By Zeinab Gad
During the United Nations (UN) 28th session of the Human Rights Council, Egypt contested the allegation made by UN High Commissioner on Human Rights Zeid Raad Al-Hussein on its human rights conditions.
The session, held Thursday, included an international array of speakers presenting 53 countries. The Egyptian attendees included human rights activists and officials.
High Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein addressed countries of concern in the context of a shrinking democratic space, including Egypt.
“In Egypt there has been a surge in arrests for protesting without a legal permit, and trials of dozens of political and human rights activists,” he said.
He added that judges have on several occasions sentenced over 100 people at a time to death or life imprisonment, in processes that “may violate the right to fair trial”.
According to Al-Hussien, Egypt clearly faces the threat of violent extremism, particularly in Sinai, where dozens of Egyptian soldiers and civilians have been killed. But restriction of people’s right to freedom of expression and association is “deeply worrisome, and it is likely to prove counter-productive”.
Furthermore, he said: “Participation in peaceful protest, or criticism of the Government, should not be grounds for detention or prosecution.”
He also spoke of various points of concern, including the rise of “Islamic State” in Iraq, Syria and recently Libya, the brutality of Boko Haram in Nigeria, public freedom and freedom of speech in Western Europe and North America, Ebola, and illegal migration.
Al-Hussein’s statements on Egypt sparked negative reactions from the Egyptian officials’ side. In the interactive dialog, Eman Oriby, a director from the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS), expressed Egypt’s disappointment on hearing what the high commissioner said on the justice system in Egypt.
She said that Al-Hussein “had no experience in justice and his office was not equipped to take a position on that issue and relied on statements by non-governmental organisations”.
She also described these allegations to be “inaccurate, and that no one could be arrested without a warrant by the Prosecutor [General]”. When given the right to reply, Egypt said that no one in Egypt was imprisoned for anything other than committing “criminal offences under the law”.
In January, Egypt was also slammed for its human rights situation by Turkey in the Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review in Gevena. In a similar UN review of Egypt’s human rights status in November, Turkey, among other countries, criticised Egypt’s protest law, the crackdown on Morsi supporters, and suggested the amendment of the law regulating NGOs.