Civil society organizations call upon the European Union (EU) and the Egyptian government to consult with civil society in the current bilateral negotiations on the European Neighborhood Policy (ENP) Plan of Action. They assert that the Plan of Action should include concrete obligations on the government with regard to political reform, respect for human rights and civil society’s monitoring of the implementation of the Plan.
These demands were expressed in a seminar organized jointly by the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) and the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network (EMHRN) on “The European Neighborhood Policy: Human Rights in the European-Egyptian Relations” in Cairo, January 26-27, 2006. The seminar was inaugurated by the Ambassador of Austria to Cairo, Austria being the president of the EU. Participants in the seminar included representatives of civil society associations from Cairo, Jordan, Tunisia, Morocco, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Ukraine, France and Belgium, in addition to representatives of the European Commission and the United Kingdom embassy in Cairo. The seminar dealt with the evaluation of the application of the Euro-Mediterranean Association agreements, civil society participation, and application of the ENP in Eastern Europe, Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia, and priorities of the ENP EU-Egyptian Plan of Action.
Participants regretted the absence of representatives of the Egyptian government in the seminar although they were invited. EU representatives, on the other hand, contribute positively to the discussions, and they welcomed comments and observations of the civil society during negotiations. In this framework, participants call on the Arab governments not to be inspired by the Israeli model and to learn instead from the Ukrainian experience in dealing with the civil society before and after the adoption of the ENP Plan of Action. During negotiations with the European party the Ukrainian government undertook intensified discussions with the civil society on human rights in the Plan of action. Following the adoption of the Plan, the government worked with the civil society on setting a roadmap to implement the human rights and democracy obligations laid down in the Plan.
Participants refused that the Egyptian government uses “national sovereignty” or “non-interference in the country’s internal affairs” as pretexts during negotiations with the European party considering such pretexts on the part of the government as persistent attempts to abort political reform and promotion of human rights requested for years in vain by Egyptians. In addition, the government itself does not resort to these pretexts during negotiations for economic aid, or for accession to any security or military cooperation scheme with European or Western countries.
Participants reiterated the recommendations included in the Statement made by 25 NGOs in Egypt in September 2005 at the start of the EU-Egyptian negotiations on the Plan of Action. They asserted that the Plan of Action should necessarily include a number of priorities in the special chapter on human rights and democracy. These should include taking all measures to end the widely spread systematic practice of torture in detention places; adopting necessary policies to hold perpetrators of torture accountable and putting an end to impunity and Emergency Laws, that provide the Executive with almost absolute jurisdictions to infringe on public freedoms and rights. They also refuse reference to national legislation with regard to issues of human rights and democracy, and assert the necessity for reference to universal principles of human rights, which are absent from and even undermined in national legislation.
Also, the Plan of Action should explicitly provide for enacting new legislation to free civil society associations, political parties and trade unions from arbitrary legislative restrictions and the interference by security and government bodies. Media-regulating legislation should be amended to safeguard the freedom of establishing newspapers, TV and radio channels and to restructure state-owned media institutions in order to safeguard their independence from the ruling party. Also new laws should be enacted to safeguard the independence of the judiciary and public prosecution from the executive in accordance with international standards. The government should also adhere to international standards of women’s rights, and should reform the legal framework regulating elections in accordance with international standards providing for freedom and transparency of elections. This shall be accomplished by safeguarding full judicial supervision and international and national monitoring of all stages of the electoral process.
The government should also safeguard academic freedoms, independence of universities and take all measure to end discrimination between citizens on grounds of sex, religion race or any other grounds. It should also ratify all non-yet-ratified international conventions of human rights, in particular the Additional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Additional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women, and the Addition Protocol to the Convention against Torture.
It is worth-mentioning that EU-Egyptian negotiations on the ENP Plan of Action started in September 2005 in Cairo, and the second round was held in December 2005 in Brussels. The third round will be launched next month in Cairo. Organizers of the seminar shall work on preparing a detailed report including civil society recommendations on political reform and human rights in the EU-Egyptian Plan of Action to be presented to the EU and the Egyptian government. A meeting will be arranged for the civil society’s representatives with the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs responsible for conducting negotiations with the EU institutions in Brussels to discuss the findings of the report.
On the other hand, participants warned against human rights violations as a result of anti-terror legislation in some Arab and European countries. They assert that the proper approach to confront problems of security and terrorism is conditional upon the EU’s ability to provide a comprehensive perspective toward development, promotion of human rights and democracy and activation of the role of the civil society. The EU should refrain from supporting totalitarian regimes in the Arab world. This used to take place for such regimes to protect the European gates against terrorism and immigration with methods that do not serve peoples’ interests and nourish terrorism. They added that the EU’s capacity to activate the ENP, and make up for the failure of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership since the launching of the Barcelona Process in 1995, is conditional upon placing human rights and political reform’s priorities on top of the EU-Arab agenda. It is also conditional upon involving civil society in monitoring negotiations and implementation of the suggested Plans of Actions with neighboring countries.
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