Geneva: Human Rights in Egypt- Counter Terrorism Law and the price of “stability”

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On 9/3/2010 as a side event to the thirteenth meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Council, CIHRS, jointly with others, held an event titled “human right in Egypt- counter terrorism law and the price of stability”.

The event held by Amnesty International, CIHRS, EIPR,  Human Rights Watch, has witnessed considerable presence from variable country delegations, organizations, and the media. The Key Speakers were Mr. Martin Scheinin, the special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism; Ms. Rasha El-Shehawy, CIHRS Advocacy Programme officer; Mr. Hossam Bahgrat, EIPR executive director; and Ms. Heba Morayef, Human Rights Watch researcher. The seminar was moderated by Ms. Julie de Rivero, Geneva advocacy director at Human Rights Watch.

Ms. de Rivero had noted in the beginning of the seminar the discontent that was directly expressed by the delegation of the Egyptian government to the seminar’s organizers, which had also requested to a change in the Seminar’s proposed.

Mr. Scheinin spoke of his mission to Egypt and his meetings with governmental officials, judges, academics, and NGO representatives. He noted that the information he collected were insufficient and asked for a chance to return back to Egypt and resume his initial study, which he considered to be a preliminary draft. Thus, he asked the Egyptian government to allow him a second visit to Egypt. He then spoke of the state of emergency in Egypt and the emergency law, which he considered to be amongst the other “exceptional” laws that do not have limitations to their durations or permanence. The special rapporteur also denounced the administrative detentions of Egyptians, without providing them with any guarantees. In addition, he described the over all situation in Egypt as “tough”. Moreover, he expressed his hope that the counter terrorism law would not contain the same disapproval and condemnation that is constantly being addressed to the currently enforced emergency law. He also stressed on the crucial importance to deal with Article 179 of the Egyptian constitution, which he said that the government has asked for his recommendation regarding the drafting of the new law, while denying him access to its preliminary draft.

As for Mr. Bahgat, he started his discussion by expressing his content with the special rapporteur’s report on Egypt and the fact that he was allowed to visit country in the first place. He also emphasized on the obvious disturbance that was observed on the government’s delegation attending the Human Rights council meeting, whom expressed their desire to change the seminar’s name, to anything different from “Human Rights in Egypt.” He also stated that the emergency law is being used in a systematic way to deal with most cases that directly address acquired freedoms in general and that the regime intends to destroy and weakens any positive step taken by civil society organizations, unions, parties, NGOs and bloggers. He also noted the strength and significance that the regime has given to its security apparatus over various issues.  In addition, Mr. Bahgat criticized strongly the state of emergency in Egypt, stating that there is a big price that is being paid with no tangible dues, since the security status is getting worse, along with all the human rights violations that are noticeably increasing with the implementation of the emergency law.

Ms. Morayef’s speech was also directing harsh criticism to the implementation of the emergency law in Egypt, stating that the government has been giving empty justifications of the law being used exclusively in cases relating to terrorism and drug trade. She further emphasized that indeed the emergency law is often used in cases relating to human rights; for example, it is being used against bloggers as a response to exercising their right to freely express their opinions and beliefs. She gave several example amongst which was the example of the Coptic blogger Hany Nazir who got detained for publishing a picture in his blog that was claimed to be “offensive to Islam” and the government had justified his detention to be for the sake of his own protection from the outrage of the Muslim world.. Moreover, Ms. Morayef further gave the example of Egyptian blogger Musa’ad Abulfagr, who has a blog titled “Badenna Ne’eesh” or “we want to live”, and the Egyptian blogger Ahmed Mostafa, who was trialed in front of a military court, for his criticism of the military academy, and was further accused of distributing secret military information. Morayef also criticized the killing of refugees on Egyptian borders.

As for Ms. Shehawy, she discussed the Egyptian experience in the engagement of civil society during Egypt’s UPR process, which was considered to be amongst the most successful occurrences in the Arab world. She presented the steps that were taken, starting with the agreement of the Forum of Independent Human Rights Organizations on the priorities of the topics to be tackled, going through the putting of an overall report on the status of Human rights in Egypt, and the proposing of various recommendations. Moreover, the Forum had also put together a descriptive analysis of the Egyptian government’s report and had held multiple meetings with numerous embassies and governments delegations, to ensure a subjective discussion and adoption of factual recommendations that attend to the real human rights situation in Egypt. In addition, she discussed briefly the Egyptian government’s position from the recommendations and strategies that were taken by Human Rights organizations and pressure groups that added considerable weight on the government. 

In addition, Ms. Shehawy has ensured that the next phase will witness a serious observation of the government’s commitment to fulfill the obligations that it has committed to in front of the Human Rights Council.

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