As part of the activities of the 22nd session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC), currently convened in Geneva, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) presented an oral intervention before the HRC, March 12, 2013, in which it expressed its concerns over the continued deterioration in the situation of human rights in Egypt since President Mohamed Morsi took power.
The oral intervention was based on the assessment of members of the Egyptian NGO Forum, a collective of 23 independent human rights organizations in Egypt, on the situation of human rights in Egypt during the first 8 months of Morsi’s presidency. It asserted that three major rights-related crises have been seen over this period: undermining of the independence of the judiciary, violations to the right to free expression and media freedoms, and violations to the right to assembly and peaceful protest. CIHRS explained, “All of these crises remain unresolved, despite the submission of a document with ten demands aimed at ending abuses by the government to President Morsi by the NGO Forum in February. Continued failure by the government to implement real and lasting human rights reforms will only lead to further strife.“
In addition, CIHRS organized a side event at the HRC, Monday, March 11, 2013, featuring representatives of the Egyptian NGO Forum, including Mohammed Zaree, director of the Egypt Roadmap Program at CIHRS, Masa Amir, researcher at Nazra for Feminist Studies, and Nihad Abboud, from the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression. The event was chaired by Ziad Abdel Tawab, deputy director of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies.
Mr. Tawab opened the side event by drawing attending to the need for urgent action by the international community to protect independent civil society in Egypt, referring to recent attempts by the current government to put in place unprecedented restrictions on the funding and activities of non-governmental organizations that would threaten the very survival of independent civil society in the country.
Next, Nihad Abboud drew attention to the violations which have been committed against journalists and photographers as examples of the threats to freedom of expression and of opinion in Egypt. Abboud also spoke about the charges of showing ‘contempt of religion’ which are now being leveled at individuals who dare to criticize the ruling party or the Muslim Brotherhood. She referred to the case of Albert Saber, a young Copt who was charged with contempt of religion for posting the movie Innocence of the Muslims on his Facebook page. Abboud further voiced her concern about the bill to regulate media which is currently under discussion in the Shura Council, which would form a national council for media.
Ms. Abboud further pointed out that the right to freedom of expression is particularly targeted in the context of the right to protest. She spoke about draft legislation to regulate demonstrations, stating that the draft law contains many restrictions on the right to free assembly by allowing the authorities broad powers to ban or restrict demonstrations. She also cited that the bill fails to impose restrictions on the use of force by law enforcement personnel in response to protests, which is severely problematic in the Egyptian context, as 40 demonstrators and 2 police officers were killed following excessive use of force in Port Said in January 2013. Perhaps most worrying is that the new constitution includes provisions which restrict on the right to free assembly for the first time in Egypt.
Mohammed Zaree continued the discussion about proposed legislation in Egypt by drawing attention to the two bills on association currently under discussion. He explained that these bills – if passed – would severely undermine the independence of civil society in Egypt by allowing for government oversight of NGO activities through nationalizing NGOs and their funds. The bills further impose major restrictions on international NGOs wishing to work in Egypt.
Masa Amir turned to the precarious situation of women human rights defenders in Egypt, reminding the audience of the specific targeting of women through virginity tests and other violations by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. She pointed out that violations continue now under the rule of the Freedom and Justice Party, as Nazra has investigated numerous cases of rape and sexual-based violence – particularly against female demonstrators – since June 2012. She asserted that perpetrators of both past and ongoing violations continue to enjoy impunity, while women are marginalized from taking part in public forms of political and social activism, as the current government has taken no steps to open effective investigations or to prosecute those responsible. Indeed, members of the Shura Council even went so far as to blame female demonstrators themselves for the attacks to which they were subjected.
The side event was concluded with the call that the international community should reassess its engagement with Egypt, in order to avoid replicating the mistakes of the past, including support for dictatorships which blatantly violate human rights.
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