Yesterday, Wednesday, March 9, 17 Egyptian rights groups sent a letter to Zeid Ra’ad, the UN high commissioner for human rights, detailing the state of human rights in Egypt and presenting their recommendations for stopping its ongoing deterioration. The letter was sent hours before the high commissioner is scheduled to address the 31st session of the UN Human Rights Council, currently convened in Geneva, on March 10.
The letter reviews significant recent developments in seven major issues of concern, including extrajudicial killing and police brutality; imprisonment, torture, and ill treatment; freedom of association and assembly; the suppression of media and artistic freedoms and draconian measures against cultural and academic institutions; economic and social justice; women’s rights; and religious freedoms. The letter comes just one year after Egypt accepted a set of international recommendations related to these issues during the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of its rights record in November 2014.
The signatory organizations set forth a set of recommendations and asked for the high commissioner’s support for them in the 31st session of the HRC. These recommendations include enabling civil society organizations in Egypt to operate freely under a statutory framework that meets international standards and which allows them to maintain contacts with international bodies and groups concerning the state of human rights in Egypt without being subjected to retaliatory measures. They also called for the immediate closure of the politicized foreign funding case (case No. 173/2011) and guarantees for a secure climate that would support work in the public sphere and protect cultural centers, thus allowing them to carry out their activities.
In the recommendations, the groups asked that the protest law (Law 107/2013) be amended by the parliament to comport with the Egyptian constitution, Egypt’s international obligations, and recommendations submitted during Egypt’s UPR. They further proposed amendments to the definition of torture in Article 126 of the Egyptian Penal Code to comport with the more comprehensive definition found in the UN Convention against Torture, as well as amendments to Article 102 of the Police Authority Law (Law No. 109/1971) that would bring it in line with the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials. The letter also urged the Egyptian government and recently elected parliament to repeal Article 98(f) of the Penal Code related to blasphemy and the denigration of religion.
The organizations asked the Egyptian government to comply with constitutional provisions on public spending on education and health and not allow austerity policies to erode these commitments.
In the letter, the signatory organizations expressed their grave concern for the increasingly violent and shocking human rights violations committed by the Egyptian authorities, noting that the war on terror has been used as a pretext for abuses amid an undeclared state of emergency supported by a clearly politicized judiciary.
Signatories to the letter included the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, National Community for Human Rights and Law, the Egyptian Association for Community Participation Enhancement, Arab Network for Human Rights Information, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, the Land Center for Human Rights, Arab Center for Independence of the Judiciary and the Legal Profession, the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights, Appropriate Communications Techniques for Development (ACT), Masryoon Against Religious Discrimination, Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms, Arab Penal Reform Organization, Alhaqanya Foundation of Rights and freedoms, Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression, Center for Egyptian Women’s Legal Assistance, and Nazra for Feminist Studies.
A copy of the letter
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