CAIRO: Governments in the south and east Mediterranean continue to use all manner of legal and other obstacles to impede the right to freedom of association, the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network (EMHRN) said in its annual monitoring report issued this week.
The report, “Freedom of Association in the Euro-Mediterranean Region 60 Years after the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, uses a variety of indicators to assess various aspects of the right to form civil society organizations and marks each indicator with a green, orange or red color.
Egypt is marked red in all but one of the eight indicators, indicating that “freedom of association has been denied or severely restricted for everyone without any distinction.
Only the “registration of association indicator is marked yellow, indicating that this aspect of the right to freedom of association “has been limited for everyone or severely restricted or denied to targeted groups.
This is a deterioration from Egypt’s 2007 listing when it was marked red in five out of six indicators with one indicator (“presence of independent associations ) marked green.
The downgrading follows a year in which the report says “the state has abandoned its relative tolerance vis-à-vis critics.
In addition, the Ministry of Social Solidarity amended the Executive Regulations of the Associations Law in 2007, removing the previous requirement of a grace period following the decision to annul an association during which the decision could be challenged in court.
“Some have suggested that the significant amendment was introduced specifically to allow for the dissolution of the Association for Human Rights Legal Aid (AHRLA) which was active in fighting against torture for 13 years, the report reads.
The decision to dissolve and liquidate AHRLA was quashed by the Administrative Court in October 2008.
The EMHRN make several recommendations to the Egyptian government aimed at ameliorating the state of freedom of association.
The group calls for an end to the state of emergency in force since 1981 and urges the government to ensure that the counter-terrorism legislation which it is currently in the process of drafting does not “prescribe any restrictions on peaceful activities.
The report warns that the proposed counter-terrorism law “would in effect integrate the exceptional powers the security agencies currently hold under the emergency law, so that the (theoretically temporary) state of emergency would become permanent.
With regard to legislation concerning freedom of association, EMHRN calls for comprehensive amendment of Law 82 on non-governmental organizations issued in 2002 to bring it in line with international standards on the right to association.
In November, 150 Egyptian NGOs endorsed a draft law to replace Law 82 which was submitted to the minister of social solidarity. Meanwhile, it is anticipated that the government’s amendment of the law will be passed during the current parliamentary session.
Moatez El-Fegeiry, program director of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, told Daily News Egypt that concerns surround the governmental amendments.
“The amendments will reproduce existing restrictions on the right to association: the government wants to promote these changes as part of its reform package but in fact they are cosmetic and there will be no significant change in the philosophy of the law, El-Fegeiry said.
“In fact the law will impose even more restrictions, for example on the right to receive foreign funding, he continued.
El-Fegeiry says that there exists a “gap between the government’s vision of freedom of association and that of NGOs.
“The government’s attitude towards our vision of freedom of association is that it is overly idealistic, El-Fegeiry explained.
“There is a gap between our perspective – which is based on international standards on freedom of association – and that of the government, which implements a strategy of containment and guardianship of NGOs.