CAIRO: European ministers must draw attention to the deteriorating state of democracy and human rights in Egypt during the next European Union (EU)-Egypt subcommittee on political matters, the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network (EMHRN) said in a press statement issued this week.
“The EMHRN believes the subcommittee on political matters is an opportunity for the EU to raise concerns on the human rights situation in Egypt and to call on the Egyptian authorities to abide by their commitments. It would therefore be extremely significant if each EU member state demonstrates its commitment to human rights and democracy through its participation at the highest level if possible [during] the subcommittee meeting, EMHRN says in a letter addressed to ambassadors of EU members states in Cairo.
The subcommittee is due to meet on July 7, 2009 within the framework of the EU-Egypt Action plan adopted as part of the European Neighborhood Policy, a scheme whereby developing countries are offered financial assistance in return for undertaking political, economic, trade or human rights reform.
EMHRN urge ministers to “condition any strengthening of relations between the EU and Egypt on concrete improvements and commitments regarding human rights … and set up clear benchmarks and a time schedule for the implementation of human rights objectives .
EMHRN says that Egypt “is witnessing increased violations of democratic practice, human rights and fundamental freedoms since the EU-Egypt Action Plan was agreed on in 2007. The NGO outlines recommendations in five areas; freedom of association, justice, women, migrants and refugees and elections.
EMHRN begins its recommendations with a reference to the state of emergency, in force in Egypt since 1981.
“The State of Emergency has been widely used to severely restrict enjoyment of human rights by political activists and protest movements such as through unfair trials of civilians before military courts, undue restriction on freedoms of speech, association and assembly and administrative detentions of bloggers and young activists by state security. The continuous harassment of journalists was demonstrated through their ongoing prosecution before criminal courts for publications offences, EMHRN says in it recommendations.
EMHRN calls on ministers to press for “respect for the role of the judiciary as the cornerstone in the democratic reform process and the development of the rule of law and for abolition of exceptional emergency state security courts.
Turning to women’s rights, the family court law enacted in 2004 is undermined by the absence of mechanisms to execute reconciliation agreements and court rulings, EMHRN says, and “many Egyptian women suffered sexual harassment and were badly beaten in streets while they were participating in peaceful demonstrations and in public events in the presence of the Egyptian police .
EMHRN furthermore calls for ministers to press for Egyptian women married to Palestinian men to be given the right to pass on Egyptian nationality to their children.
Migrants and refugees in Egypt remain “extremely vulnerable , EMHRN says, liable to arrest and deportation – as with the case of 1,200 Eritrean asylum seekers deported in July 2008 – or to being shot at on Egypt’s border with Israel.
At least six such incidents were reported in May 2008, according to the NGO, which is calling for an immediate cessation to such shootings, a lifting of criminal penalties for unauthorized migration and the right of recognized refugees to work in Egypt through receiving work permits.
Criticizing the “unprecedented violations of the right to political participation which it says occurred during the last municipal elections, EMHRN is calling for the overhaul of current legislation governing elections, saying that it is concerned that “the current constitutional, legal and political context will not be conducive to fair and competitive elections.
Egypt is due to hold parliamentary elections in 2010. Presidential elections are scheduled for the following year. EMHRN is calling on ministers to lobby for full judicial oversight of the elections and for legalization of civil society monitoring of the election process.
It is further demanding that Ghad party leader Ayman Nour – released from prison earlier this year – be allowed to run in the elections.