(Geneva) – United Nations member countries offered strong criticism and scores of recommendations addressing Egypt’s human rights crisis at the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) at the Human Rights Council in Geneva on November 13, 2019, Human Rights Watch said today.
During the review, countries across all regions called on Egypt to end torture and ill-treatment, investigate crimes committed by security forces, allow nongovernmental organizations and activists to work independently, and protect human rights while countering terrorism. Many countries also said that Egypt should halt executions and review its laws to minimize or end the use of the death penalty. Several countries said that Egypt should take more serious measures to halt violence against women, including by criminalizing domestic violence and by prosecuting those responsible for female genital mutilation, which is still widely practiced.
“The strong criticism of Egypt from countries across the world shows the international community is waking up to the human rights crisis in Egypt,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “It’s important for these countries to follow-up with Egypt directly to take concrete measures to adopt their recommendations.”
Established in 2006, the Universal Periodic Review involves a comprehensive review of the human rights records of all UN member states by other countries in a rotation every four and a half years. Local and international organizations, as well as the country under review, have the opportunity to contribute reports to inform the review process.
Following each review, a group of three member states collaborate with the state under review, and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights will produce an “outcome report” that includes the recommendations presented and the responses of the state under review.
Egypt has several months to accept or reject the recommendations. The Human Right Council will adopt the UPR report, including the recommendations, at its session in March 2020. More than 130 countries offered 372 recommendations. Unlike previous UPR cycles, Egypt did not immediately accept any recommendations, and said it will use the time available to consider them. Egypt should accept all substantive recommendations to improve its human rights record, and UN experts, member states, and agencies should continue pressing Egypt to halt its violations, Human Rights Watch said.
Although Egypt accepted recommendations to improve its human rights record during previous UPR cycles, and promised several times to amend its laws to strictly prohibit and punish torture, the government of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has moved in the opposite direction. Since assuming office, the al-Sisi government has issued more laws that grant impunity for army and police officers and has generally failed to transparently investigate and prosecute serious human rights violations, including apparent crimes against humanity.
The head of the Egyptian government delegation, Omar Marwan, claimed during the November 13 review that “Egypt had exerted its utmost efforts for the past five years to implement the [earlier] recommendations.” In its previous review in 2014, Egypt accepted 224 out of 300 recommendations. However, the government carried out few of these recommendations and human rights violations have since dramatically escalated.
Countries at the Human Rights Council should continue to exert pressure on Egypt to reform its human rights record, including by expressing concerns through collective statements during upcoming sessions of the council in 2020.
Human Rights Watch made two submissions to the current review. A general submission examined the severe deterioration of human rights since Egypt’s last review in 2014 and a joint submission with the Egyptian Front for Human Rights, an independent Czech-based group, detailed war crimes and serious rights abuses by government forces and armed groups in North Sinai.
A few weeks before this review session, following nationwide anti-government protests that erupted on September 20, the Egyptian authorities rounded up over 4,300 people in one of the largest sweeps in the country since late 2013. The mass arrests included well-known figures and activists, and sometimes included their relatives.
Leading human rights activists in Egypt were not able to participate in the review session since the authorities have banned most of them from leaving the country for the past four years, and have relentlessly prosecuted them under criminal charges in violation of their basic rights and liberties.
In October, Gamal Eid, a leading rights activist and lawyer, was physically assaulted in Cairo by armed men under circumstances that indicate the involvement of state security agencies. That month, authorities also detained prominent human rights lawyer Mohamed al-Baqer. Egypt’s authorities have kept Ibrahim Ezz el-Din, a researcher with the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms, in incommunicado detention since they arrested him in June.
“Egyptian authorities’ flagrant abuses only days before the UN review session shows the utter disregard this government has for human rights,” Stork said. “It will only act to uphold rights when other governments step up the pressure.”