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Egypt: Australia Should Lead on Egypt at UN Body

Rights Council Should Act on Curbs on Expression, Assembly

(Sydney) – Australia should play a leading role in addressing the urgent human rights situation in Egypt at the September 2015 session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC), Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Human Rights Council of Australia, Human Rights Law Centre, and the International Service for Human Rights said today in a joint letter to Foreign Minister Julie Bishop.

The government of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is presiding over the most serious human rights crisis that Egypt has seen in decades – a brutal crackdown on almost any form of dissent or criticism. These violations affect people across the political spectrum in Egypt. The case of the Australian Al Jazeera journalist Peter Greste, who was detained for 13 months in an Egyptian jail, epitomizes how the Egyptian authorities are using the legal system to repress journalists and government critics, in violation of international law. Egyptian authorities freed Greste in February, but the legal case against him and two colleagues continues.

“Australians know a little about unfair trials in Egypt through the experience of Peter Greste, but the reality is a huge number of people remain behind bars or sentenced to death in Egypt,” said Elaine Pearson, Australia director. “After successfully advocating for Greste’s release, Australia is well placed to take the lead in pressing for a Human Rights Council statement on Egypt’s human rights crisis.”

The five organizations urged the Australian government to lead on developing and negotiating a resolution or joint statement with other like-minded countries, aimed at preventing further deterioration and promoting accountability for past human rights violations in Egypt.

Australia has declared its candidacy to become a member of the Human Rights Council in 2018-2020. The mandate of the council requires action on country situations of concern. Other countries have shown an unwillingness to lead on Egypt due to regional security and stability concerns in the Middle East. In this case, Australia’s geographical isolation from Egypt may be a helpful factor. A UN statement will help to support local groups, since few, if any, of them are currently able to draw attention to abuses without putting themselves at risk of jail or other forms of punishment in Egypt.

“Action at the Human Rights Council is a crucial step to demonstrate to the Egyptian government that the world is watching and to increase political pressure for reform,” Pearson said. “If Australia aspires to global human rights leadership, then many will expect Australia to be more active on urgent country situations, and Egypt would be an excellent place to start.” 

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