CAIRO: The United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) examined Egypt’s human rights record Wednesday, in a process which revealed the influence of political alignments within the UN body.
Egypt’s allies dominated the three-hour session, during which the government presented its report on the human rights situation in the country and HRC member states made comments and recommendations in a process known as “interactive dialogue.
The review is part of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) mechanism under which the human rights records of HRC members are reviewed every four years.
The majority of the 52 states that spoke during the session either praised Egypt’s human rights record or commended it on its efforts to improve the human rights situation.
“Egypt has done its homework: it lined up its friends to make supporting statements, Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa deputy program manager, told Daily News Egypt.
The Egyptian delegation, led by Mufid Shehab, minister of state for parliamentary affairs, opened the session with a brief presentation of its report and responded to some of the points raised by states at various intervals.
Shehab said that Egypt built 138 churches between 2005 and 2009, adding that “there is no difference in the rules governing the building of churches and mosques. The politician said that relations between Egypt’s Muslims and its Coptic minority are “healthy and positive and based on citizenship.
Respect for the rights of minority religions was an issue raised by several states during the session. Austria spoke of the “persistent discrimination against Copts, making reference to the Nagaa Hammadi shootings in January, when six Coptic Christians were killed outside a church in Upper Egypt.
Many of the responses by the Egyptian delegation during the session did not meaningfully address the issues raised by questioning states, such as measures to eradicate violence against women. In her response, which described legislation pertaining to equality in the work place, delegation member Amal Osman did not address this issue.
Hadj Sahraoui says that the approach of the Egyptian authorities to issues such as torture is usually “very technical, adding, “I did not feel a will on the part of the authorities to eradicate torture.
Questions surrounding the continuing state of emergency, and the draft counter-terrorism law slated to replace it, were posed by some states which recommended that Egypt end the state of emergency in force since 1981 and ensure that the draft counter-terrorism law is in line with Egypt’s human rights obligations.
Shehab said that the threat of terrorist attacks in Egypt persists. Mostafa Hanafy, head of a People’s Assembly’s human rights body which reviews government decisions, said that the exceptional powers enjoyed by the Interior Ministry are only used in “terrorism and drug-related cases and that all exceptional measures are covered by constitutional guarantees.
This is despite the fact that several states made reference to bloggers targeted because of their political activity. Bloggers Hany Nazeer and Mosad Abu Fagr are currently detained under the emergency law.
Hanafy said that the approach taken in the new counter-terrorism law “is the same approach as some European countries and promised that there will be “public debate on the law.
Hadj Sahraoui suggested that the Egyptian delegation was “disconnected from reality.
“Mufid Shehab said that the death penalty is only used for ‘the most serious and violent crimes’ – but the Egyptian penal code lays down the death sentence for 60 crimes, Hadj Sahraoui said.
The Amnesty representative was also critical of the Western group of states’ performance during the session.
“If they intend to be tough on Iran, they should also be tough on Egypt. None of them made a general statement condemning the human rights situation overall in Egypt, as they did with Iran during its UPR review. There was also no mention by states of the detention of Muslim Brotherhood members – contrast this with the condemnation of peaceful dissent in Iran, Hadj Sahroui commented.
Three states – Italy, Madagascar and China – are now responsible for compiling the recommendations made during the session into a report which will be discussed on Friday, when Egypt will announce which recommendations it rejects, which it accepts and which require further discussion. The final report will be issued in June.
Political alliances are likely to influence which recommendations Egypt adopts: Hadj Sahraoui says that Iran adopted most recommendations made by friendly states and rejected 99 percent of those made by other countries.
However, Sherif Azer of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR) said that in a meeting held with Egyptian NGOs after the session, Shehab said that “none of the recommendations are really problematic or contradict our policies , adding that a problem would only have arisen “if homosexual rights had been mentioned.
Only the Czech Republic raised the issue of discrimination faced by gays in Egypt during the UPR session.