President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi appears with UNDP officials at the release of the new UNDP Egypt report in the new administrative capital, east of Cairo, September 14, 2021.
Screenshot from Egyptian Presidency Official YouTube Channel

Egypt: UNDP Report Whitewashes Human Rights Violations

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

(New York,  November 22, 2021) — The United Nations Development Program’s   September 2021 Egypt Human Development Report includes false and misleading claims, Amnesty International, Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies and Human Rights Watch said today. Many of these claims appear aimed at whitewashing grave violations of international human rights law committed by the Egyptian government and security forces.

In a joint letter to Achim Steiner, the UNDP administrator, on November 1, and shared with the office of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, the three organizations detailed the report’s false and misleading claims. No response was received as of time of writing.

“The Egyptian government routinely denies and distorts the truth about the ongoing human rights crisis despite the scale and severity of human rights violations,” the three organizations said in the letter. “When a UN agency lends credibility to false claims by a government . . . it facilitates the repetition of similar violations and further encourages impunity.”

UNDP should  revise the 2021 Egypt Human Development report to ensure that its contents align with the assessments of UN human rights experts and the UN’s framework of a human rights-based approach to human development, the groups said.  Pending this revision, the organizations urged the UNDP to remove the report from all UN online portals and investigate the circumstances surrounding its drafting and publication. The findings of that investigation should be publicly available.

The three organizations  described how the narrative of the UNDP report contradicts assessments and findings of other UN agencies, including the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, as well as reports by national and international human rights non-governmental organizations over the past eight years. The UNDP report’s whitewashing severely undermines the UN’s goal of pursuing a human rights-based approach to human development.

The three groups called on UNDP to  consult in a meaningful way with all relevant UN bodies and human rights mechanisms, as well as independent civil society prior to issuing such reports in the future.

Achim Steiner, UNDP Administrator
United Nations
New York, NY
CC: Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti, Chef de Cabinet to the United Nations Secretary-General CC: Ilze Brands Kehris, Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights

Re: UNDP Report on Human Development in Egypt

Dear Mr. Achim Steiner,

We, the undersigned three human rights organizations, write to express our dismay at  the UNDP’s Egypt Human Development report, released in September 2021. The report  masks the structural impediments to human development in Egypt and ignores the UN’s  human rights-based approach to human development. Examples of false and misleading  claims made in the report are included in an annex to this letter.

The UNDP’s report sets out a narrative that contradicts reports and statements made by  other UN agencies and independent Human Rights Council experts, as well as scores of  reports and assessments made by independent national and international human rights  organizations over the past eight years. The Egypt Human Development report, as well as  public statements made by UNDP Egypt, reflect a profound dissonance between the  discourse of the UNDP and the reality on the ground in Egypt. The report provides  misleading information to decision makers, including international financial institutions,  which have a responsibility to take up pressing human rights and rule of law issues with  Egypt. Accordingly, we urge you to take necessary measures to:

  1. Revise the Egypt Human Development report to ensure that its contents align with the assessments of other UN experts and the UN’s framework of a human rights based approach to human development. Pending this revision, retract the report from all UN online portals.
  2. Ensure that the UNDP in Egypt meaningfully consults with the relevant bodies at the UN, including human rights mechanisms, and with independent civil society actors prior to issuing such reports.
  3. Open an investigation into circumstances surrounding the drafting and publication of the report and make the findings of the investigation public.

The Egyptian government routinely denies and distorts the truth about the ongoing  human rights crisis in Egypt, despite the scale and severity of human rights violations. The  undersigned organizations wish to stress that when a UN agency lends credibility to false  claims by a government, responsible for crimes under international law and other serious  human rights violations and whitewashes the systemic nature of the gross violations  taking place, it facilitates the repetition of similar violations and further encourages  impunity. We are confident that you will give this matter the attention it deserves.

We would be happy to meet with you or your team to discuss this letter at your earliest  convenience.

