Egypt underwent its first Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in four years on November 5. Egypt’s three-hour UPR witnessed statements from Egypt and other member states, with
over a hundred member states offering recommendations.
The UPR, created in 2006, is a cooperative process which involves a review of the human rights records of all UN Member States. It is also a State-driven process which provides the opportunity for each State to declare what actions they have taken to improve the human rights situations in their countries and to fulfil their human rights obligations. Read more about the general process here.
EGYPT’S NATIONAL REPORT
In advance of the UPR, Egypt submitted its national report to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC).
During Egypt’s 2010 UPR, it received 165 recommendations of which it accepted 119, rejected twenty-one and responded to twenty-five. According to the report, progress in the implementation of the recommendations is reflected in the adoption of the 2014 constitution, including articles protecting rights and freedoms of citizens: political rights, freedom of thought, opinion, and expression, freedom of the media, and religious freedom.
The report also refers to government initiatives aiming to eradicate illiteracy, address issues of unemployment, take action to ensure gender equality, provide housing for limited income families, and set a minimum standard of living for the most poverty-stricken groups.
Egypt acknowledged in its report that it has not been able to sufficiently address recommendations made in 2010 in confronting practices of torture. The report, however, says that efforts to review the definition of torture in the Egyptian Criminal Code has been hampered by the “revolution of January 2011 and June 2013, and the transitional period the country has been going through without a People’s Assembly” to ratify an amendment.
On the issue of terrorism, the report refers to the constitution and the drafting of an anti-terrorism bill, saying the country is in the process of strengthening its actions to combat terrorism while respecting human rights, in accordance with UN standards.
On the protection of human rights, according to the report, Egypt is is incorporating information on rights and freedoms in school curricula, and is offering financial and technical support to associations working in the field of human rights which educate citizens about their legal and constitutional rights. The report also claims that prerequisites for protecting human rights principles in police stations have been put in place, including interview rooms where detainees can meet their lawyers, separate cells for accused persons without previous criminal convictions, and special centres for juveniles and women.
Some member states also submitted their questions directed to Egypt in advance. See below the highlights of the questions:
- Does the Government of Egypt intend to ratify the Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance and the Optional Protocol to the CAT?
- What is the state of play of the ratification process of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, which Egypt has signed in 2000?
- Is the Government of Egypt considering accepting the individual complaints procedure under the human rights conventions to which it is already a State party?
- What follow-up has the Government of Egypt given to the appeal of a group of special procedures mandate holders to quash the death sentences announced on 24 March 2014 and 15 May 2014?
- How has the Government of Egypt addressed the call of the CRC and CEDAW to ensure the prohibition of Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting as well as the prosecution of the perpetrators?
- What steps has Egypt taken to release and drop charges against all those detained for exercising their rights to freedom of association, including those detained solely for membership in the Muslim Brotherhood?
- Will the Government of Egypt review its communications surveillance policy to ensure that determinations related to communications surveillance are made by a competent judicial authority that is impartial and independent?
- What steps has Egypt taken to enact measures criminalizing domestic violence and amend personal status laws that discriminate against women on issues of divorce, custody and inheritance?
- When will the Egyptian authorities facilitate a visit of the Special Rapporteur on Torture to the country and commit to address his subsequent recommendations?
- Which concrete steps will be taken by the authorities to criminalize all forms of sexual violence in the law and to amend legislation to encompass a broad definition for all sexual violence crimes such as rape?
- Will the Egyptian authorities halt the ultimatum for unregistered NGOs, which was issued on 18 July 2014 and which now ends on 10 November 2014, and suspend it until the new NGO law will be effective, after endorsement by Parliament?
Read the full document on the questions submitted by: Belgium, Liechtenstein, Netherlands
- What are the release prospects of journalists and other media employees imprisoned for carrying out legitimate news reporting activities?
- Does the Government of Egypt consider implementing the recommendations of Election Observation Missions following the May 2014 presidential elections especially in the area of political participation of women, unlimited and timely participation of independent international and domestic election observers, the rights to freedom of assembly, expression a information and campaign finance provisions?
- Will there be any amendments that modify or delete articles in the Personal Status Law that discriminate against women?
- Egypt has commenced official investigations into the deaths of hundreds of civilian demonstrators and policemen during the summer of 2013. What is the state of these investigations and when will the results be published?
- Several special procedures mandate holders and human rights organizations have turned attention to human trafficking in Egypt, including abduction, exploitation, physical ill-treatment and abuse of African migrants. What measures is Egypt taking to prevent human trafficking and to investigate and prosecute persons behind trafficking and their networks?
