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VIII. Egypts Obligations Under International Law
Egyptian personal status laws advance a model of the family based on the superiority of men over women. This model violates the rights of women to equality before the law, nondiscrimination,192 and equality in marriage and divorce enshrined in a number of international treaties that Egypt has ratified.193 The Egyptian government has a positive obligation to remedy abuses that emanate from social and cultural practices. CEDAW requires that states take all appropriate measures, including legislation, to modify or abolish existing laws, regulations, customs and practices which constitute discrimination against women.194 It obliges states to refrain from engaging in any act or practice of discrimination against women and to ensure that public authorities and institutions shall act in conformity with this obligation and to take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women by any person, organization or enterprise. CEDAW requires governments:
To modify the social and cultural patterns of conduct of men and women, with a view to achieving the elimination of prejudices and customary and all other practices which are based on the idea of the inferiority or the superiority of either of the sexes or on stereotyped roles for men and women.195
In January 2001, the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW Committee), in reviewing Egypts periodic report, expressed concern about stereotypical attitudes about the roles of women and men in the family and society reflected in the low level of representation of women in decision-making at all levels and in all areas.196 The CEDAW Committee expressed particular concern about the lack of women represented in the judiciary.197
Human rights law also requires that governments address the legal and social subordination women face in their families and marriages. Under article 16 of CEDAW, states must:
Take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in all matters relating to marriage and family relations and in particular shall ensure, on a basis of equality of men and women:
(a) The same right to enter into marriage;
(b) The same right freely to choose a spouse and to enter into marriage only with their free and full consent;
(c) The same rights and responsibilities during marriage and at its dissolution (emphasis added);
(h) The same rights for both spouses in respect of the ownership, acquisition, management, administration, enjoyment and disposition of property, whether free of charge or for a valuable consideration.
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) obliges states to take appropriate steps to ensure equality of rights and responsibilities of spouses as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution. In the case of dissolution, provision shall be made for the necessary protection of any children.198 As the body responsible for interpreting the ICCPR, the Human Rights Committee noted that any discriminatory treatment in regard to the grounds and procedures for separation or divorce, child custody, maintenance or alimony, visiting rights or the loss or recovery of parental authority must be prohibited.199
Egyptian law violates womens marriage and family rights under CEDAW and the ICCPR. Egypt is in violation of its obligations due to the existence of parallel and unequal divorce systems for men and women severely obstructing womens access to divorce while simultaneously allowing for the arbitrary and unchecked exercise of divorce rights by men. A host of personal status laws expressly permit discrimination against women within marriage and upon divorce, codifying their second-class status in the family. The government has done little to bring Egyptian law into compliance with its international obligations.
Officials condone laws and practices that discriminate against women in the family. The governments acquiescence to social and cultural patterns of conduct that harm womens rights to equality violates CEDAW. The introduction of no-fault divorce, or khula,has not only failed to address Egypts profoundly discriminatory divorce system, but has also been discriminatory in itself. The Human Rights Committee expressed concern about khula in its 2003 review of Egypts third and fourth periodic reports and recommended that Egypt review its legislation so as to eliminate financial discrimination against women.200 Discrimination in practice is exacerbated by official efforts to exclude women from the judicial bench.
The CEDAW Committee, in interpreting womens right to equality in marriage and family relations, also acknowledged the right of women to own an equal share of marital property both during the marriage and in case of divorce.201 It noted:
In some countries, on division of marital property, greater emphasis is placed on financial contributions to property acquired during a marriage, and other contributions, such as raising children, caring for elderly relatives and discharging household duties are diminished. Often, such contributions of a non-financial nature by the wife enable the husband to earn an income and increase the assets. Financial and non-financial contributions should be accorded the same weight.202
The Egyptian governments failure to recognize a womans non-monetary contributions to the home, denying them a share of marital property absent specific title in the wifes name, violates these rights and obligations. The Egyptian government has done little or nothing to combat the view and practice that the marital home is the exclusive property of the husband both in marriage and divorce. In fact, Egypts laws reinforce this position. Divorced women in Egypt who may have spent years or decades maintaining and contributing to the marital home are left with no ownership interest.
The Egyptian government has an obligation to amend both facially discriminatory and facially neutral laws, regulations, policies, and practices that discriminate against a particular portion of the population. Egypts obedience law, conditioning a womens receipt of alimony on her obedience to her husband, is a particularly egregious example of a law that on its face discriminates against women. While police can no longer use force to return women to the marital home, the existence of the law denies women their autonomy and their rights to freedom from arbitrary interference with their privacy and family203 and their liberty of movement204 in violation of international human rights law.
A facially neutral law, policy, or human rights abuse that has an unjustifiable disparate impact on a group distinguished by sex, and which has the effect of limiting their enjoyment of human rights, could also be read as discrimination within the meaning of the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD). 205 Compulsory mediation in family disputes, while a facially neutral policy, has a disproportionate impact on Egyptian women since only they need to resort to the courtsand in so doing endure the time and effort involved in mediationin order to end their marriages.
