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Foreign minister champions human rights progress at UN rights council meeting
United Nations headquarters - Courtesy: Shutterstock
 

Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry promoted Egypt’s alleged human rights progress during a meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva. This followed an earlier meeting with representatives of American Jewish organizations at the Egyptian Embassy in Washington DC focusing on regional conflicts and Egypt-US relations.

Shoukry addressed the 34th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland on Wednesday. He claimed that the Egyptian state has made improvements in its track record on human rights and freedoms.

According to a statement published by the Foreign Ministry, Shoukry emphasized “Egypt’s commitment to promoting human rights and fundamental freedoms.” It recounts the minister’s claims that the amendment of the country’s Protest Law and presidential pardons issued for hundreds of young detainees are among recent improvements.

The statement adds that there has been a “noticeable improvement in the status of Egyptian women on political and social levels,” along with “a healthy climate for freedom of opinion” and increased press freedoms. It also claims that NGOs are “flourishing,” writing that there are currently “fifty thousand NGOs working for the development of Egyptian society in accordance with the law.”

Human rights organizations have contested this narrative, however. The past few years have seen the closure of hundreds of NGOs in Egypt, and the World Organization Against Torture issued a statement on Friday addressed to the visiting German Chancellor Angela Merkel, highlighting “the current clampdown on human rights and the silencing of the independent human rights movement,” adding that this violates safeguards stipulated in the 2014 Constitution, and international human rights conventions, to which Egypt is a state party.

The organization wrote that the “repression of civil society organizations, including prominent human rights defenders and media workers, has been accelerating dramatically since the end of 2016 with a slew of asset freezes and at least 17 travel bans.” The statement mentions the Egyptian state’s crackdown on a number of NGOs, including the Al-Nadeem Center for Rehabilitation of Torture Victims which was forcibly closed in February.

The statement also contradicted Shoukry’s claims about press freedoms, writing that “Egypt has become one of the biggest prisons for journalists in the world,” with 26 reporters currently behind bars. It also says that the new media law, introduced in December, grants more powers to the executive branch of the government, “thus diminishing the hope for independent media in the future.”

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists has also listed Egypt as the world’s second worst jailer of journalists in 2015, while the 2016 World Press Freedom index, compiled by the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF) ranked Egypt in 159th place out of 180 states.

In October 2016 Egypt was elected to one of the thirteen seats allocated to African states on the UN Human Rights Council. The term will expire in 2019.

In his Wednesday address to the council, Shoukry also claimed that “Egypt is on the path of democratization, despite mounting security challenges represented by the spread of the threat of terrorism in the region and worldwide.” The minister added that Egypt’s counter-terrorism efforts are pivotal for the realization of security and stability in the Middle East.

This mirrors statements he made on Tuesday during a meeting with representatives of American Jewish organizations in Washington D.C. It is not known which lobby groups the minister met with.

A brief statement issued by the Foreign Ministry following the meeting did not specifically mention Egypt-Israel relations, noting instead that Shoukry focused on efforts to “revitalize and strengthen America’s relations with Egypt” particularly in terms of economic, political and military cooperation, while increasing coordination on regional issues.

The discussion is said to have touched on conditions in Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen, and the effects of armed conflicts in these countries on the region’s security and stability.

This minister claimed that Egypt is attempting to push forth the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, so as to encourage both sides to resume negotiations for “a just settlement.”

In December 2016, Shoukry and Defense Minister Sedky Sobhy joined President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi for a meeting with the American Jewish Committee (AJC) in Cairo. Sisi has personally met with representatives of US-based Zionist organizations five times in the past 20 months. These closed-door meetings have reportedly focused on enhancing cooperation between America, Egypt and Israel.

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