Read the full document on the questions submitted by: Czech Republic, Finland, Germany
- What concrete steps have been taken, and will be taken in the future, by the Government of Egypt to change the Personal Status Law to ensure equal rights for women in all matters?
- What concrete steps have been taken by the Government of Egypt to ensure that journalists or others are not imprisoned or otherwise punished for the sole exercise of their right to freedom of expression and that civilians are not tried in military courts?
- How does the Government plan to ensure that civil society and human rights organizations are able to operate freely and independently and are not prevented from accessing funding to undertake their work without a clear and transparent process?
- What plans does the Egyptian Government have to submit their overdue report to the Committee against Torture and issue an invitation to UN Special Representative on torture to visit Egypt?
Read the full document on the questions submitted by: Spain, Sweden, United Kingdom
- Do legislative provisions prohibit discrimination against women? Does the Ombudsman’s Office in the National Council for Women provide advice on the facto discrimination cases?
- Does the government have a program to integrate the refugee populations in the Egyptian society? What measures are implemented to ensure their rights?
- Does Egypt plan to allow for independent investigations regarding claims of excessive and/or lethal use of force by law enforcement officials in dispersals of peaceful assemblies and meetings, and ensure accountability for proven excessive and/or lethal use of force against demonstrators by security forces?
- We take note that torture is contrary to Article 52 in the Egyptian constitution. What steps does the Government of Egypt plan to take in order to ensure that legislation is adopted and implemented in practice? What is the time-horizon for ratifying the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT)?
- What is the strategy of the government for implementing the ban on female genital mutilation (FGM) that was formalized in 2008?
Read the full document on the questions submitted by: Mexico, Norway
- What steps has Egypt taken to prevent forced marriage of girls and women, to prevent trafficking in persons for domestic work and to prevent trafficking in humans for the purpose of organ removal?
- What steps have been taken to guarantee fair representation of women, religious minorities and young people in the Parliament?
Read the full document on the questions submitted by:Slovenia
- What steps are being taken to ensure that administrative detention is not used as a measure to punish or prolong the detention of persons deprived of their liberty without them being formally charged and having access to their lawyers?
- As a measure to prevent torture, is Egypt ready to open detainment facilities for regular, unannounced visits by independent national or international observers?
- What measures will be undertaken to ensure that members of the military and security forces who are responsible for violations of human rights will be held accountable of their acts?
Read the full document on the questions submitted by: Switzerland
More than a hundred states commented on Egypt’s human rights status and made recommendations for the government of Egypt. The Egyptian delegation responded to the recommendations at the meeting. Official documents of the outcome of the working group yet to be released. Below is a record of official governmental statements official statements, based on the UNHRC webcast of the meeting and a liveblog run by the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR).
Russia highly commended “Egypt’s efforts in the area of human rights protection, and noted the progress made during the review period, despite the complex situation in the country.” Russia also welcomed the adoption of the new constitution, and recommended Egypt to establish on interfaith dialogue and gender equality, and to continue the policy of protecting family as the basic foundation of society, to continue to fight terrorism and extremism, to prosecute violence against women, and to fight corruption.
Saudi Arabia paid “tribute to the efforts made by Egypt to overcome the difficulties that threatened its security and its peace, as well as its stability. These efforts have focused on strengthening democracy, and this has been crowned with success, particularly under the presidency of Sisi. Saudi Arabia will remain side by side with Egypt in its combat for democracy and human rights.
Saudi Arabia recommends Egypt to step up efforts to combat terrorism, to fight against corruption, and to pursue the interests and rights of the youth.
South Africa welcomed “the adoption of the 2014 constitution, and efforts on institutional reform, convening parliamentary elections in the near future.” South Africa also “recognized the significant challenges that lie ahead in the process of egypt’s democratic transition. South Africa remains fully engaged in supporting Egypt and encourage efforts in the advancement of human rights, democratic reform, and the implementation of development programs.
South Africa’s recommendations to Egypt are: 1) to strengthen measures against sexual assault, and violence against women, and 2) to take actions in combating unemployment.
Spain recognized the difficulties arising from the security situation, the fight against terrorism, and said that this can and should be undertaken with full respect for the rule of law, international human rights standards and without recourse to the death penalty. In this context, Spain expressed concern over the increase in the number of death sentences in Egypt, and recommended a moratorium on executions be imposed. Whilst extending the deadline for registering NGOs is a step in the right direction, Spain recommended that the NGO act be amended to ensure that they can be registered with the right to freedom of association. Spain also recommended that crimes committed by security forces should be tried.
