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Egypt: Following COP 27, governments decline to take action at United Nations to address worsening crises

In Egypt /Road Map Program, Statements and Position Papers by CIHRS

(14 March – Geneva) Four months have passed since the historic events of COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh.   Back in November, the name Alaa Abd el-Fattah was on everybody’s lips, with world leaders Rishi Sunak, Olaf Scholz, Emmanuel Macron, Boris Johnson, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the White House’s Jake Sullivan all publicly advocating for his safety and release.  “You Have Not Yet Been Defeated” – a reference to the title of Alaa’s book – became the rallying cry of the conference, as hundreds of members of international civil society staged a protest – a sight unseen in Egypt since the military coup of 2013.

UK, Germany decline opportunity to lead on resolution on Egypt

But now, four months on, there has been no progress on the release of Alaa and the number of political prisoners in Egypt continues to grow.   Faced with this stasis, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) was among several rights groups, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, that wrote to the governments of Germany, the UK and others urging them to use the upcoming  UN Human Rights Council (the Council) to lead on a resolution on Egypt that would create a UN investigation into the imprisonment of Alaa and thousands of other political prisoners in Egypt.

According to the letter, “As witnessed by the world during COP27, the brutal crackdown on civil society in Egypt continues to intensify.”  The Egyptian authorities have detained “tens of thousands, including hundreds of human rights defenders, activists, political opponents and journalists, while systematically resorting to enforced disappearances and torture.”

The governments declined.

According to Sanaa, not only have governments declined to lead on a resolution, what is more they have refused to even join together to speak at the UN on Alaa’s case and the unfolding human rights crises in Egypt.  This failure comes despite recent calls for such action by parliamentarians throughout Europe and at the European parliament.

Sanaa Seif said, “The pledges made during COP27 by world leaders are – I think – what kept Alaa from returning to hunger strike, after he nearly died during the conference. He thought, as we all did, that it would mean something when leaders of Germany, Britain, France, the USA and the UN all publicly say they want his release. My brother had pushed himself to the absolute limit, then pulled back at the last moment because he allowed himself to hope.

But now months have passed and what are we hoping for? All we hear is silence. The leaders came, they went home, and their promises seem to be forgotten. We need the UN Human Rights Council to take action. Governments that who have said they are committed to Alaa’s freedom must lead in this effort and stop turning a blind eye to brutal repression.”

No clear reasons for this refusal to act have been provided by governments that were approached.

German and British Parliamentarians call for action

According to Max Lucks, and the Greens’ MENA spokesperson on the Bundestag’s Committee on Human Rights and Humanitarian Aid, “The Egyptian government’s tactics of apparent concessions are as cunning as they are transparent: but we will not play their cruel game. We must not allow ourselves to be intimidated.  Alaa is a symbol for freedom of expression and the fight for human rights in the country. We must not abandon the victims of the Egyptian regime now and it is our duty to denounce systematic human rights violations in all bilateral and multilateral contexts.  As a human rights politician, I am doing my utmost to ensure that those arbitrarily arrested are finally released!”

David Lammy, constituency MP for Alaa’s family in the British Parliament, and Shadow Foreign Secretary said, “Months have passed since the Prime Minister personally intervened at COP27 to secure Alaa’s release. His attempts have failed, and this has become a test of his resolve. Alaa remains in prison for his political beliefs while Egypt has continued to deny the right of consular access to a British citizen without consequence.  That is unacceptable.  The government must now urgently lay out what new steps it plans to take to secure Alaa’s release. As Alaa’s sister’s constituency MP, I will continue to speak up until consular access is granted and Alaa is reunited with his family.”

German parliamentarian Tobias Bacherle, a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee said, A sustained commitment to human rights in Egypt remains essential. British-Egyptian human rights defender Alaa Abd el-Fattah remains imprisoned in Wadi al-Natrun prison, he still has no access to medical care, and the authorities continue to refuse to officially recognize his past hunger strike. The fact that the British citizen is still not being granted consular care directly violates international law. We again call on the Egyptian government to release him immediately. We support the Foreign Office in continuously raising the issue of human rights violations in bilateral and multilateral contexts.

Sanaa Seif to speak before UN Human Rights Council in Geneva

Now, faced with apparent stasis from all sides, Alaa’s sister Sanaa, who was herself imprisoned for three years in Egypt for her human rights work, will begin to campaign once again for her brother. She will travel to Geneva to speak before the UN Human Rights Council – the world’s pre-eminent human rights body – on March 15.

Sanaa will also participate in an event at the UN on March 16 at 1pm (CET) that will include several prominent experts and address the worsening human rights and economic crises occurring in Egypt.    During the event she will provide updates on Alaa’s situation and call for urgent action by governments.

Jeremie Smith, Director of the Geneva Office of CIHRS, “There are concerns that Egypt may have attempted to intimidate Germany, the UK and other states.”

Egypt cancelled a human rights dialogue with Germany  and refused to issue  a visa for the German Human Rights Commissioner, Luise Amtsberg just before the Council began.

Mr Smith continued: “It is deeply worrying that the UK and other governments have refused to demonstrate leadership at the UN to protect the life and well-being of Alaa – a British citizen – and ensure his freedom, let alone the lives and freedom of thousands of others unjustly imprisoned in Egypt.  If states fail to show leadership on this issue at the current session of the Council it is our sincere hope that this can be rectified at the next session of the Council, in two months’ time.”

Rights groups have repeatedly warned that the failure of the Council and its member states to address the human rights crises in Egypt will be interpreted as a green light by Sisi’s government to continue to imprison and torture anyone who criticises the military regime.  On 5 March, just as the Council began,  Egypt did just that by sentencing 14 people, including activists, on terrorism charges in an unfair trial.

In an encouraging development, Volker Türk,  the new UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, speaking before the Council,  strongly condemned human rights violations in Egypt and called for the release of all political prisoners in the country

To arrange press interviews with Sanaa Seif in Geneva please contact Jeremie Smith: Director – Geneva Office of CIHRS at (+41 76 340 2456)
To arrange interviews with Sanaa Seif by phone or video please contact:

Sanaa Seif’s intervention before the UN will be broadcast on UN TV.
The event Ms Seif will participate in will be accessible to journalists online by request.

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