Twenty-one human rights organizations are claiming they were purposely excluded from an Egyptian-European Task Force meeting Tuesday, in what they see as the latest in a series of “hostile” practices towards human rights.

In a joint statement, the organizations accused the Foreign Ministry of revoking their invitations to attend without providing an explanation, expressing concern that this may be a continuation of practices used by the former regime as well as by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.

The organizations, which include the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), the Arab Network for Human Rights Information, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights and the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights, claim that “the Foreign Ministry intervened to cancel the invitations extended to organizations they did not wish to see in attendance.”

CIHRS informed the president, the Ministry of Justice, and leading members of the Freedom and Justice Party of the withdrawal of their invitations and sent a memo to the president asking him to explain the Foreign Ministry’s actions towards independent human rights groups. However, by Wednesday afternoon, CIHRS said they had not received any response.

A high profile EU delegation is currently in Cairo to attend the two-day EU Egypt Task Force Business and Tourism Summit.

Such a measure, the organizations say, is in line with other practices that show disregard for human rights in Egypt, a trend that was expected to disappear with the election of a new president.

Two days earlier, President Mohamed Morsi excluded some of these rights groups from a meeting he held with civil society groups, the statement said.

“These groups were excluded from the president’s recent meeting with civil society organizations, showing that the political will needed to strengthen human rights and involve human rights groups in decision-making discussions is sorely lacking,” the statement read. The very same groups had pointed out that strengthening and advocating human rights was not part of the president’s 100-day plan.

Despite their marginalization, rights groups prepared a number of reports on the status of human rights during Morsi’s first 100 days in office, offering recommendations, but to no avail.

The statement also cited a UN conference last week, where it claimed the Foreign Ministry’s attitude toward the event demonstrated the government’s reluctance to hold perpetrators of past abuses accountable and compensate victims.

It goes on to criticize the many iterations of the draft constitution which “restrict citizens’ fundamental rights and liberties and have excluded any reference to international human rights conventions ratified by Egypt.”

“In this context, it is important to note that the new draft law on NGOs recently proposed by the Ministry of Insurance and Social Affairs is one of the most draconian and arbitrary in Egypt’s history,” the statement added.

The Ministry of Interior also recently proposed five laws the statement deems a violation of international human rights norms and one of which Morsi already declared his intent to issue, despite mounting complaints against the continuation of torture in detention facilities and the ill treatment of citizens.

The human rights organizations state that the human rights policies adopted by the current president and government have been “disappointing.” They, in turn, urge the president to “abandon the policy of exclusion aimed at human rights groups,” hold a meeting with human rights groups to discuss their perspective on the state of public and private liberties and rights in the proposed constitution, as well as their evaluation of the human rights situation in recent months and means to facilitate cooperation and finally reject “repressive laws” proposed by the Ministry of Interior as well as the Cabinet bill on labor unions, since he possesses legislative authority until a new parliament is elected.

The current government’s performance, however, does not appear to differ much from that of its predecessor when it comes to transparency. Attempts to contact officials at the Foreign Ministry for comment resulted in nothing more than a wild goose chase, with two of them proclaiming that I am unlikely to find someone to comment on the issue, highlighting the need for reform at all levels within governmental institutions – not just at the top. 

Dalia Rabie is a journalist based in Cairo. She worked as the Features Editor for Daily News Egypt where she covered topics ranging from politics to culture and lifestyle, with a special focus on human interest issues.

Photo Credit: Reuters