In an Oral Intervention to the United Nations:
In an oral intervention to the United Nations Human Rights Council presented yesterday, 5 March 2013, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, on behalf of the Egyptian Forum of Independent Human Rights NGOs (the Forum), warned of increasingly repressive laws and practices aiming to isolate civil society organizations in Egypt and to destroy their ability to function or even exist. The intervention came in response to the report of the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders (SR), which was presented as part of the 22nd session of the HRC, currently being held in Geneva.
The report of the SR notes that Egyptian human rights defenders and civil society organizations “are being increasingly targeted by…restrictions which seriously impede the ability of such organizations, and human rights defenders working with them, to fully carry out their key activities.” In response, the Forum, which consists of 23 independent Egyptian rights organizations, asserted that draft legislation recently presented to the Shura Council by the government of President Morsi and the Freedom and Justice Party would, if passed, become the most repressive legislation on civil society ever seen in Egypt.
The Forum warned that restrictions on Egyptian civil society are already being implemented, despite the fact that the proposed legislation has not yet been passed. Indeed, due to the refusal of the government to approve its funding, organizations such as the New Woman Foundation have already been forced to drastically cut staff and activities. Similarly, the government is already seeking to isolate Egyptian society: only last month, a letter was sent by the Prime Minister to one of the oldest rights organizations in Egypt, the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, warning it against cooperating with foreign organizations, which includes the United Nations human rights mechanisms.
The Egyptian government itself has a long track record of refusing to cooperate with the United Nations human rights mechanisms. Out of seven inquiries sent to the government of Egypt by the UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders following complaints of violations against civil society and rights activists in the country since 2011, only one has been met with a response by the Egyptian authorities. It is important to note that this lack of response on the part of the Egyptian authorities comes conspicuously at a time when the current Egyptian regime is responsible for numerous rights violations for which it can find no justification before the international community. Similarly, the Egyptian government has yet to allow the SR to conduct a visit to Egypt, despite requests from the SR that have been pending for over ten years.
The Forum concluded the intervention by asserting that the violations currently witnessed in Egypt are representative of a global trend towards increased repression of civil society organizations and the human rights defenders that work with them, which has the potential to be extremely detrimental to the advancement and protection of human rights worldwide. As the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has stated, there can be no progress in terms of human rights without the existence of independent civil societies. The 23 organizations urged the HRC to take resolute and urgent action to put an end to schemes aimed at shutting down civil society and silencing human rights defenders
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