CAIRO: The National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) launched its fifth annual report, amidst speculation by the media about the reasons for its delayed publication.
Divided into five sections, the 328-page report contains an overview of the human rights situation in Egypt, gives details about individual cases and provides statistical information about the number of complaints sent to it and responses received to its queries from government bodies.
Twenty-four recommendations are made by the NCHR. Particular emphasis is given to the state of emergency in Egypt, recently renewed in 2008, and the counter-terrorism law currently being drafted.
Speaking during a press conference at the NCHR s Cairo headquarters, deputy NCHR head Ahmed Kamal Abul Magd criticized the decision to renew the state of emergency.
“We were extremely unhappy when the state of emergency was renewed for another two years. The legislative branch had by then had the time to conduct the studies [on the draft counter-terrorism law] necessary, Abul Magd told reporters.
“We fear that two months before these two years end it will be announced that it is necessary to renew the state of emergency for a further two years, he continued.
Abul Magd listed the legal guarantees the NCHR wants to see in the draft counter-terrorism law.
“We are calling for four guarantees; the presumption of innocence until the prosecution office proves guilt, a precise definition of the crime of terrorism and guarantees of a fair trial. Finally, civilians must be tried before ordinary courts, Abul Magd said.
“If these guarantees are not included in the counter-terrorism law the state of emergency will be made permanent.
Nineteen violations of the right to life are mentioned in the report, through torture and misuse of force by the police.
The report also discusses cases of forced disappearance, and the large number of incidents of administrative detention which occurred in 2008, specifically of 7,588 members of the Muslim Brotherhood.
High profile cases discussed in the report include the Duweiqa landslide and the April 6 clashes in Mahalla.
The report is inconsistent in its treatment of the riots in Mahalla, in one section saying that “more than 100 people [from several cities in Egypt including Mahalla] were arbitrarily detained on April 6. Elsewhere, however, it says that “hundreds of people were detained in Mahalla alone.
In what it refers to as a positive development, the report refers to a discussion held by a parliamentary committee during which the assistant interior minister placed the number of people detained under the emergency law as “less than 1,000.
While acknowledging that this is less than estimates made by Egyptian and international rights groups, the report says that this is the first time the interior ministry has provided such figures in 15 years.
Abul Magd outlined other positive developments in 2008 during the press conference.
“Government bodies replied to our queries more than they did last year. The public prosecution office responded to all of our letters. What is more, measures were taken [against police officers who commit transgressions]: either disciplinary hearings within the police or legal proceedings. This is therefore movement towards strengthening the rule of law against these transgressions.
Recommendations made by the report include the lifting of legislative restrictions placed on NGOs and professional syndicates, improved prison conditions, drafting of a new law on elections and legislative reform to counter torture.
In the field of economic and social rights the NCHR report calls for “new and creative efforts to fight poverty and for steps to be taken to “confront the phenomenon of street children and trade of human organs. It also calls for a “comprehensive multifaceted strategy . to combat the illegal immigration of Egyptians .
Much of the discussion in the press conference centered on the reasons for the late publication of the report, and journalistic ethics.
Abul Magd started the press conference by saying that he was the reason why the report is late. “I visited the prosecutor general and the interior ministry. The public prosecution office gave me a list of 70 prisons and places of detentions they have visited. Publication of the report was postponed in order to include this in it, he said.
Abul Magd said that the press conference which had been scheduled for Monday was pushed back to Wednesday because he had an unscheduled and urgent meeting in Paris.
When challenged about this by a reporter Abul Magd replied, “Is it possible that I had to travel suddenly? Yes of course it is. Does anything happen in Egypt in a planned fashion?
Newspapers such as El-Masry El-Youm suggested in articles published last week that NCHR members did not see the final version of the report. Abul Magd responded by saying, “Members don t have to see the report before it is published. The important thing is that they discuss it after it is issued.
He went on to discuss the “important role of the media and its “responsibility towards the country and criticized what he called “provocation flu .
“Sometimes I feel that there is a third kind of flu after Bird Flu and Swine Flu: Sensation flu has afflicted the media. Everything is rushed and urgent. The most important thing is the scoop. There is no precision, and an extremely pessimistic outlook which focuses on the negative, Abul Magd said.
He was challenged by reporters who denied Abul Magd s allegations that some journalists had “fabricated news about the NCHR.
“If what I published was made up you wouldn t have spent 20 minutes discussing this at the beginning of the press conference, a Rose El-Youssef reporter said.