Within the framework of the declaration of the establishment of the Egyptian National Council for Human Rights (NCHR), which starts its meetings this week, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) held a seminar. It was attended by 20 of the civil society activists (particularly from the organizations concerned with human rights and women rights) including seven NCHR members. The said seminar aimed at enforcing the role of NCHR in enhancing the aspirations of the civil society towards democratic reform and strengthening human rights. The deputy director of Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, Dr. Mohammed El Sayed Said, the Academic Advisor of CIHRS headed the seminar. Two experts from Palestine and Morocco participated in the seminar.
The three-hour discussions concluded the following:
The colossal responsibilities to be shouldered by NCHR were pinpointed through discussing the priorities. Many speakers called for giving the priority to: ending the cases of illegal detention to confront torture, inspecting prisons and places of detention, closing places of illegal detention and referring civilians to military courts. Some voices proposed the necessity of repealing exceptional laws and revising the laws on political participation particularly laws on political parties and the laws regulating the forthcoming elections. It was also suggested to consider the suitable means to hinder spoiling the will of the nominees, through studying the recurrent violations of the economic, social, environmental and health rights as they affect the collective rights of thousands of citizens. One of the participants anticipated that NCHR does not have a big opportunity to positively tackle all such issues. It would be rather effective for NCHR to work on expanding the space allowed for the civil society in the mass media and to work in coordination with the Ministry of Education to revise educational curricula.
Some attendants highlighted the fact that NCHR should pay particular attention to women’s issues and that the existence of the National Council for Women does not spare NCHR the responsibility of tackling such issues.
Second: Evaluation Criteria
Some speakers pinpointed the necessity to act more realistically taking into account the huge heritage of the violations of human rights. It should also be heeded that NCHR is by nature a mediating entity and does not have any executive authorities. Rather, it has a moral obligation. Moreover, NCHR lacks any constitutional basis and its law does not oblige the governmental agencies or the People’s Assembly to abide by its recommendations. Such participants proposed the necessity to draft a vision or a plan of action for NCHR and a timetable whereby NCHR might be evaluated and judged on a right basis. Some participants underlined the necessity to set indicators according to which the success or failure of NCHR might be assessed. Civil society organizations should share in setting such indicators with NCHR.
Some participants underlined the fact that NCHR, even allowing filling complaints, should while following up complaints, discern the recurrent forms of violation of human rights and the means to bring it to an end. NCHR should undertake drawing a future national plan that might lay the foundations of the infrastructure of human rights on the level of legislation, culture, education and institutional construction. The indicators of the failure or success of NCHR would be closely related to its findings regarding an objective description of the status of human rights in Egypt. Additionally, it will be related to its ability to effectively handle the daily blatant violations of human rights and its ability to interact with issues of constitutional and legislative reform that have been posed for years. NCHR should be inaugurated as a step towards a new phase of conflict between the currents aspiring for democratic reform and the ones opposing such reform. In addition to such indicators, the ability of NCHR to communicate with the public opinion through the media and its success in establishing institutional relations with the Egyptian and international organizations concerned with human rights and the relevant syndicates, parties and governmental agencies and the Judges’ Club.
Third: The relation between NCHR, human rights organizations and the civil society
Discussions underlined the necessity of cooperation between NCHR and the human rights organizations. The chances for NCHR to succeed in fulfilling the aspirations add extra burdens on the human rights organizations.
Some participants were of the view that if the government is pursuing to include NCHR in its mechanisms, why do not human rights organizations, as an effective party, embrace NCHR in their mechanisms?
They pointed out that despite the manner in which NCHR was established, there is an opportunity to form a lobby therein towards democratic reform. It is suggested that NCHR would be an arena for conflict with respect to the independence of the council between the pros and cons of reform. In such conflict, the civil society institutions and the human rights organizations should back the reformists. Accordingly, the performance of NCHR should be objectively evaluated by such organizations in order to monitor the positive and negative aspects.
In its work, NCHR will depend on the experiences and work of the human rights organizations over more than 15 years. Accordingly, the latter are invited to offer the former their files, reports, information and experiences. They should extend lies of daily communication with NCHR members and provide them with the information, proposals, demands and expectations and to coordinate with the NCHR regarding the handling of complaints.
Some participants proposed the necessity to set follow up mechanisms and to hold a periodical meeting between NCHR members and the human rights organizations. Besides, activating the proposal of human rights organizations to establish a watchdog entity to follow up the performance of NCHR.
The majority of the participants expressed their understanding of the controversy on the establishment of the council and the doubts regarding the seriousness of the government in responding to the demands of the constitutional and legislative reform and the protection of human rights. There are misgivings that the council would turn into a façade for covering up for the government, abiding by the internal and external pressures regarding the situation of human rights. Discussions affirmed that such diversity in opinions reflects a high degree of responsibility and credibility and might back the reformist current in the NCHR. Some of the attendants expressed their regret regarding the decision of some human rights organizations to boycott NCHR prior to the start of its work and examining the intentions and stances of the members. They called for regarding the establishment of NCHR as a positive step implying an acknowledgment of the human rights organizations and confirming their authenticity that were subject to besmearing campaigns. Such step means an official or implicit acknowledgment on the part of the state of the idea of human rights and the international instruments. The political and moral status of NCHR should be utilized by such organizations to affect a change in the field of human rights.
Fourth: Transparency and media
In this respect, some attendants emphasized that NCHR should be transparent in informing the public opinion of the outcomes of its deliberations periodically. Its by-law should ensure the right of the minorities to declare their stances publicly. The absence of transparency would practically result in limiting the role of the human rights defenders inside the council and separating them from the society.
Discussions emphasized that the opportunities of success for the council are related to benefiting from the experiences and the instances of establishing national institutions of human rights in other countries, particularly, the Moroccan experience that faced the same challenges. Some participants pointed out the need to learn and interact with the opportunities of gradual development without making any primary concessions. Effective interaction necessitates mingling field interaction and clutching to the principles.
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