(Geneva) –A joint declaration by 27 United Nations member states expressing concern about Egypt’s repeated use of excessive force against demonstrators turned the international spotlight on Egypt’s human rights abuses. It was the firstsuch action at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva since Egyptian security forces killed hundreds of protesters in dispersing a sit-in at Raba’a Square in Cairo on August 14, 2013.
The joint declaration on March 7, 2014 called for Egyptian authorities to hold those responsible for the abuses to account. The 27 countries also denounced Egypt’s restrictions on peaceful assembly, expression and association and urged the government to release those arrested solely for exercising those rights.
“For the first time UN member states have used the forum of the Human Rights Council to spotlight the abuses going on in Egypt,” said Julie de Rivero, Geneva director. “Egyptian authorities are now on notice that the international community will not ignore their crackdown on dissent and impunity for repeated, unlawful killings of protesters.”
The joint statement highlighted the need for justice for the killing of protesters and security forces since June 30, 2013, and the installation of a military-backed government. The statement called for findings of the national Fact Finding Commission, established by the interim president in December 2013, to be made public and for those responsible for grave violations to be held accountable.
On March 3, 2014, a group of 15 nongovernmental organizations, including Human Rights Watch, sent a letter to UN member countries calling on the Human Rights Council to address the “grave situation of human rights in Egypt at the upcoming 25th Session of the UN HRC.”
The situation in Egypt has grown increasingly dire over the past eight months, as security forces use excessive lethal force against protesters. Authorities arrest or harass journalists, peaceful protesters, and others for exercising the rights to free expression and peaceful assembly, as well as solely for membership in the Muslim Brotherhood. There have been no efforts to hold accountable security officials responsible for ordering or carrying out attacks that have killed well over 1,000 people since July 3, 2013.
The joint statement was in response to a call by the UN high commissioner for human rights, Navi Pillay, for Egypt to respect human rights, in particular protection from arbitrary detention, the right to a fair trial, and freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.
“Egyptian officials should understand that the world is watching and will not accept denial, foot-dragging, and impunity for pervasive rights violations,” de Rivero said. “After killing hundreds and arbitrarily detaining many more, Egypt needs to act to address serious concerns about its human rights record.”