Following Egypt’s election last week to the UN Human Rights Council, the government should immediately fulfill the pledges it made in campaigning for the seat, Human Rights Watch and the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) said in a briefing paper released today.

In a 13-page briefing paper, “Human Rights Council Membership Requires Steps to Address Violations,” Human Rights Watch and the EIPR said that Egypt’s terrible human rights record made that country a poor choice for membership. They nevertheless welcomed the Egyptian government’s public pledges to improve its practices domestically and to strengthen the capacity of the council.

“Egypt has for too long committed serious and systematic abuses at home while consistently undermining UN mechanisms to defend rights,” said Joe Stork, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East division. “Now Cairo needs to show that it really intends to turn a new page on human rights and uphold international standards.”

The elections to the council, the United Nations’ highest human rights body, took place on May 17, 2007. The African regional group, however, put up only four candidates, one of them Egypt, for its four allocated seats on the council, foreclosing any competition. Under the UN resolution establishing the council, members must “uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights” and “fully cooperate” with the Human Rights Council.

The briefing paper reviews Egypt’s record of undermining UN efforts to hold governments accountable for abuses. The government of President Hosni Mubarak, for example, has never allowed the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture or any other UN rights rapporteurs to visit Egypt.

“Over the past year, Egypt consistently worked with other abusive governments to limit its effectiveness and credibility,” said Hossam Bahgat, director of the EIPR. “Egypt should now support measures to strengthen the council’s system of independent experts rather than abet those who are trying to dismantle it.”

Egypt’s appalling domestic rights record includes routine torture in police stations, arbitrary arrests of non-violent dissidents, and crippling restrictions on civil society organizations. On April 25, 2007, the government shut down the Center for Trade Union and Workers’ Services for politically motivated reasons. Peaceful critics of the government currently in jail include Ghad Party leader Ayman Nur, who challenged Mubarak in the last presidential election, and Abd al-Monim Mahmud, a television journalist and blogger who has testified publicly about his experience as a torture victim several years ago.

“If Egypt is serious about cleaning up its human rights performance, it should start by allowing the Center for Trade Union and Workers’ Services to reopen, and by freeing Ayman Nour and Abd al-Monim Mahmud,” Stork said.