The government’s presentation reflects the “seriousness” of the Egyptian government in dealing with the UPR inspite of the challenges and developments in the country at all levels – political, social and security.” Palestine appreciated the efforts made by Egypt to bring human rights inline with international instruments, referring in particular to the establishment of the ministry of transitional justice.
Palestine recommends Egypt to amend article 26 of the penal code to criminalize torture, and to eliminate discrimination against women in the workforce.
Sweden welcomed Egypt’s new constitution in terms of human rights and fundamental freedoms, but expressed its concern about legislation that curtails these rights, targeting NGOs, human rights activists, and journalists. Sweden also expressed its concern over the “precarious situation” of women in Egypt.
Sweden recommends Egypt to review the protest law and release persons detained for exercising their freedom of expression through participating in peaceful protests, to review personal status legislation and penal code to modify or delete articles that discriminate against women, and to promote gender equality, and combat sexual harassment and gender-biased violence, and recognize the work of NGOs in this field.
Turkey said “Since the toppling of the democratically elected president last year, human rights have largely been restricted in Egypt. Turkey considers that the securitization and impunity have sealed the idea of promoting pluralism in Egypt, marginalizing many segments of the society.”
Turkey expressed concern in particular over the protest law, an increase in political prisoners, use of widespread use of lethal force by security forces, mass death sentences.
Turkey recommended Egypt to repeal or amend the protest law with the view to guarantee the right to free assembly and the freedom of expression, to impose immediate moratorium on all death sentences and sign the Protocol if ICCPR.
United Arab Emirates
The UAE representative called the Egyptian government’s presentation “valuable”. The representative said, “We have strong and mutually respective relations with Egypt, and Egypt has taken important steps in order to lay the strong state of law and good governance.”
UAE recommended that Egypt promote the concept of social and civil responsibility for businessmen to contribute to charity, to support women in the economic sphere, and to educate the police force in the field of human rights.
The United Kingdom
In its statement, the UK expressed concern “at the numbers of detainees in pre-trial detention, reports of mistreatment or torture, use of mass trials and trial irregularities, retention of the death penalty and restrictions on Freedom of Expression and Freedom of Assembly as well as the decreasing space for civil society and the media to operate.”
The UK recommended Egypt “ensure full implementation of the government’s provisions for the free operation of civil society, including through a revised NGO law that conforms to international standards and protects freedom of expression, to complete the National Strategy on Violence against Women with a clear, credible implementation plan, and invite the Special Rapporteur for Violence against Women to visit Egypt.
The United States
In its statement, the United States recommended “Egypt to repeal or amend the Demonstrations Law (Law 107 of 2013), and the civil society law (Law 84 of 2002), which restricts freedoms of assembly, association and expression, to appropriately investigate excessive use of force by security forces, publicly release findings, and prosecute those identified as being responsible, and to release those detained solely for exercising rights to freedom of expression or for membership in a political group.
The United States is “deeply concerned with steps taken by Egypt that have resulted in violations of freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly, and association, deprived thousands of Egyptians of fair trial guarantees, and undermined civil society’s role in the country.”
Australia welcomed “Egypt’s commitment to building a democratic, rules-based society,” but remains “deeply concerned” about restrictions on freedoms of expression and assembly. Australia recommends that Egypt amend the penal code to implement the guarantees of freedom of thought, press and publication. Australia recommended the immediate repeal or amendment of the protest law, the adoption of the definition of torture in its penal code, and establish a moratorium on executions.
France welcomed the focus on basic freedoms and gender equality in the constitution of Egypt, and encouraged Egypt to continue its efforts in implementing the constitution, and international commitments.
France recommended that Egypt establish a moratorium on the application of the death penalty, to respect freedom of association for human rights defenders, respect right to assembly without the use of excessive force, respect freedom and expression and the press, and to continue combating terrorism while respecting human rights, and to combat violence against women.
In its statement, Germany asked Egypt the following questions:
- What measures is Egypt taking to prevent violence and ill-treatment in detention, including torture as well as sexual and gender-based violence?
- Germany is concerned about the summary death sentences by the criminal court in Minya against 220 persons. How will Egypt ensure compliance with due process of law for all defendants?
- Germany made the following recommendations:
- Protect the freedom of association, in accordance with the Egyptian Constitution, by adopting a new NGO law fully in line with international standards and best practices, including on foreign funding.
- Protect the freedom of assembly, enshrined in the Constitution, by modifying the protest law to allow public assemblies through a simple notification process.
