19 Rights Organizations Declare: A Dramatic Deterioration in the Status of Human Rights in Egypt over the Past Four Years
In preparation for Egypt’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) before the UN, scheduled for November 5, the Forum of Independent Egyptian Human Rights Organizations (the Forum), comprised of 19 organizations, published a joint report on the status of human rights in Egypt over the past four years. The report was sent to the UN Human Rights Council in March, the deadline for the submission of governmental and independent reports to be discussed during the UPR. As per the council’s procedures, the reports are subjected to UN review and assessment prior to release and publication in the run-up to the UPR. Reviews are conducted to record the human rights status of member states every four years.
The report focuses on a set of fundamental human rights and their development in Egypt over the last four years, taking into consideration the popular protests in this period and the succession of political regimes and governments. The report notes that the common feature of this period was the popular demand for an improved human rights situation, and shows that successive governments, despite their political differences, have failed to curb violations or work towards the protection of rights through security sector, economic, social, or judicial reform.
The report shows that despite the repeated Egyptian demands for freedom, social justice, and human dignity, and despite human rights organizations repeatedly presenting the government with proposals to improve the state of human rights, a lack of political will continues to be the main reason for the deterioration of rights and freedoms. All of the successive governments since 2010 have violated various rights including freedom of peaceful assembly, freedom of association, and freedom of expression. This period has also witnessed sexual attacks on female protesters and no progress in the conditions of the poor or improvements in health, education or housing services.
In this context, the Forum invites the Egyptian government to a joint meeting to discuss both the government report and independent reports on the state of human rights in Egypt before the UPR takes place. It also urges the government to declare its commitment, prior to the UPR, to several recommendations submitted by independent organizations.
It is worth mentioning that the government committee tasked with preparing Egypt’s official UPR reports in 2010 took pains to consult and reach out to human rights groups involved in monitoring and documenting human rights issues, in contrast to the current committee, which drafted the government report on its own. This lack of consultation is illustrative of the government’s disregard towards independent human rights organizations, who have exerted tremendous effort in producing their own reports. Indeed, the Egyptian government has issued an ultimatum to all civil society organizations to register under the draconian 84/2002 Law of Associations by 10 November or face dissolution. The ultimatum is due to expire three days after the end of the UPR.
The Forum’s 14 page report for this round of the UPR assesses the extent to which Egypt had met the 119 recommendations and obligations it assumed in the 2010 process, starting with its commitment to protect its citizens’ right to life and including the right to a fair trial, the right to freedom of expression and opinion, the right to freedom of belief, the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, student and trade union freedoms, press freedoms, the right to political participation, and children and women’s rights.
In the four years covered by the report, the right to life was flagrantly violated due to the policies of arbitrary violence meted out by security sector forces, especially in their dispersion of sit-ins and protests and in their disproportionate use of lethal weapons, which resulted in the deaths of thousands. The report also notes the violation of military personnel and civilians’ right to life by terrorist groups. Successive governments have not been successful in stopping the criminal practices of these terrorist groups, which began in the Sinai Peninsula then spread to the rest of the republic to reach the capital.
The report also addresses the right to a fair trial and the need for effective mechanisms for accountability for the grave violations faced by Egyptians; the matter of which casts doubt on the integrity of systems for redress and genuine justice. The report points to the sharp increase in the number of civilians, including minors, tried before military courts, as well as the flagrant violation of the rights of the child, especially in light of the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood’s consideration of legislative changes and statutory amendments that would allow the death penalty and hard labor for children aged 15–18.
The report examines closely the rights of freedom of association, although Egypt accepted several related recommendations in its first UPR, successive governments have failed to amend Law 84/2002 regulating civil society organizations (CSOs). In fact, legislation currently under consideration would put further obstacles in way of civil society groups. The report notes the severe assault on CSOs, including press accusations of treason and foreign collaboration and the summoning of rights activists for questioning, as well as raids on the offices of Egyptian and international rights groups in February and December 2011 and December 2013.
Regarding press freedoms, whilst the report acknowledges the positive changes enshrined in the 2014 constitution, it notes that these provisions have not yet been translated into detailed statutory law. Indeed, laws proposed or put in place concerning press freedoms have been in violation of constitutional guarantees, and the government has continued to violate press freedoms on the ground. Rights organizations have documented the referral of journalists and bloggers to military courts and have observed increased attacks on them; the government has also shut down newspapers and media outlets and attacked media offices.
The report discusses the grave violations against the right to freedom of peaceful assembly. On the legislative front, it criticizes the protest law, which rendered the right of peaceful assembly meaningless while freeing the hand of the security forces in their dealings with demonstrations. On the ground, the repression and violence with which demonstrations were met left nearly 2,000 citizens dead in the past three years. Women participating in demonstrations were subjected to numerous assaults, including repeated incidents of mass rape, which security forces were unable to prevent and for which survivors have not been compensated. On the contrary, feminist organizations have documented attempts to pressure survivors to withdraw their complaints, while police personnel have at times expressed sympathy for the perpetrators and demeaned or harassed survivors. Although Egypt accepted 25 recommendations related to women’s rights in the 2010 UPR, four years on the state has taken no action to fulfill its obligations and has taken no measures to support gender equality or stop violence against women.
The following organizations contributed to the report: