Egypt has accepted the majority of the United Nations’ (UN) recommendations to improve its human rights record, Ambassador Amr Ramadan announced on Friday. But rights groups say conditions on the ground may actually be worsening.
A staggering 300 recommendations were issued during Egypt’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) at the UN headquarters in Geneva last November, of which Egypt has pledged to accept 243, or 81 percent. Ramadan, Egypt’s UN representative, said this number demonstrates Egypt’s “great openness and complete seriousness” to ameliorate its record.
Every four years, UN member states are given the opportunity to outline the actions they have taken to protect human rights in their nations. Rights groups in the country under review are allowed to submit reports and opinions to be discussed during the session, which are considered alongside a report authored by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
During its UPR last year, Egypt was put in the hot seat when its recent spate of human rights violations was brought into question.
The other UN member states said they had serious concerns regarding what they described as a brutal crackdown on peaceful protests, as well as the repression of civil society and human rights organizations. They also criticized Egypt for consistently failing to respect the freedom of expression and the press, for restricting political plurality, and for committing acts of torture and levying mass death sentences against the opposition. Egypt was also failing to protect the rights of women and the LGBT community, as well as other basic social and economic rights, they said.
Egypt has accepted the recommendations that align with its 2014 Constitution, the Penal Code and the international human rights declarations and treaties to which it is a signatory, Ramadan explained. Egypt also declared its commitment to review legislation that pertains to citizens’ rights, he said.
However, the state rejected certain recommendations that it claims violate the Penal Code and the Constitution, Ramadan said. He pointed in particular to Articles 2 and 16 of the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women.
Article 2 of the convention stipulates full equality between men and women, and prohibits discrimination against women in any forms. Article 16 mandates taking all necessary measures to eliminate discrimination against women in matters relating to marriage and family relations. Egypt says that it can’t implement recommendations that violate the principles of Sharia.
“Rejecting some of the recommendations, which happened in a very limited manner, may be due to their contradiction of the Constitution — for example, the Constitution’s stipulation that Sharia is the main source of legislation,” Ramadan clarified.
That line of thinking was echoed in the recent Foreign Affairs Ministry statement responding to the European Union Parliament’s condemnation of human rights abuses perpetrated under Egypt’s new government. The statement firmly refuted the EU’s pleas to protect LGBT rights and end capital punishment, and chastised the EU for bringing up “issues in a manner that does not suit Egypt’s cultural, religious and social specificity, which further angers the Egyptian public due to the EU’s insistence on imposing values that are far from the values of Egyptian society.”
Certain recommendations were also rejected because they contradicted the rights granted to sovereign states under various international covenants and agreements, such as the right to preserve capital punishment, Ramadan added.
But the government did accept all recommendations pertaining to the international human rights covenants that Egypt has signed, the review of legislation concerning non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and the drafting of a new law on the right of association, Ramadan said. He added that Egypt has renewed its commitment to review laws related to peaceful protest and the right of assembly, freedom of expression, freedom of religion and discrimination.
Hafez Abou Seada, head of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, told the UN Human Rights Council that its recommendations should function as a national plan that would be implemented with the participation of civil society organizations.
Legislative reform should be the state’s top priority, he added, with the contentious Protest Law, NGO Law and a bill on torture topping that list.
Leading a delegation of nine other human rights organizations, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) declared that the UPR’s success could only be measured by the improvement of human rights conditions on the ground. But despite the UN’s 38 recommendations on the right to peaceful assembly and protest, violations of those freedoms continue to worsen, the group claimed.
Furthermore, attacks on NGOs continue unabated, CIHRS said, adding that the “Egyptian government’s ability to combat terrorism will not be realized unless its citizens and civil society enjoy the full array of rights. It is rights and representation that hold the key to stability and prosperity in Egypt, not the current model of brutality and repression.”