The government is practicing an exclusionist policy when it comes to dealing with human rights organisations, a joint statement by 21 different organisations and movements has declared. The statement was issued as a result of exclusion from joint talks between the government and European Union which were meant to take place on Tuesday. Originally, the signatories had been invited by the EU delegation to participate.
According to the statement, the invitation to participate in the talks was withdrawn on Tuesday, just hours before talks were set to commence. The signatories accused the Foreign Ministry of withdrawing the “invitation extended to organisations they did not wish to see in attendance,” although European, international “and other more ‘acceptable’ Egyptian rights groups,” did not have their invitation revoked.
Under former President Hosni Mubarak and the intermediate period of military rule following the revolution, human rights groups were often sidelined from important political and social decision making. The statement said they had expected to have a greater degree of involvement once a civilian president was elected, in order for the government to benefit from their experience. “However, the human rights policies adopted by the current president and government have been disappointing.”
During President Mohamed Morsy’s first 100 days in office, a number of rights groups prepared reports for the government that offered recommendations, according to the statement, but “no response was received.” The decision to exclude the groups shows the “political will needed to strengthen human rights and involve human rights groups in decision-making discussions is sorely lacking.”
Yasmin Hosam, a lawyer from the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), said there were no obvious reasons given to the EIPR for withdrawing the invitation. “There is no place for discussion between us and [the government],” she said, adding that the real battle will begin after the constitution is finished.
“We would like to be able to have a conference where we can express our opinions and see their point of view as well,” Hosam added. She worries that women and children will not be adequately protected in the constitution and wants their rights to be guaranteed in accordance with international laws.
The signatories urged President Morsy to “abandon the policy of exclusion aimed at human rights groups,” and conduct serious discussions in order to benefit from their perspective on the state of public and private liberties. The signatories also urged Morsy to reject the “repressive laws proposed by the Ministry of Interior and the Cabinet bill on labour unions, as only the president possesses the legislative authority needed to issue or reject such laws until a new parliament is elected.”
Malek Adly, a lawyer at the Egyptian Centre for Economic and Social Rights, said his organisation was invited to participate but decided instead to boycott the discussion.
Adly said the reason for this decision was because the government is not interested in genuine dialogue. “They want to have us in the discussion so people can see through the media how democratic the government is,” he said, calling the session “comical”.
“We are boycotting until the government shows they have a clear plan and genuine interest to have a real co-operation with human rights organisations.”
The deputy director of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, Ziad Abdel Tawab, said from the perspective of his organisation, the government has no tolerance for constructive criticism that national human rights NGOs can provide.