Liberties forum blasts govt rights report

The Forum for Independent Human Rights Organizations met Monday with diplomats from 15 countries to discuss the state of human rights in Egypt. The meeting, which took place at the Cairo Center for Human Rights Studies (CCHRS), comes in advance of a scheduled meeting of United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) member states on 17 February in Geneva, where participants will discuss a report on human rights recently issued by the Egyptian government.  

Monday’s meeting was attended by diplomats from Spain, Denmark, Argentina, Germany, Austria, the US, Italy, Ireland, Britain, Poland, Bolivia, Finland, Malta, Canada and the Netherlands.

According to CCHRS Director Baheiddin Hassan, the forum invited the head of the Foreign Ministry’s human rights department and the minister of state for legal affairs–both of whom who are mandated with following up on rights issues–to attend the event. However, said Hassan, neither official accepted the invitation.

In a Monday statement, the forum–which brings together 16 local and international human rights organizations–said that the government report had failed to broach the real causes of the deterioration of human rights in Egypt. In the past, rights watchdogs have documented numerous human rights violations by the Egyptian government.

In its statement, the forum accused the government report of justifying and apologizing for human rights abuses in Egypt.

The government report makes numerous references to terrorism, the impact of the global economic crisis and the absence of a culture of human rights awareness. According to critics, however, the report ignores the existence of legislation, policies and practices that have ultimately given rise to rights violations.

The forum went on to state that the perpetrators of human rights abuses in Egypt often escape punishment, highlighting the continued use of Egypt’s longstanding emergency law to inhibit the implementation of constitutional articles guaranteeing public rights and freedoms.  

The ongoing state of emergency, the statement continued, had served to expand the role of security forces in public life, allowing them to dominate political, civil, educational, religious and media affairs. Incidents of torture and the "excessive use of power" were on the rise, the statement added, whether it be used to track down suspects, suppress peaceful assemblies, deal with illegal immigrants or implement judicial rulings.

The statement went on to note that authorities insisted on passing legislation that either incriminates or restricts the right to independent organization–be it political, partisan, civil or syndicalistic–and on legal restrictions curtailing the right to free expression and peaceful assembly. A number of such bills and legal amendments are currently awaiting approval by parliament, the statement added, which is dominated by the ruling party.

The statement went on to emphasize that human rights conditions have deteriorated as the regime has increasingly resorted to exploiting religion to serve political ends in an attempt to offset its declining political legitimacy. The regime, the statement noted, has maintained laws, policies and practices that serve to entrench religious discrimination, especially against Christians and Baha’is.

Security bodies crack down on people based on their religious beliefs–even Muslims that embrace ideas at variance with the official interpretation of the teachings of Islam, the statement added. Official policies serve to reinforce religious bias, of which rising numbers of violent sectarian incidents are an indication, according to the statement.

While the government report boasts about recent amendments made to 34 articles of the national constitution, it neglects to mention the fact that these amendments have served to undermine electoral oversight by the judiciary, the statement noted. On the pretext of combating terrorism, these amendments legitimize the violation and suspension of constitutional guarantees intended to safeguard personal freedoms and security, the statement said.

Amended Article 179 of the constitution, for example, stipulates that laws against terrorism will be "balanced." This stipulation, however, is pointless, the statement pointed out, because the same article paves the way for integrating the far-reaching powers of security bodies into permanent anti-terrorism legislation expected to replace the "temporary" state of emergency.

The apologetic tone of the government report, which sidesteps the most serious rights issues, affirms the lack of political will on the part of the government to improve the overall state of human rights in Egypt, the statement concluded.

Translated from the Arabic Edition.

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