A report was released on Saturday by a coalition of non-governmental organisations (NGO) showing that Egypt remains behind in terms of its international commitment to human rights, despite President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi’s defence of his human rights record during a recent visit to New York.
The Civil Society Organisations Coalition, composed of 25 NGOs, was launched by NGO Maat for Peace and Development in May, with the purpose of observing the government’s actions on the local level, with regards to Egypt’s voluntary obligations to the Universal Periodic Review (UPR).
The coalition issued a report outlining an assessment of pros and cons for Egypt in different aspects of human rights between January and August, as part of a project it said was financed by the European Union for 2016/2017.
The issue of human rights in Egypt pursued President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi while he was on his important trip to New York to attend the 71st session of the United Nations general assembly, as voices concerned with the cause resumed their calls for improvement. In particular, PBS anchor Charlie Rose accused the Egyptian state of using the narrative of “national security concerns” to enforce a crackdown on anyone opposing it.
Al-Sisi praised Egypt’s handling of the worldwide refugee crisis in a speech at the UN Refugees and Migrants plenary meeting in New York, by saying how much the country significantly contributes to the responsibility of hosting refugees. However, the coalition pointed out in its report that many refugees in Egypt face both security and social obstacles, and are not treated according to international standards.
“Refugees cannot obtain residence permits, thus becoming victims to the mafia of illegal immigration. A large number has been detained by the police on charges of forging documents. Although prosecution authorities have decided to release them and not deport them, they have not been able to get back their documents, continuing to live under threat,” the report established.
The coalition’s report noted that Egypt improved its security status by successfully reducing the rate of terrorist attacks and containing violent groups in comparison to the wave that followed the ouster of former Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in July 2013.
However, it also traced degradation in economic rights and a continued crackdown on political and civil freedoms under the pretext of security. Economic and social problems are related to price inflation and unemployment.
According to the report, the two major reasons behind economic pressure are the international economic slowdown and Egypt’s declining tourism sector—mainly in the aftermath of the terrorist attack on a Russian aeroplane in October.
“Regional conflicts negatively affect the situation of human rights in Egypt and increase fears that the country experiences a crisis similar to its neighbours. Such narrative is manipulated by government-affiliated factions who seek to postpone reform to later stages,” the report stated.
The report specifically highlighted police brutality, condemning the lack of accountability towards police personnel who abuse their powers. “Even though several cases were investigated and sentences issued against perpetrators, preventive legislations remain weak,” the report said.
Egypt has been provided with 300 recommendations by the UN Human Rights Council, following its UPR held in Geneva in November 2014.
In a UN Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva later in March 2015, Egypt’s representatives stated that Egypt has fully accepted 224 and partially accepted 23 of the UPR’s 300 recommendations. Egypt’s responses also took some recommendations as simply noted or rejected.
Among the issues considered problematic in the council meeting were Egypt’s controversial protest and NGO laws, media freedoms, freedom of association, the use of the death penalty, and women’s rights. Rights groups had also expressed concerns about the government’s intentions to a real commitment towards improvement.
In June, Egyptian diplomat Ahmed Fathallah won a seat on the UN Human Rights Committee. Egypt’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs took the opportunity to slam any negative reviews issued on the status of human rights.
On the other hand, Maat had taken the opportunity to bring Egypt’s international obligations and promises to the forefront again, focusing on four urgent reforms, namely combating crimes of torture, organising the work of civil society organisations, implementing guarantees of freedom of belief and religious practices, and changing laws regarding freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.
The new NGOs report reopened those issues. “Despite several constitutional articles guaranteeing freedom of expression and opinion, there is a return to using prison terms in political and religious cases against intellectuals and politicians. There is also a crackdown on media and press freedom,” the report stated.
“Egypt accepted some of the recommendations related to changing the Protest Law, but its application during recent protests against the Egyptian-Saudi maritime border agreement giving up sovereignty of the islands of Tiran and Sanafir show that the state did not take any real measure to amend the law,” the report added.
According to the report, several necessary legislations have not yet been issued, such as the transitional justice law, the anti-discrimination commission, the NGOs law, in addition to needed amendments to the protest and anti-terror laws, which the report described as a “source of tension among political forces”.
The report also listed several problems facing citizens in the fields of education, health, housing, and employment, and mentioned increasing complaints from electricity and water bills.