The Egyptian government pledged to work "to make the Human Rights Council a strong, effective and efficient body, capable of promoting and protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms for all."4 The EIPR and HRW welcome this commitment, especially in light of the Egyptian government's attempts to weaken the Council's powers and even prevent its creation in the negotiations that led to the Council's establishment.5
Many of Egypt's positions during the first year in the Council's life cast serious doubt on the sincerity of its commitment to the Council's effectiveness in promoting and protecting human rights. For example, during the Council's fourth session, held in March and April of 2007, Egypt, together with other Arab and Asian states, attempted to use procedural ploys to prevent the discussion of a report on the ongoing human rights atrocities in Darfur that a Council-appointed High-Level Mission prepared. Other African states took a more principled position, including Ghana, Nigeria, Zambia, Mauritius, Senegal and Cameroon.6
The EIPR and HRW call on the Egyptian government to show its real commitment to human rights by making the lives of victims its foremost consideration.
In its pledges, the Egyptian government claimed that its national human rights strategy is based on "providing an objective and credible response to requests received from international and regional human rights mechanisms and cooperating with them in the fulfillment of their mandate."7 In fact, Egypt has never allowed any of the special rapporteurs of the Council, or its preceding body, to visit the country in order to report on human rights violations and propose recommendations aimed at curbing them.
Egypt has not responded to the Special Rapporteur on torture's repeated requests for an invitation since 1996. Requests for visits from the Special Rapporteur on human rights and counter terrorism, the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, and the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General on human rights defenders are also pending.8
The Egyptian government pledged support for the United Nations treaty bodies, which are charged with monitoring the implementation by states of their obligations under human rights treaties, and to "periodically examine the state of the implementation of human rights instruments to which Egypt is a party."9 In practice, however, Egypt is currently late in submitting a total of ten mandatory periodic reports to six out of seven UN treaty bodies. Egypt's periodic report to the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, for example, is more than ten years overdue.10
As a member of the Human Rights Council, Egypt must now set an example in respecting its treaty reporting obligations and in fully cooperating with UN human rights independent experts.
During the first year, the Council dedicated a substantial portion of its time to institution-building and to reviewing the mandates and mechanisms inherited from its predecessor, the Commission on Human Rights. This process was open to all states and stakeholders and not just to Council members. The role that Egypt played during this year -- both individually and through regional groups in which it is a member -- calls into question its commitment to the strengthening of the Council and of its functions and mechanisms.
For example, during the review of the Council's system of appointing independent experts and rapporteurs to study certain themes or countries, known as special procedures, Egypt pushed for these experts to be elected by of the Council following nominations by regional groups. Under the current system, the Councils president appoints independent experts and rapporteurs following extensive consultations with all stakeholders. While the current procedure of appointment could be more open and transparent, replacing it with elections risks undermining the system by leading to the selection of experts on political grounds rather than on the basis of their relevant expertise and independence and could have a chilling effect on the experts ability to do their jobs effectively.11
Egypt also worked to support the adoption of a 'Code of Conduct' drafted by the African Group to regulate the work of special procedures, instead of a manual of operation prepared by the mandate-holders. The current draft of the Code risks undermining the experts' independence and ability to fulfill their mandate of promoting and protecting human rights. For example, the Code places restrictions on the experts' right to identify their sources of information, to act upon the allegations they receive of human rights violations, and to communicate with the media about human rights concerns or preliminary findings of investigations.12
Moreover, contrary to its pledge to "promote the constructive role of NGOs and civil society at large in the promotion of human rights at all levels,"13 the public statements by Egyptian officials in the meetings of the Council and its working groups reveal the opposite approach: Egypt has sought to limit the role played by civil society at the Council. For example, Egypt stated its opposition to civil society playing a role in nominating experts for the new body that would provide expert advice to the Council or for Special Procedures.14
The EIPR and HRW welcome Egypt's commitment to ratifying the convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities "as soon as possible and as a matter of priority, but are concerned that the government refrained from treating with the same urgency the ratification of the Convention on Enforced Disappearances, to which the pledges include a weaker reference.15
The organizations regret that no reference is made in the pledges to Egypt's intention to ratify the Rome Statute establishing the International Criminal Court, which Egypt signed in 2000. Similarly, Egypt has not indicated its intention to ratify any of the international instruments allowing individuals to submit complaints to UN bodies following the exhaustion of all available domestic remedies, such as the First Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. Egypt also has not ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture, which stipulates preventive visits to places of detention.
The EIPR and HRW welcome Egypt's stated commitment to "upgrading the African human rights system and to the strengthening of the role of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights."16 The EIPR and HRW note that the Egyptian government's continuing denial to grant the African Commission's Special Rapporteur on Prisons and Conditions of Detention in Africas five-year-old request to conduct a mission to Egypt runs contrary to such a high-level commitment.
Furthermore, the Egyptian Government has not pledged to ratify the Optional Protocol on the Establishment of an African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights. It is also unclear whether the government intends to ratify the Optional Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa during its term, despite the promise to "support regional and international processes that seek to advance the cause of women's rights, the empowerment of women and gender equality."17 Rather, in its pledges, the government only commits to "continue to engage in the examination" of these two milestone treaties.18
The EIPR and HRW urge the government to implement the recommendations of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights, to fully cooperate with its special rapporteurs, and to take immediate steps to ratify the core African human rights instruments.
6. Hosting of North Africa Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
The Egyptian government states in its pledges that it "looks forward to hosting the new OHCHR regionaloffice for North Africa in Cairo."19 While the EIPR and HRW welcome a permanent UN human rights presence in the sub-region, the EIPR and HRW stress that the regional office must enjoy the full mandate of OHCHR for the promotion and protection of human rights in Egypt and the rest of North Africa. UN officers must be able to conduct their work independently and free from government interference, and to communicate and collaborate freely with all human rights NGOs active in the region.
4 Egypt's pledges, para. A 1.
5 For a full documentation of the role Egypt played in the negotiations leading up to the establishment of the Council, see the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, "Egypt's Positions regarding the Proposed UN Human Rights Council", 17 August 2005, available at: http://www.eipr.org/reports/commission_05/commission_contents.htm
6 See Human Rights Watch, "Human Rights Council: Act Now on Darfur", 22 March 2007, available at http://hrw.org/english/docs/2007/03/22/darfur15542.htm
7 Egypt's pledges, para. B 2(4).
8 See Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights:
9 Egypt's pledges, paras A 10 and B 13.
10 These are the 5th periodic report on the Convention Against Torture, the 4th periodic report on the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the 6th periodic report on the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, the 17th and 18th periodic reports on the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, the 2nd, 3rd and 4th periodic reports on the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the 3rd periodic report on the Convention on the Rights of the child (CRC), and the Initial report on the Optional Protocol to CRC on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography. See Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, http://www.ohchr.org/english/countries/eg/index.htm.
13 Egypt's pledges, para A 5.
14 "Human Rights Council Working Group on Review of Mechanisms and Mandates, Discussions on the Expert Body," Council Monitor, International Service for Human Rights, 13- 24 November 2006, available at http://www.ishr.ch/hrm/council/wg/wg_reports/wg_review_expertadvice.pdf.
15 Egypt's pledges, para. B 12.
16 Ibid, para. A 14.
17 Ibid, para. A 11. The pledges' reference to "the African Court of Justice and Human Rights" appears to indicate that the government intends to wait for the conclusion of negotiations on merging the African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights and the African Court of Justice, rather than following the example of the 23 African states that have joined the human rights court, which is expected to start its activities later in 2007.
19 Ibid. para. A 3.