CAIRO: Egypt s National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) is the latest body to issue a shadow report on Egypt s human rights situation for the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC), criticizing emergency law and highlighting improvements in the past five years.
Under the HRC s Universal Periodic Review mechanism, individual member states human rights records are examined periodically via contributions from various sources including a report from the government concerned as well as shadow reports submitted by domestic NGOs.
Egypt s record is due for review in 2010.
The nine-page report, divided into five sections, is the product of “wide-ranging hearing sessions with various civil society organization representatives, according to the report s introduction.
The bulk of the report deals with civil and political, and economic and social rights.
The continuing state of emergency comes under fire in the report, as do constitutional amendments made in 2007 which provide for the drafting of a new counter-terrorism law which would legitimize the suspension of basic constitutional rights related to judicial supervision of police detention and evidence-collection during the investigation of terrorism offences.
NCHR also has “strong reservations about the power granted by the draft law to the president of the republic to refer “crimes of terrorism to any other judicial forum including exceptional military courts.
It labels the trial of civilians in exceptional courts a “serious breach of fair trial guarantees.
The report acknowledges some positive developments during the past five years such as the raising of the age of criminal responsibility from 7 to 12 and “numerous improvements made to the living conditions of prisoners. It warns, however, that “conditions of detention for the most part remain far removed from international basic minimum standards .
Similarly, while praising the government s handling of protests and marches during the past five years, the report is critical of the wide discretion given to security bodies “in a manner which undermines the exercise of the right to peaceful protest and on occasions turns peaceful marches into riots during which excessive force is used.
Calls for legislative reform are a recurring theme in the report; it urges the government to limit application of the death penalty to the most serious crimes. The punishment is currently laid down for 70 crimes.
Shortcomings in legislation which allow the majority of perpetrators of torture to escape justice must be addressed, the report says, and more guarantees are needed to prevent executive interference in the activities of the judicial branch.
The continued criminal prosecution and imprisonment of journalists comes under fire in the report, with NCHR calling for an end to custodial sentences for journalists convicted of publishing crimes.
It also calls for “the amendments necessary to put an end to cases brought against intellectuals, writers and journalists which attack their right to freedom of expression and belief.
Bloggers’ freedom of expression meanwhile “must also be respected within the limits of the law, in order to encourage their participation in political life and culture .
Turning to political and syndicate activity, NCHR is critical of the Shoura Council’s Political Parties Committee, responsible for approving requests for the formation of political parties. The Committee has rejected 75 such applications since its creation in 1977, according to the report.
Similar restrictions apply to syndicate activity, according to the report.
Law 100 on Syndicates, issued in 1993, is described as “a major impediment. Some syndicates have not held elections for 15 years, while others have been placed under the supervision of unelected committees whose presence has become permanent, the report states.
NCHR calls for the implementation of a proportional representation voting system during elections to “encourage the participation of political parties, women, young people and Copts.
It also questions the wisdom of the decision to abolish judicial monitoring of elections, pointing to irregularities in the municipal elections held after this decision was taken.
The report paints a grim picture of the state of economic and social rights in Egypt, “despite the government’s partial success in increasing rates of economic development in recent years.
NCHR urges the government to make several changes in order to alleviate poverty and increase access to these rights, such as the creation of a social insurance system to provide protection for the unemployed, infirm and elderly.