The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) held a side event on freedom of association in Egypt this afternoon, 3 June 2013, as part of its activities at the 23rd session of the UN Human Rights Council, which is currently convened in Geneva and which will continue until 14 June. Among the attendees were representatives of state delegations participating in the session.
The side event, which began at 12 p.m., featured Maina Kiai, the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Heba Morayef, Egypt Director at Human Rights Watch, and Mohamed Zaree, Egypt Program Director at CIHRS. The event was chaired by Nicholas Piachaud, Campaigner on Egypt at Amnesty International.
Piachaud opened the event by stating that despite hopes that Egypt would see the establishment of a state based on respect for human rights and rule of law following the revolution, the same kinds of violations that were committed before the revolution have continued, including arbitrary arrest, torture, and violations to women’s rights. He added that “Egypt is currently witnessing continued violations against the freedoms of expression, association, and assembly,” asserting that the most recent draft law on associations threatens to deal a “death blow” to Egyptian civil society. Piachaud explained that this draft law would impose severe restrictions on NGOs and on international NGOs in particular, including organizations established according to international treaties. He stated that the draft law includes some of the same terminology that was used during the smear campaigns against civil society since 2011.
Special Rapporteur Maina Kiai began by discussing his latest report, in which he referred to Egypt as an example of a state that restricts funding for civil society organizations. He also pointed to a statement by Egyptian officials that the Egyptian government should be allowed to receive foreign funding, while civil society organizations should be prohibited from receiving funding from abroad, describing this assertion as unfair.
Maina Kiai asserted that any law which attempts to restrict funding for civil society is in violation of the right to freedom of association. He compared Egypt to the example of Ethiopia, which had boasted a vibrant civil society until the government passed a new law to govern its work, by which it clamped down on Ethiopian civil society. Kiai went further to state that if the newest draft law presented by the Egyptian presidency is passed, the situation in Egypt would become like that of Ethiopia.
Kiai stressed that the law would not merely hinder funding for NGOs; it threatens the human rights movement in Egypt as a whole. He stated that it appears that “the Egyptian government does not want to be held accountable.”
Mohamed Zaree emphasized that the Egyptian presidency has disregarded the comments and recommendations submitted by Egyptian and international human rights organizations throughout the process of drafting the law. He stated that the new draft law contains many restrictive provisions, including a failure to provide for a system of registration by notification and to allow organizations to work freely in practice, leading Zaree to assert that the draft violates Article 51 of the new constitution.
Zaree further affirmed that the same philosophy of repressing civil society is clearly seen in all of the draft associations laws which have been presented until now. He condemned the restrictions included in the latest draft law presented by the presidency, which include restrictions to organizations’ ability to obtain funding and to carry out their activities as well as allowing the security apparatus to arbitrarily interfere in civil society’s work. Zaree drew attention to the fact that under the draft law, it would be prohibited for civil society organizations to communicate with the international human rights mechanisms, including at the UN, without informing the steering committee. He added that the constraints imposed on cooperation between local and international organizations in the new draft law are another worrying development. He confirmed that Egyptian civil society organizations and opposition political parties have rejected this draft.
Heba Morayef asserted that the first draft law presented by the Freedom and Justice Party in April 2012 did not include the same kinds of restrictions on international organizations, which had even defended the rights of Muslim Brotherhood members under the former regime. She pointed out that the current draft severely restricts international NGOs in Egypt, referring to the “Steering Committee” that would be established under the law as one of the biggest challenges that would face international organizations, as this committee would be given the authority under the law to disallow any activities of such organizations. Finally, Morayef condemned attempts of the Egyptian government to control the discourse surrounding the new draft law.
CIHRS, in collaboration with Nazra for Feminist Studies and the Center for Egyptian Women’s Legal Assistance, also presented an oral intervention today before the UN Human Rights Council, in which it focused on the rights of women and of media professionals in Egypt. The intervention reviewed the most prominent violations against journalists under the current government, including the use of prosecution as a tool of intimidation and physical assaults while covering events. The intervention similarly highlighted the attacks which have targeted women and which have had the effect of deterring them from participating in the political life of the country. The intervention drew attention to the increase in sexual harassment – which has in some cases reached the level of rape – as a tool to intimidate women activists and rights defenders from participating in public affairs, even as no attempts have been made to hold those responsible for these violations accountable.
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