The Report of the National Council for Human Rights:Will it End Up in the Trash?

In Salon Ibn Rushd by CIHRS

The first report on the status of human rights in Egypt, which was recently published by the national council for human rights, does not add any new essential information to that included in the reports of human rights organizations both in Egypt and abroad. And yet, the report receives exceptional political interest since it is produced by an organization formed by the government which also chose its members. Therefore, the main standard by which the value of the report can be measured becomes the fate of its deductions and recommendations.

This is what was confirmed by Bahey El-Din Hassan, director of Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) in the opening of a seminar of the Ibn-Rashid Salon on May 16th, 2005, titled “In a 20 year-old Trash: Will the Report of the National Council for Human Rights follow Previous Reports?”

Mr. Hassan wondered whether this report might lead to producing different government policies and whether the dangerous crimes and violations included in the report will be investigated, or whether the government will settle for using the report in its advertising campaigns to better its image before the international community.

Hassan also noted that the report, in spite of the violations it observed, fell in a number of huge mistakes, including adopting the government’s unconvincing defense of itself before the UN committees concerning the accordance of the Egyptian constitution and laws with human rights. He pointed out that this defense contradicts, both literally and figuratively, with many violations mentioned elsewhere in the report.

On his side, Ambassador Mokhles Kotb, the general secretary of the National Council for Human Rights (NCHR), confirmed that many criticisms were presented concerning the report and the NCHR, including the method by which the report was distributed, its articulation and its focus and detail on certain topics and overlooking others.

Kotb said that these criticisms also included overlooking the reports of cultural status and some of what was included in the reports of law organizations and the report’s contradiction in testifying for the government in one of its chapters and criticizing it in other, saying that these criticisms are still standing now.

Kotb also drew attention to the importance of distinguishing between a non-governmental organization and a council established by a national law according to international standards that require its independence, some of which were taken into consideration, describing NCHR as a consultative authority.

He also clarified that, despite the amount of criticism that faced the report, that there were some positive opinions that welcomed it.

He also pointed out that, a few days earlier, the Cabinet issued instructions to all ministers, governors and officials in the country to answer to the report and cooperate with NCHR. Kotb also said that some ministers were “upset with us” when the report was issued, noting that there is positive action from government institutions which has not yet reached perfection.

Kotb admitted the negligence of some responsible institutions and ministries of the NCHR and said “in the beginning we did not receive replies to NCHR’s complaints and then we began receiving scarce replies increasingly from the respective and concerned institutions in the country”.

He also clarified that the NCHR depended in its report on the reports of NGOs working in the field of human rights and described this as an asset to the NCHR. Ambassador Kotb considered the NGOs and other organizations working in Egypt as the main structure for the NCHR’s work, noting that without cooperation with these organizations, neither the report nor the NCHR would have come into existence.

Kotb also confessed that the report overlooked a lot and had many shortcomings, noting that the report is considered NCHR’s first and could not include all topics.

He also disclosed that the NCHR has made contact with the law organizations in Egypt to have a meeting on June 27th, 2005 to lay a national plan for the period between 2007 and 2012 to advocate human rights and to find ways of spreading and reinforcing the values of human rights in society.

Kotb also pointed out that the social, economic and cultural heritage as well as the political pressure confirms the importance of focusing on spreading the culture of human rights, noting that training alone is no sufficient and that what is needed is to use the mass media to spread the human rights culture and make use of it.

Ahmed Seif-El-Islam, director of the Hesham Mubarak Law Institute, welcomed the NCHR’s report, saying that the report and what it included in terms of monitoring the most prominent violations was an unexpected surprise.

Yet, he criticized some of part of what the report included, especially the parts about the international agreements that were signed by Egypt, pointing out that the report did not comment on Egypt’s unjustified conservations on some of these agreements. It also ignored, he said, the problem of the status of the international agreement in the Egyptian legislation and its obligation, as well as the report not including a comparison between the legislation and the international agreements.

Seif-El-Islam also pointed out that the report reviewed the political evolution in Egypt and handled the amendment of the constitution in 1980, saying that the report mentioned the positive sides of the amendment, and did not include the negative sides, which include making the country’s authority religious and making the Islamic Shari’a the main source for legislation. This is in addition to amending the section on the presidential term, making it open instead of a maximum of two terms.

He also pointed out that the report ignored that the mediation methods are practically paralyzed under the emergency law and the attributions of the military ruler.

Dr. Mohamed El-Sayed Said, the vice president of Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, started his speech by confirming the importance of establishing NCHR and the importance of positive interaction with its work. He added that the report presents an important opportunity to review the fixed historical fashions of human rights violations and their relative importance. He also added “in this field, mass punishment did not take its space in the report, although it is the most common fashion of which includes many other fashions of violations”.

He added that the report should have set for itself a specific function that would distinguish it from traditional monitoring reports, and that it should conclude some problematic issues, since the report, even if it has monitored a number of torture-related violations, should have clarified whether they are practiced periodically or not.

Said also confirmed the spreading of torture in Egypt and considered it a policy accredited by the country after the assassination of Sadat. He pointed out that when Sadat decided to prohibit torture he gave an executive order to the specific authorities to stop all torture operations, and he said just one sentence: “stop torture”. He added that Mubarak’s regime did not do any steps to prevent torture, because he did not want to stop it like Sadat did.

Said closed by saying that what the country is going through now is being governed entirely outside the law, which makes the situation in Egypt closer to “banana republics!”

Saeed criticized the continuation of work under the emergency law, pointing out that no country could live under the shadow of emergency like Egypt has been living for sixty-eight years.

Salah Eissa, the chief editor of Al-Kahera newspaper, spoke about the distribution of the report and its publicity. He pointed out that the value of the report is that it was published by NCHR which was established by an order from the country.

Eissa also described the media obscuring of the report and neglecting it as intentional due to the “silence conspiracy” for the report.

He said “the report has no value without being a topic of discussion in various media outlets.” And he considered the official obscuring of the violations that were included in the report strengthens the allegations that the NCHR was established to better the Egyptian image abroad. He added that the Egyptian government took no interest in the report until after the American and western circles showed interest in what facts it included on human rights violations.

Hafez Abu Se’da, the Secretary General of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights and the previous secretary of complaints at NCHR considered that the report depended mainly on complaints that were received by NCHR.

Abu Se’da criticized the negligence shown by ministries and specific authorities and not answering the NCHR’s complaints, pointing out that care was given to mention the formula of the replies that came to complaints, from the Ministry of Interior, for example, as they were. The aim from that was to inform the public opinion of the nature of the replies, so that these authorities would present positive cooperation in coming times.

Abu Se’da assured that all the replies were not positive to be a condemning testimony to these officials who violate human rights and ignore the NCHR as well.

He pointed out that the first report accomplished many things, the most important of which was that it sent a message to all the human rights organizations in Egypt, and confirmed a complimentary not conflicting relationship between the NCHR and the organizations.

He concluded by saying that the report clarified that the NCHR will not be used as a way of covering up human rights violations.

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