With assurances of our highest consideration,

Co-signing organizations: 

Amnesty International

Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies

Human Rights Watch

Annex I: Details of False and Concerning Statements in the UNDP Egypt Human  Development Report

The Egypt Human Development report commends Egypt’s draconian counter-terrorism  legislative framework, specifically the Counter-terrorism Law (No. 94 of 2015) and the  Law on Terrorist Entities (No. 8 of 2015); as well as the Anti-Cyber Crime Law (No. 175 of  2018), all of which the Egyptian authorities have routinely used to criminalize any form of  dissent and erode fair trial guarantees for those accused of terrorism and national  security offences. The undersigned organizations and others have long documented that  since the military removed the late president Mohamed Morsy from power in 2013,  security forces have carried out grave violations in the name of counterterrorism,  including enforced disappearances, mass arbitrary detention, torture and other ill treatment. These abuses are committed systematically and on a large scale. Credible  evidence indicates these abuses are part of a state policy to quash dissent.

In February 2021, the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human  rights while countering terrorism, Fionnuala Ní Aoláian, and the UN Working Group on  Arbitrary Detention issued a statement highlighting the misuse of the counter-terrorism  law by Egyptian authorities to “attack individuals engaged in human rights work.” The UN  experts also expressed their concern that “this indicates a systemic problem with human  rights protections in Egypt, as well as a systemic problem in the abuse and misuse of  counter-terrorism laws and practices.”

The UN special rapporteur on promotion and protection of human rights while countering  terrorism, with the endorsement of six other UN experts and Working Groups, warned in  an April 2020 statement that “new regulations under Egypt’s sweeping anti-terrorism law  further erode fundamental human rights and could result in more arbitrary detentions,  enforced disappearances and allegations of torture, and a wider crackdown on freedom  of expression, thought, association and of peaceful assembly.” In July 2021, three UN  experts, including the UN special rapporteur on the right to freedom of peaceful assembly  and of association, highlighted how this legislation restricts the work of civil society.

Michelle Bachelet, the UN high commissioner for human rights, has also repeatedly  expressed her concern with the prosecution of human rights defenders and protestors  under terrorism charges and by terrorism courts in Egypt.

The UNDP report, instead of incorporating these serious concerns, celebrates the Law  Governing the Pursuit of Civil Work (Law No. 149 of 2019), stating that it serves to  “strengthen the role of NGOs” in Egypt. The UNDP’s statement is at odds with the public  communication by three UN special mandate holders in July 2021, which urged the  Egyptian government to review this law and ensure its conformity with Egypt’s  international human rights obligations, considering that the law and its regulations “limit  civil society’s access to funding and enable the executive to…regulate and dissolve civil  society organizations.”

The UNDP claimed in its report that “Egyptian prisons have witnessed improvement.” This  flies in the face of the April 2020 assessment of the spokesperson for the UN high  commissioner for human rights that stated “Egypt’s prisons and detention facilities are  often overcrowded, unsanitary, and suffer from a lack of resources. Detainees are  routinely denied access to adequate medical care and treatment.” The special rapporteur  on extrajudicial killings, along with other experts, have also stated that the prison  conditions in Egypt puts the lives of thousands of detainees in danger. The experts noted  the death of former President Mohamed Morsy in jail, and highlighted that given the  conditions of his imprisonment, his death “could amount to state-sanctioned arbitrary  killing.” The experts called for an impartial investigation into the deaths of prisoners in  custody since 2012.

In its section on the right to housing, the UNDP’s Egypt Human Development report claims  that “Egypt follows specific rules and procedures regarding the relocation or evacuation  of residents of unsafe or unplanned settlements, in line with the Special Rapporteur’s [on  the right to adequate housing] guidelines which include the guideline ‘prohibit forced  evictions and preventing evictions whenever possible.’” This claim contravenes the  special rapporteur Leilani Farha’s report on her 2018 visit to Egypt, where she noted that  Egyptian legislations undermine the right to housing, and the absence of sufficient appeal  mechanisms and compensation procedures. Farha additionally highlighted several cases  of forced eviction and home demolitions. In her report she expressed her deep concern  “that individuals threatened with and affected by forced evictions, as well as lawyers and  other human rights defenders of the right to housing, are afraid of reprisals if they provide  information to special procedures to seek redress through international human rights  mechanisms.” In fact, reprisals against those who cooperated with the special rapporteur  during her visit to Egypt were so severe that in December 2018 she stated, “Unless Egypt  ensures that human rights defenders and victims of human rights violations can interact  with UN human rights envoys without fear of reprisal, it is in our view not ready to host  further visits.”

The information and insights provided by the Special Rapporteur, like those of the Special  Rapporteurs cited earlier, were not included in the UNDP’s Human Development Report’s  section on the right to housing.

Signatory Organizations:

  • Human Rights Watch
  • Amnesty International
  • Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies

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