- Criminalize domestic violence against women, ratify the Optional Protocol of CEDAW and lift the CEDAW reservations
- Revise the penal code in order to guarantee the freedom of expression, and protect journalists from violence and harassment.
- Announce a moratorium on the death penalty with a view to its eventual abolition.
Israel “understands” the serious challenges posed in the struggle against terrorism, and recognizes Egypt’s continued efforts to counter terrorism taking an active role to eliminate militant terrorists in its territory
Israel recommended the immediate release of Israeli national, Ouda Tarabin, imprisoned in Egypt for the past fourteen years. It also expressed concern over reports of kidnappings, extortion, torture, human trafficking, and physical and sexual abuse of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers in Sinai. It recommended Egypt to combat human trafficking, and violence against women.
Canada commended the new constitution and move towards democracy including the implementation of the transition plan.
Canada recommended a review of all laws on public assembly, including the law of 1994 on public assembly, to bring them into line with Egypt’s international commitments regarding human rights; ensuring the enforcement of legal guarantees on the rights of detainees, saying that an independent judiciary is a pillar of a stable country; and amending law 84 of 2002 to better support independent NGOs in their work.
Norway published its statement and advance questions for Egypt prior to the UPR.
Norway welcomed the human rights provisions in the new constitution in Egypt, and urged an immediate implementation of these provisions in law and practice.
Norway recommended the following;
- First, to protect freedom of assembly and association by revising the Protest Law, eliminating all interference with the registration and work of NGOs and guaranteeing their right to seek and receive funding, and halting the ultimatum for unregistered NGOs;
- Second, to refrain from stigmatizing and criminalizing the work of NGOs, human rights defenders, and journalists;
- Third, to immediately release all imprisoned journalists, prisoners of conscience and human rights defenders;
- Fourth, to ensure that freedom of expression be safeguarded in all its forms, including artistic expressions;
- Fifth, to ensure that trials and pre-trial detention comply with due process rights in the ICCPR and articles 54 and 55 of the constitution, and end all military trials of civilians;
- And finally, sixth, to invite and set dates for visits by the Special Rapporteurs on Human Rights Defenders, Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association, and on the Freedom of Opinion and Expression.
Qatar acknowledged that Egypt has faced challenges and difficulties, but it welcomed Egypt’s adoption of the 2014 constitution, and new provisions concerning fundamental freedoms and rights, notably right of assembly, freedom of expression and the independence of the judiciary. Qatar underlined the importance of bringing national legislation into line with Egypt’s international obligations. Qatar recommended that efforts be pursued to fulfill human rights obligations, and basic freedoms obligations, and efforts should be pursued to establish the regional office of North Africa and the Middle East in Cairo.
Watch the full webcast below:
CIVIL SOCIETY ORGANIZATIONS
Civil society organizations participated in Egypt’s UPR with various groups submitting their reports ahead the working group. They also commented on Egypt’s actions and responses on the human rights review.
Before the review, Amnesty International urged “robust action” by member states at the UN Human Rights Council to “stop a major crackdown on Egyptian NGOs, challenge impunity for human rights violations and lift sweeping restrictions on freedoms of expression, association and assembly.”
Amnesty International raised concerns about the killing of hundreds of protesters, mass arrests targeting political dissent, and paid particular attention to an impending deadline for all NGOs to register with the government before November 10. The statement also highlights the impunity of Egyptian security forces, the restrictive protest law, and several new laws aimed at expanding the government’s power, and further restricting public space. Addressing Egypt’s upsurge of militant attacks, Amnesty International called on the international community to pressure Egypt to take into account the protection of human rights. The group also questioned Egypt’s efforts in pursuing social and economic stability, since the Suez Canal Megaproject and a buffer zone with Gaza have raised concerns over the prospect of mass forced evictions.
Following the meeting, Amnesty International described Egypt’s defense of human rights record as “cynical.” saying that the image that the Egyptian delegation provided at the meeting was “unrecognizable.” Representatives of Amnesty International particularly expressed concerns about the NGO law, saying, “The next few days will be critical. Egypt will need to answer questions and provide guarantees that independent civil society organizations can operate in the country free from interference and hindrance.”
Human Rights Watch
Human Rights Watch (HRW) has urged Egypt’s allies to use the country’s November 5, 2014 review at the UN Human Rights Council to condemn “the most dramatic reversal of human rights in Egypt’s modern history under President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.” In its statement, HRW points to Egypt’s increasingly restrictive actions against human rights defenders, including mass detentions and trials without due process. The statement underlines the Egyptian authorities’ excessive use of force to restrict “nearly all space for dissents,” citing that the government has arrested 29,000 people for suspected Brotherhood ties. HRW expressed concern that Egypt’s highly polarized atmosphere will pose a threat to the national security, urging the government to hold security forces accountable for the killings and mass arrests of political opposition.
