The Universal Periodic Review of member states’ rights records before the UN Human Rights Council ends with the state under review announcing a commitment to a set of recommendations to improve the status of human rights and meet the demands of its citizens. In this context, the Forum of Independent Human Rights Organizations (the Forum), comprised of 19 rights groups, submitted more than 100 recommendations to the Egyptian government to bring state practices and legislation into compliance with international human rights standards. The recommendations were made shortly before Egypt’s UPR at the Human Rights Council, scheduled for November 5.
The recommendations, which were attached to several reports on general and specific rights issues submitted to the Human Rights Council by the organizations, included recommendations to generally improve the human rights situation in Egypt and practical recommendations on particular rights, such as the right of association, the right of peaceful assembly, the right to a fair trial, and women’s rights, as well as recommendations related to particular population groups, such as the rights of children, minorities, and refugees.
In the framework of the UPR, the rights record of each member state is reviewed every four years to determine the state’s compliance with recommendations and its obligations and to regularly assess its efforts to uphold the rights of its citizens. In its recommendations, the Forum thus cited several commitments made by Egypt in its first UPR in 2010; four years later, no progress has been made toward these commitments. They included the adoption of recommendations related to combating torture, empowering women, and upholding freedom of expression, freedom to protest, and freedom of belief.
Of the more than 100 recommendations addressing the general rights situation, the Forum focused on 12 recommendations which it believes are a priority to end current violations. Most of these recommendations are predicated on the need to enforce the provisions of the constitution, which affirms the importance of amending Egyptian laws to make them concord with international human rights conventions ratified by Egypt. In addition, the recommendations urge the Egyptian government to ratify new conventions and treaties, including the optional protocol to the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. The organizations also recommended cancelling the November 10 deadline the government has set for NGOs, or what it termed “non-registered entities,” to register under a highly restrictive Mubarak-era law of associations.
The general recommendations focused on accountability for crimes of the last four years, urging the government to hold those involved in crimes against Egyptians accountable, regardless of their position or the institution to which they belong. The Forum also called on the state to recognize the important, legitimate role of human rights defenders in promoting democracy and the rule of law and to protect them through various means, such as respecting the independence of their organizations and refraining from defaming their work.
The second set of recommendations addressed 12 rights issues, first and foremost the right of protest and peaceful assembly, which the organizations see as a pivotal cause of the political shifts seen in Egypt in the recent period. The independent organizations called on the Egyptian government to amend the protest law, conduct independent, comprehensive investigations into the use of excessive force against demonstrators, and hold offenders accountable, which includes prosecuting perpetrators of crimes, among them those involved in sexual violence and harassment against women demonstrators and human rights defenders.
The recommendations also addressed the right to a fair trial, urging the government to put an immediate end to military trials of civilians, which requires amending Article 204 of the Egyptian constitution and referring all persons tried and currently being tried before military tribunals to ordinary civilian courts, provided these civilian courts respect due process guarantees.
Concerning freedom of association, the Forum stressed the need to undertake statutory reforms to empower civil society, guarantee lack of interference in its affairs, affirm its right to fundraise, and end security interference in its work. International non-governmental organizations should enjoy the same rights, and the state should refrain from any intimidation or reprisals against those who cooperate with international institutions.
Several recommendations focused on torture and degrading treatment. The Forum urged the Egyptian government to conduct fair, transparent investigations into allegations of police torture and undertake judicial inspections of detention facilities to ensure that defendants are not being held in unlawful facilities.
The independent organizations made several recommendations to the Egyptian government related to combating terrorism without sacrificing human rights, particularly freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and association. The recommendations called for amending counterterrorism laws to prevent the abuse of counterterrorism measures.
Regarding freedom of expression and media, the Forum recommended more freedom for newspapers and media outlets, guarantees against the closure or raid of any newspaper or media outlet, the adoption of a law on the right to information that meets international standards, and amendments to the Penal Code to uphold freedom of expression.
Other recommendations addressed the rights of women, children, refugees, and minorities of all types, urging statutory amendments or the promotion or prevention of certain practices. These included recommendations to provide healthcare to children in detention facilities along with street children and working children and a ban on publishing information on child witnesses, victims, and defendants in the media to protect them from danger, defamation, and discrimination. The Forum also recommended the drafting, in consultation with women’s groups in Egypt, of a national government strategy to combat violence against women, cooperation between the Ministries of Interior, Health, and Justice to improve the provision of medical services to rape survivors, and training for forensic practitioners, doctors, and nurses in public and private hospitals on protecting evidence of sexual assault and rape.
The recommendations also stressed the need to take decisive measures to hold to account persons who have committed acts of violence against religious minorities and end all forms of extrajudicial dispute resolution when related to the rights of religious minorities (what are known as customary reconciliation sessions). The Forum further recommended greater efforts to end human trafficking of refugees and migrants in Sinai and guaranteed immunity from prosecution for trafficking survivors as well as aid and protection.
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