Forum of Independent Human Rights Organizations asks Egyptian government to set deadline on the implementation of its pledges; declares One Hundred Days campaign to monitor the seriousness of the government’s commitment

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The Forum of Independent Egyptian Human Rights Organizations said that the Egyptian government should take immediate and transparent measures to draft a detailed action plan. The action plan ought to include measurable goals and a clear timeline for implementing the recommendations that the government vowed to honor, as part of the four-year Universal Periodic Review (UPR), before the United Nations Human Rights Council. The Forum stressed that the success of the UPR ultimately depends on how serious the Egyptian government is regarding the implementation of the recommendations and civil society’s inclusion in the monitoring and evaluation process. Moreover, the Forum agreed on the launching of “One Hundred Days” campaign to monitor the government’s commitment to human rights immediately after the end of the UPR session in March until the Human Rights Council 14th session, during which the final recommendations for the Egyptian government will be issued. In addition, member organizations of the Forum agreed to invite the government committee in charge of the UPR to a meeting to evaluate the recommendations and discuss an implementation plan. It will also invite representatives of foreign embassies and Human Rights Council observers in Cairo to a similar meeting.

As part of its efforts to evaluate the outcome of the UPR, session, which was held at the Human Rights Council in Geneva on February 17 and 19 2010, the Forum noted- with grave concern- the Egyptian government’s intentional undermining of various opportunities for and objective and constructive debate that would strengthen human rights. In both its official report to the UN and the oral presentation, the Egyptian government justified widespread human rights abuses in Egypt by citing cultural justifications, the spread of extremism and terrorism, and the global financial crisis. On the other hand, it failed to recognize the existence of long-standing structural problems in the constitution, legislation, policies, and daily security practices. The government also explicitly denied many abuses at the outset and submitted false information to the Human Rights Council that contradicted with not only reports from international and Egyptian organizations and UN experts, but also reports written by the National Human Rights Council since 2003, particularly regarding the specifics of the application of the emergency law, counterterrorism measures and their negative impact on Egyptians’ civil and political liberties; the state’s compliance with legal procedures during arrest and detention; the crackdown on freedom of opinion and expression; security pressure on human rights defenders; democracy advocates;  political activists; the commitment to economic and social rights; and faith-based or religious discrimination. The Forum was also dismayed to see some countries, particularly other Arab countries, consume valuable time of the session in praising the Egyptian government and painting a false picture of the human rights situation in the country, while studiously avoiding any substantive recommendations to improve the situation. These interventions derailed a more serious, comprehensive discussion of the primary issues and problems facing human rights in Egypt.

At the same time, the Forum praised UN member states that took a serious approach to the UPR process through raising issues that do indeed constitute areas of concern for human rights in Egypt; in addition to making several recommendations that were consistent with those adopted by the Forum before the oral session. In particular, the Forum appreciates the important role played by the delegations from France, Germany, Britain, the Czech Republic, Ireland, Sweden and the Netherlands, Canada, Norway, Switzerland, Latvia, Denmark , Italy, Spain, Belgium, Austria, Brazil, Argentina and the United States of America and Finland.

The government voluntarily accepted 119 recommendations while rejecting 21; it is also considering 25 additional recommendations before the Human Rights Council meets in June to approve the final list of recommendations. The Forum notes that many of the accepted recommendations were formulated in a vague, general, and -at times- repetitive manner, which weakens their value. This requires the drafting of a national action plan in which the government will outline- in a transparent fashion- how these recommendations will be translated into legislation and policy. The approved recommendations for which the government is now responsible before the Human Rights Council include; the immediate release or prosecution of prisoners detained administratively under the emergency law; an amendment to the definition of torture in the Penal Code while also guaranteeing the investigation of all torture cases and the punishment of those responsible; lifting of the state of emergency and ensuring that any new counterterrorism law adheres to international human rights standards; guarantees that the death penalty will be used only in accordance with the rules set by international law; protection for human rights defenders in conjunction with amendments to the NGO law to facilitate the registration of independent civil society groups and their ability to act freely; protections for the right to freedom of belief and religion and effective responses in cases of sectarian violence- particularly those targeting Copts; guarantees for the right to free expression, including the freedom of bloggers and others to use the internet; and redoubled efforts to disseminate a culture of human rights and train officials to respect human rights. The Egyptian government also accepted several recommendations concerning women’s rights, among them was putting an end to general discrimination against women, which included discrimination against working women; combating violence against women, including domestic and sexual violence; supporting women’s participation in the judiciary; and considering lifting all government reservations to articles of the CEDAW.

In addition, the government accepted all the recommendations that were made in the field of social and economic rights, though most of them were vague and overly general. These recommendations included supporting access to health care, housing, food, education, and social services. It also dealt with combating poverty, illiteracy, and unemployment; and guaranteeing protection for marginalized and oppressed groups. The Egyptian government also committed itself to protecting the rights of migrants in Egypt and Egyptian immigrants abroad, as well as respecting the rights of refugees under international law.

Nevertheless, the Forum notes, with regret, that the government rejected several important recommendations that would have had a positive impact on human rights and basic liberties in Egypt. Nonetheless, it is important to note that some of these recommendations were directly linked to previous commitments that the government had already singed up to, through its ratification of various international conventions. These include the recommendation to amend Articles 102(b), 179, and 308 of the Penal Code, which are often used to restrict freedom of expression by prescribing imprisonment for crimes such as spreading false information, insulting the president, or defaming a family’s reputation. In addition, the government also refused to repeal the punishment of imprisonment for the charge of incitement to discrimination or libel; end certain forms of violence against women; respond to calls for international election monitors; and remove the slot for religious affiliation on official state documents. In addition, the government rejected recommendations urging the abolition of the death penalty or a moratorium on its use, as well as an end to discrimination against women in family law.

The Forum urges the government to accept those recommendations currently under consideration, including putting an end to discrimination against non-Muslims, through granting them the freedom to engage in religious rites and the issuance of a unified law for the construction and renovation of houses of worship. In addition to, the recommendations regarding  the abolition of imprisonment as a penalty for internet users; granting access to UN human rights rapporteurs to visit Egypt; taking measures to join the International Criminal Court and other UN instruments that uphold the right of victims of human rights abuses to petition; ratifying  the optional protocol to the Convention Against Torture- which allows UN experts to inspect prisons and detention centers; implementing measures to issue personal identity cards and other official documents to Egyptian Baha’is; and establishing an independent electoral commission that will guarantee representation to all political parties.

1. Al-Nadim Center for Treatment and Psychological Rehabilitation for Victims of Violence
2. Andalus Institute for Tolerance and Anti-Violence Studies
3. Arab Penal Reform Organization
4. Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression
5. Association for Human Rights Legal Aid
6. Hisham Mubarak Law Center
7. Land Center for Human Rights
8. The New Woman Foundation
9. The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information
10. The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
11. The Center for Trade Union and Workers’ Services
12. The Egyptian Association for Community Participation Enhancement
13. The Egyptian Center For Economic and Social Rights
14. The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights
15. The Group for Human Rights Legal Aid
16. The Human Rights Center for the Assistance of Prisoners