The Forum of Independent Egyptian Human Rights Organizations led by the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
In preparation for Egypt’s Universal Periodic Review, the Forum of Independent Egyptian Human Rights Organizations, comprised of nineteen organizations, published a joint report on the status of human rights in Egypt over the past four years. The report focuses on a set of fundamental human rights and their development in Egypt, taking into consideration the popular protests in this period and the succession of political regimes and governments. The report notes that the common feature of this period was the popular demand for an improved human rights situation, and shows that successive governments, despite their political differences, have failed to curb violations or work towards the protection of rights through security sector, economic, social, or judicial reform.
The report shows that despite the repeated Egyptian demands for freedom, social justice, and human dignity, and despite human rights organizations repeatedly presenting the government with proposals to improve the state of human rights, a lack of political will continues to be the main reason for the deterioration of rights and freedoms.
All of the successive governments since 2010 have violated various rights including freedom of peaceful assembly, freedom of association, and freedom of expression. This period has also witnessed sexual attacks on female protesters and no progress in the conditions of the poor or improvements in health, education or housing services.
The Forum of Independent Human Rights Organizations also submitted more than 100 recommendations to the Egyptian government to bring state practices and legislation into compliance with international human rights standards. The statement included recommendations to generally improve the human rights situation in Egypt and practical recommendations on particular rights, such as the right of association, the right of peaceful assembly, the right to a fair trial, and women’s rights, as well as recommendations related to particular population groups, such as the rights of children, minorities, and refugees.
The Forum focused on twelve recommendations. Most of them are predicated on the need to enforce the provisions of the constitution, which affirms the importance of amending Egyptian laws in accordance with international human rights conventions ratified by Egypt. In addition, the recommendations urge the Egyptian government to ratify new conventions and treaties, including the optional protocol to the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. The organizations also recommended cancelling the November 10 deadline the government has set for NGOs, or what it termed “non-registered entities,” to register under a highly restrictive Mubarak-era law of associations.
Joint Report Led by the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights
Fifty-one organizations and seventy-nine unions issued a joint report outlining the key concerns and recommendations on Egypt’s realization of economic and social rights. The report condemned Egyptian administrations after the 2011 revolution for failing to overcome the legacy of the former regime. In particular, the reported states, “The country’s major political transition has not been accompanied by the rights-based economic reforms desperately needed to tackle growing deprivations of economic and social rights and, ultimately, to sustain the transition.”
Additional CSO Reports
The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression, and the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights submitted a joint report to the UN Human Rights Council on the right of peaceful assembly in Egypt. The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies also submitted a report on the right of freedom of association over the past four years. The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, in conjunction with the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms and the No Military Trials for Civilians campaign, prepared a report on the right to a fair trial in Egypt over the last four years.
Egyptian CSOs Withdraw from UPR
One day before the Universal Periodic Review on Egypt, a host of Egyptian civil society organizations announced their decision not to participate in any of the UPR’s proceedings in fear that their participation might result in reprisal or possible persecution. This fear is especially pertinent in the context of the hostile climate in which they work. Several organizations cancelled their side-events and conferences at the UPR session. The organizations noted the stark difference between the government’s preparations for the UPR this year and in 2010. The committee tasked with writing the government report for the UPR in 2010 reached out to human rights organizations, seeking consultations about its report and asking for advice about the recommendations it should accept. The committee this year did not seek meetings with human rights organizations, feeling it sufficient to meet once with a few select rights organizations and members of the National Council for Human Rights one week before the UPR session. They also state that human rights situation in Egypt cannot be separated from the goals of stability and development, affirming that civil society organizations have an important role to play in preserving the link between the government and citizens and in strengthening transparency, accountability, and the fight against corruption.
Muslim Brotherhood/ Freedom and Justice Party
In its national report, the Muslim Brotherhood and its political arm the Freedom and Justice Party, documented the Brotherhood’s success in and after the 2011 revolution, highlighting its efforts in the pursuit of the national transition towards democracy. The report responded to criticisms of the Morsi regime in the Egyptian national report, claiming that it had pushed for an inclusive political environment and government, as well as defending the constitution drafting process under Morsi. In contrast, the Brotherhood report lists human rights violations carried out since Morsi’s ouster, including the killing of protesters, the use of excessive force by the security apparatus, and the mass death sentences handed down to hundreds of alleged Morsi supporters.