tackled the extension of the Emergency Law imposed since 1981, which allows for the trial of civilians before military courts, the spread of torture at police stations, and the existence of detention centers supervised by state security.
EOHR proposed a number of measures; some of them have to do with legal and constitutional reform, while others are concerned with the situation of human rights and the recommendations of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC).
EOHR suggested a number of legal and constitutional reform measures, including the amendment of some articles related to torture in the Penal Code and Criminal Code.
The organization called for the amendment of Law No. 73/1956 on practicing political rights, and of Law No. 173/2005 ensuring the right of civil society organizations to monitor elections.
EOHR suggested a modification in the Shoura Council (Upper House of Parliament) law with regards to how council members are selected.
It also recommended a number of constitutional amendments to presidential elections and the limiting of presidential terms.
However, EOHR contends that it has witnessed an increase in the replies to its correspondences during 2009 compared to the previous year.
In 2009, the organization received 119 written replies from ministries, authorities, embassies and governmental institutions. Yet the number is a small fraction of the 3,188 correspondences made by the organization.
EOHR said it didn’t receive any feedback from the Ministry of Interior nor the Attorney General’s office to 920 enquiries.
Finally, EOHR stressed the importance of the government’s approval on all recommendations issued by UNHRC.
In June 2010, Egypt accepted 21 out of 25 recommendations for human rights reforms made to it by the HRC.
Egypt “partially” approved of five of the 21 recommendations it had accepted. These recommendations concern visits by UN special rapporteurs and the amendment of the much criticized law governing NGO activity.
This follows the Egyptian government’s acceptance of 119 recommendations during the HRC’s February session when it also rejected 21 recommendations and deferred consideration of the 25 recommendations already discussed.
Head of the Egyptian delegation to the HRC meeting, Mofid Shehab, also Minister of Parliamentary and Legal Affairs, listed what he described as “important developments,” such as the enactment of an anti-human trafficking law and the drafting of a law on the rights of people with disabilities.
Abu Saeda is relatively optimistic about the outcome of the report.
“I hope that what Shehab said in Geneva and in his meeting with us … [about] involving human rights groups in putting these recommendations into force and [considering] our opinion when applying them will turn into a reality,” he concluded.