Egypts reservations to critical articles in CEDAW, and its general reservation to the ICCPR, cast doubt on its commitments to womens rights. Reservations that are incompatible with the object and purpose of a treaty violate international law206 and are unacceptable precisely because they would render a basic international obligation meaningless. Article 2 of CEDAW, which obliges states to condemn and legally protect against discrimination is considered to be the foundation of this treaty, from which all other provisions stem.207 At the CEDAW Committees 13th session in 1994, it expressed alarm at the number of State parties which have entered reservations to the whole or part of article 16, especially when a reservation has also been entered to article 2, claiming that compliance may conflict with a commonly held vision of the family based, inter alia, on cultural or religious beliefs or on the countrys economic or political status.208
Egypts reservation to article 2 stating that it is willing to comply with the content of this article, provided that such compliance does not run counter to the Islamic Sharia, goes against the very object and purpose of the Convention. This reservation, if put into practice, inevitably results in discrimination against women on the basis of sex, which is contrary to the fundamental purpose of the Convention.
The Egyptian government entered a general reservation upon ratification of the ICCPR noting that taking into consideration the provisions of the Islamic Sharia and the fact that they do not conflict with the text annexed to the instrument, we accept, support and ratify it ...209 Meanwhile, as recently as October 2002, the Human Rights Committee voiced concern about the general and ambiguous nature of the declaration made by the State party upon ratifying the Covenant and recommended that Egypt either clarify the scope of its declaration or withdraw it. The Committee also regretted the lack of clarity surrounding the question of the legal standing of the Covenant in relation to domestic law and the attendant consequences and urged Egypt to ensure that its legislation gives full effect to the rights recognized in the Covenant and that effective remedies are available for the exercise of those rights. 210
Egypt asserts full authority on the basis of religion to discriminate against women in family matters. It stated that its reservation to article 16 (equality in relation to marriage) of CEDAW stems from its:
respect for the sacrosanct nature of the firm religious beliefs which govern marital relations in Egypt and which may not be called in question and in view of the fact that one of the most important bases of these relations is an equivalency of rights and duties so as to ensure complementary which guarantees true equality between the spouses [emphasis added].211
International human rights law recognizes state accountability for abuses by private actors and requires states to show due diligence in preventing and responding to human rights violations. In General Recommendation 19, the CEDAW Committee emphasized: States may also be responsible for private acts if they fail to act with due diligence to prevent violations of rights or to investigate and punish acts of violence.212 A states consistent failure to do so when women are disproportionately the victims amounts to unequal and discriminatory treatment, and constitutes a violation of the states obligation to guarantee women equal protection of the law.213
By denying women the right to equality in divorce, essentially condemning many women to violent marriages, the Egyptian government is failing to act with due diligence to prevent, investigate, and punish violence against women putting womens health and lives in jeopardy. As recently as 2001, the CEDAW Committee expressed concern over Egypts lack of a holistic approach to the prevention and elimination of violence against women, including domestic violence, marital rape, violence against women in detention centers and crimes committed in the name of honor or the punishment of perpetrators.214 The CEDAW Committee also expressed concern about the high levels of violence against adolescent girls and young married women.215
Domestic violence prevents women from exercising a host of other rights. The CEDAW Committee noted that gender-based violence is a form of discrimination that seriously inhibits womens ability to enjoy rights and freedoms on a basis of equality with men, including the right to the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.216 Article 12 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights also provides for the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.217 Interpreting these provisions, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights recommends that state parties develop and implement a comprehensive national strategy for promoting womens right to health throughout their life span. 218 According to the Committee, A major goal should be reducing womens health risks, particularly lowering rates of maternal mortality and protecting women from domestic violence.
States undermine the right to health under the Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights if they fail to take all necessary measures to safeguard persons within their jurisdiction from infringements of the right to health by third parties.219 Violations that fall under this category include, among other things: the failure to regulate the activities of individuals, groups or corporations so as to prevent them from violating the right to health of others and the failure to protect women against violence or to prosecute perpetrators.220
 The principles of nondiscrimination and equality are central to human rights. Article 1 of CEDAW defines discrimination against women as:
any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on the basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field.
 For example, Egypt has ratified the following treaties: the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), G.A. Res. 34/180, U.N. Doc. A/34/46, entered into force September 3, 1981 and ratified by Egypt on September 18, 1981; the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), 999 U.N.T.S. 171, entered into force March 23, 1976 and ratified by Egypt on January 14, 1982; the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), G.A. Res. 2200 (XXI), 21 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No. 16), U.N. Doc. A/6316, entered into force January 3, 1976 and ratified by Egypt on January 14, 1982; and the African (Banjul) Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights (African Charter), adopted June 26, 1981, OAU Doc. CAB/LEG/67/3 rev. 5, 21 I.L.M. 58 (1982), entered into force October 21, 1986 and ratified by Egypt on March 20, 1984.
 CEDAW, article 2.
