By Rana Muhammad Taha
CAIRO, Nov 5 (Aswat Masriya) – The record of human rights in Egypt during the past four years came under scrutiny on Wednesday, as the Arab country geared up for its second Universal Periodic Review (UPR) at the United Nations Human Rights Council.
Reviewing four years which have witnessed Egypt’s most politically volatile conditions in decades, the Egyptian authorities have long prepared for Wednesday's session.
Egypt's official delegation to the UPR, headed by Minister of Transitional Justice and the House of Representatives Ibrahim al-Heneidi, arrived in Geneva on Sunday to prepare for the review. The government has submitted its report on the human rights status during the past four years in July.
Addressing the Human Rights Council, Heneidi said on Wednesday that Egypt witnessed a "leap" in the status of human rights.
The minister added that Egypt has issued several legislations since 2011 which address human rights. The legislations include a law on violence against women and another on the right to access to information.
Heneidi applauded what he described as a "huge leap" in the field of freedom of expression, opinion and the press. He added that the country canceled the ministry of media and is taking steps to create an independent council for the media.
THE BROTHEROOD'S "ALTERNATIVE" REPORT
Geneva is also host to a group of Muslim Brotherhood figures who will be responding to the government’s report in a press conference on Wednesday afternoon.
The Brotherhood and its Freedom and Justice Party announced on Saturday having prepared an "alternative" report "to expose the atrocious reality of the military dictatorship ruling Egypt."
The Muslim Brotherhood has come under attack since the military ouster of its leader Mohamed Mursi from the presidency in July 2013 following mass protests against his rule. The military-installed regime has since then rounded up thousands of Brotherhood members and supporters and killed hundreds of protesters in confrontations with security forces.
"We firmly believe that change in Egypt will come about from within our homeland, not from the outside," Brotherhood leading figure Amr Darrag said in Geneva on Tuesday in a statement. "We will certainly not seek to change any situation in Egypt from abroad."
Egypt listed the Brotherhood as a terrorist organisation last December and insists it is behind the stringent wave of militancy which has targeted security personnel since Mursi's ouster. The Brotherhood continuously denies the accusations, distancing itself from one militant attack after the other.
The Egyptian delegation will be presenting at the UPR "photos to illustrate violent and terrorist acts committed by the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt," the foreign ministry said in a statement.
HUMAN RIGHTS AMID FIGHTING TERRORISM
"Egypt was keen on human rights while fighting terrorism," Heneidi told the council. He added that the government postponed discussing a draft anti-terrorism legislation until a new parliament is elected despite having finalised the draft "to preserve Egyptians' rights."
The minister said that Egypt "preferred" not to adopt any "exceptional" measures while fighting terrorism due to its respect for human rights. The country has found the penalties stipulated in the Penal Code "sufficient" in dealing with "terrorism".
Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi issued on October 27 a new law which refers crimes committed against the state's public and "vital" facilities to the military judiciary.
The law, criticised by human rights organisations for expanding the jurisdicition of military tribunals on civilians, was passed shortly after the death of at least 33 security personnel in militant attacks in Sinai on October 24.
DRAMATIC HUMAN RIGHTS REVERSAL
International watchdog Human Rights Watch described the situation in Egypt as "the most dramatic reversal of human rights in Egypt’s modern history under President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi."
In a statement released ahead of the UPR on Tuesday, the organisation urged Egypt’s allies, especially the United States, to hold the country to account regarding its abuse of human rights.
Heneidi meanwhile said that the Egyptian government has held negotiations with all "concerned institutions and organisations" to learn of how they view human rights conditions.
"The government is now working on revising and amending the law governing the work of NGOs in a manner which would support NGOs' contribution to development," Heneidi said. He added that the number of registered NGOs in Egypt increased from 26 thousand in 2010 to 47 thousand organisations.
WITHDRAWING FROM THE UPR
The Forum of Independent Human Rights Organisations, comprised of 19 domestic rights groups, submitted in March its independent report to the UN Human Rights Council, where it tracked "huge deterioration" in Egypt’s human rights record during the past four years.
Seven members of the forum announced on Tuesday night their withdrawal from the UPR due to fear of "retaliatory measures or persecution" by the Egyptian authorities.
The groups, which include the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, the Arab Network for Human Rights Information and the Egyptian Centre for Economic and Social Rights, said in a statement the current environment in Egypt "antagonises the work of independent human rights organisations."
The forum criticised a call by Egyptian authorities to NGOs operating in Egypt to register under the current NGO law, describing the law as "repressive."
The ministry of social solidarity urged on July 18 all domestic and international NGOs operating within Egypt to register under Law 84/2002, which governs the activities of NGOs, before September 2. The deadline was later extended, to become November 10.
The law has widely been condemned by civil society organisations for granting the government control over NGOs.
Some civil society organisations operating in Egypt are registered as law firms or nonprofit companies to escape registration under the law in question. They are now at risk of being shut down once the deadline arrives.
HRW said a number of high-profile human rights defenders have fled the country in reaction to the government's keenness to pursue Law 84/2002. It added that some of the activists said they have been warned to register under the law, while others were "threatened with physical violence."
"Washington, London, Paris, and other capitals have failed to confront Egypt’s dramatic reversal of human rights," said Philippe Dam, acting Geneva office director at HRW. "They should make clear that silencing independent groups will hurt Egypt’s relations with its allies."
100 RECOMMENDATIONS TO THE AUTHORITIES
The domestic forum has prepared a set of over 100 recommendations to the Egyptian authorities addressing the general human rights situation. A large number of the recommendations focused on enforcing the human rights-related provisions in Egypt’s latest constitution, which passed in a landslide vote in January.
The Egyptian authorities cite the constitutional provisions which address human rights as proof of improvements in the country's rights record. The report submitted to the Human Rights Council in July "attributes" to the constitution and the "unprecedented" articles it includes which "stress Egypt’s full commitment to international conventions … and basic rights and freedoms," the foreign ministry said on Sunday.
The forum of human rights organisations nevertheless stressed that Egypt’s legislations need to be amended to "make them concord with international human rights conventions ratified by Egypt."
Egypt's first UPR was held in 2010, shortly before former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was toppled. It was given 165 recommendations to promote human rights.
Heneidi said the country has already adopted 119 of the recommendations and is moving forward with adopting 25 more "despite being occupied with the pressing domestic situation."
The UPR is held for each UN member-state every four years to assess its human rights conditions.
Egypt’s UPR session is moderated by three countries; Saudi Arabia, the Ivory Coast and Montenegro. So far, 125 states have registered to question Egypt on its human rights record during the UPR.
The session will conclude on November 7 with a set of recommendations for Egypt to adopt until its next UPR session four years from now.