By Ibrahim al-Masri
The National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) did not operate independently or serve its primary function during the Mubarak years, says its current chairman, Husam Al-Gharyani. The remarks came during a recent meeting in the Shura Council, where Al-Gharyani added that the executive branch, in the form of investigators working with state security, had penetrated the organisation and influenced its policies.
He added that failing to amend the law governing the NCHR would hurt the council’s reputation in the eyes of the international community, which supports passage of the amendments. He stated that such amendments would “right the wrongs of the past”, but criticised those changes added to the law by Egypt’s Department of Justice. Such changes would cause the NCHR to move from a first-rate to a third-rate organisation in the eyes of the international community, he said.
“We have presented a memorandum, in which we comment on the government’s plan for the NCHR. The most important call that we make asks that the Council remain independent, as was written in the draft version of the law written by Egypt’s Central Auditing Organization [CAO], something which was not included in the previous law.” He added “The international community will not tolerate even one act of corruption as a result of lack of proper regulation by the CAO.”
Gharyani opposed allowing the public prosecutor to monitor the actions of the NCHR within the country’s prison system. When Public Prosecutor Nabil Azmi commented on this last fact, which he perceived as a slight, Gharyani responded saying: “I have been a judge for 50 years and there exists nothing in the text of the law that allows the NCHR to visit the country’s prisons except with permission from the public prosecutor, court chairmen and their representatives. We need to obtain legal legitimacy in order to perform this function and I have already spoken with previous Minister of Justice Ahmed Mekki and Minister of State for Legal Affairs and Parliamentary Councils Hatin Bigatu regarding this issue, both of whom agree with me.”
Although Gharyani said he had recently visited the country’s prisons, he qualified that “however we fear that we were not given a realistic depiction of what life is like inside of them, considering that we are high profile guests. We do not seek to point out every flaw found in the system, but only to protect and improve human rights, something we will discuss with the Ministry of Interior.”
He further asked that the NCHR be given five years as opposed to three to implement its five year plan, a period which can only be renewed once.
According to the country’s current constitution, this period may last only four years, he said, the same amount of time granted to acting presidents of the council, who will not be appointed by the executive branch in order to ensure the organisation’s independence.