CAIRO: Human rights organizations have painted a bleak picture of the state of human rights in Egypt in reports submitted to the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC).
The reports were sent as part of the HRC’s Universal Periodic Review mechanism, whereby the human rights records of UN member states are examined every four years on the basis of submissions from the state itself and information received from independent human rights experts and NGOs.
Egypt’s record will be reviewed on Feb. 17, 2010.
The joint report presented by a coalition of 16 Egyptian human rights organizations contains a general overview of the state of human rights in Egypt and an assessment of the Egyptian government’s observance of its human rights obligations over the past four years.
At a press conference held Wednesday at the Hisham Mubarak Law Center (HMLC), director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) Hossam Bahgat said that rather than being individual aberrations, human rights abuses in Egypt are part of an overarching set of policies and practices.
“Human rights violations do not happen by chance. They are part of a systematic policy which rests on four factors, Bahgat said.
Bahgat went on to list the four factors: an absence of political will to address these violations; a culture of impunity for offenders which contributes to the reoccurrence of violations; widespread interference by security bodies in all areas of public life and finally increasing poverty made worse by policies which have not only failed to address deteriorating economic conditions but has also aggravated poverty.
The 10-page report assesses the extent to which the Egyptian government has fulfilled its human rights obligations in respect for the right to life and liberty, the administration of justice, freedom of belief and organization and economic and cultural rights.
The 16 NGOs are highly critical of the government in virtually all these areas. The state of emergency in force since 1981, they say, has played a “fundamental role in the erosion of the rule of law and the state’s legal institutions and the destruction of “citizens’ confidence in the state and their own self-worth.
Bahgat dismissed government claims that Egypt is on the path of reform.
“We are witnessing a deterioration in the state of human rights at the same time as government bodies try to present a different picture of gradual reform, Bahgat said.
Individual reports by NGOs focusing on freedom of expression, women’s rights in the workplace, restrictions placed on NGO activity and respect for labor rights were also presented during the press conference.
These reports, together with submissions from the other stakeholders will form the basis of the three-hour review conducted by the Universal Periodic Review Working Group composed of the HRC’s 47 members.
An outcome report will then be prepared by a troika of states (in Egypt’s case China, Madagascar and Italy) chosen at random to act as rapporteurs, and to make recommendations presented to Egypt for adoption. The report will then be discussed in a plenary session of the HRC in June.
HMLC director Ahmed Seif said that the assessment of Egypt’s human rights situation presented in the report gives a “good indication of what can be expected to happen in the next two years, when parliamentary, presidential and trade unions elections will be held.
“To what extent will the authorities be able to run fair elections? Experience tells us that not only do they forge elections, they are creative in the way they forge them, Seif told the press conference.
Director of the Cairo Institute for Human Right Studies (CIHRS) Bahy Eddin Hassan echoed Seif’s views.
“How, in a country where students aren’t allowed to freely choose their own representatives, can anything [different] be expected to happen at the national level? said Hassan.
Seif warned that 2010 and 2011 will be “extremely difficult as the government will encounter “unprecedented resistance to it from society, while Hassan suggested that the coming two years will resemble 2005 when parliamentary and presidential elections were held and there were frequent clashes between protestors and the authorities.
“The scope of political activity and social protest has widened in a way that Egypt hasn’t witnessed since 1952. Groups that no-one imagined would protest – such as farmers, tax collectors, post office employees – are doing so, Hassan commented.