 CEDAW, article 5(a).
 Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW Committee), Consideration of the third report and the combined fourth and fifth periodic report of Egypt (CEDAW/C/EGY/3 and CEDAW/C/EGY/4-5) at its 492nd and 493rd meetings, on 19 January 2001 (see CEDAW/C/SR.492 and 493).
 See section on the Absence of Female Criminal Prosecutors and Judges for more detailed information.
 ICCPR, article 23(4).
 Human Rights Committee, General Comment 19, Protection of the Family, the Right to Marriage, and Equality of the Spouses (Article 23), Compilation of General Comments and General Recommendations Adopted by Human Rights Treaty Bodies, U.N. Doc. HRI/GEN/1/Rev.6 at 149 (2003), para. 9.
 See CCPR A/58/40 (2003) Principal subjects of concern and recommendations [online] http://www.bayefsky.com/html/egypt_t4_ccpr.php (retrieved August 23, 2004).
 CEDAW Committee, General Recommendation 21, Equality in Marriage and Family Relations (Article 16), Compilation of General Comments and General Recommendations Adopted by Human Rights Treaty Bodies, U.N. Doc. HRI/GEN/1/Rev.6 at 149 (2003), para. 30.
 CEDAW Committee, General Recommendation 21, Equality in Marriage and Family Relations (Article 16), Compilation of General Comments and General Recommendations Adopted by Human Rights Treaty Bodies, U.N. Doc. HRI/GEN/1/Rev.6 at 149 (2003), para. 32.
 ICCPR, article 17.
 ICCPR, article 12 and CEDAW, article 15(4).
 The CERD Committee has argued that when abuses or policies disproportionately affect a group of people based on such distinctions as race, color, descent, and national or ethnic origin, and have the effect of impairing enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms, this disparate impact can be understood as discrimination. CERD Committee, General Recommendation 14 on Definition of discrimination (art.1, para.1). (Forty-second session, 1993), U.N. Doc. A/48/18. In General Recommendation 20, the CERD Committee noted that states must take special caution to ensure that any restriction on the rights listed in Article 5 of the Convention is "neither in purpose nor effect...incompatible with Article 1 of the Convention."
 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, article 19(c). Egypt ratified the Vienna Convention on February 11, 1982.
 The CEDAW Committee holds the view that article 2 is central to the objects and purpose of the convention. States parties that ratify the convention do so because they agree that discrimination against women in all its forms should be condemned and that the strategies set out in article 2, subparagraphs (a) to (g), should be implemented by States parties to eliminate it.
 General Recommendation No. 21.
 See Human Rights Committee, Reservations, declarations, notifications and objections relating to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Optional Protocols. U.N. Doc CCPR/C/2/Rev.4. (Basic Reference Document) (1995).
 CCPR A/58/40 (2003). The Committee considered the third and fourth periodic reports of Egypt, (CCPR/C/EGY/2001/3) at its 2048th and 2049th meetings, held on 17 and 18 October 2002 (CCPR/C/SR.2048 and CCPR/C/SR.2049), and adopted the following concluding observations at its 2067th meeting (CCPR/C/SR.2067) on 31 October 2002.
 See Division for the Advancement of Women, Declarations, Reservations, and Objections to CEDAW, [online] http://www.un.org/womenwatch/daw/cedaw/reservations-country.htm (retrieved October 6, 2004).
 Committee on the Elimination of Violence against Women (CEDAW Committee), General Recommendation 19, Violence against women, U.N. Doc.A/47/38 (1992) para. 9.
 See CEDAW, article 15, and ICCPR, article 26. For further discussions of international obligations with respect to violence against women by private actors, see Dorothy Q. Thomas and Michele Beasley, Domestic Violence as a Human Rights Issue, Human Rights Quarterly, vol. 15, no. 1 (February 1993); Human Rights Watch, Global Report on Women's Human Rights (New York: Human Rights Watch, 1995), pp. 39-44, and Ken Roth; Domestic Violence as an International Human Rights Issue, in Rebecca J. Cook, Human Rights of Women: National and International Perspectives, (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1994), p. 326.
 CEDAW A/56/38 (Part I) (2001) - The Committee considered the third report and the combined fourth and fifth periodic report of Egypt (CEDAW/C/EGY/3 and CEDAW/C/EGY/4-5) at its 492nd and 493rd meetings, on 19 January 2001 (see CEDAW/C/SR.492 and 493).
 CEDAW Committee, General Recommendation 19, paras. 1, 7.
 ICESCR, article 12(1). See also African Charter, article 16.
 Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ESCR Committee), General Comment 14, The right to the highest attainable standard of health, U.N. Doc. E/C.12/2000/4 (2000), para. 21.
 Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ESCR Committee), General Comment 14, The right to the highest attainable standard of health, U.N. Doc. E/C.12/2000/4 (2000), para. 51.
 Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ESCR Committee), General Comment 14, The right to the highest attainable standard of health, U.N. Doc. E/C.12/2000/4 (2000), para. 51.