Egypt's Human Rights Organizations Object to Egypt Joining U.N. Human Rights Council

In May 2007, Egypt was elected to the U.N. Human Rights Council as a representative of North African countries, for a three-year term.

Egyptian government circles presented this decision as an indication of Egypt's importance in the international arena, and as an acknowledgement of the weight Egypt assigns to protecting human rights. Egyptian Human rights organizations, on the other hand, appealed to the U.N. claiming that Egypt violates human rights on a regular basis and is therefore not eligible for membership in the Human Rights Council.

The following are excerpts from responses published in the media:

Egyptian Ambassador to the U.N.: The Vote Reflects the International Community's Faith in Egypt

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmad Abu Al-Gheit stated that Egypt's gaining membership in the U.N. Council is a new proof of Egypt's esteem and respect in the eyes of the international community. According to him, this achievement is a clear answer to all attempts to question political reform in Egypt and to denigrate the progress achieved by Egypt in the area of human rights. Al-Gheit added that, as a council member, Egypt will promote international legislation prohibiting insults to religions and will work to reinforce the humanitarian law and to protect civilians in armed conflicts. [1]

Egypt's Ambassador to the U.N. Magd Abd Al-Fatah also expressed satisfaction over Egypt's gaining membership in the U.N. Human Rights Council. He stated that it reflects international faith in Egypt and endorses its leadership in developing standards for human rights in Africa. He further assessed that "Egypt would act in cooperation with the other member countries in order to end the international community's policies of double standard, politization, and selective treatment in human rights issues." According to him, Egypt is against the imposition of international standards for human rights that are opposed to cultural and religious principles of the Arab societies." [2]


Criticism in Egypt: Egypt's Actions Contradict Human Rights Values

Even prior to Egypt's election to the council, 19 Egyptian human rights organizations issued an appeal to the U.N., calling upon it not to include Egypt in the council. [3] The message stated: "The organizations signed below express their puzzlement at Egypt's [decision] to submit its candidacy to the U.N. Human Rights Council. This [decision] is at odds with its real position on human rights, especially in light of its attacks, in recent years, on the constitutional and legislative provisions [safeguarding human rights in Egypt], and in light of its actions which violate the most basic principles of human rights.

"The organizations signed below call on the members of the U.N. General Assembly to honor the commitment they undertook upon the establishment of this assembly, and to consider the human rights history of candidate countries in the vote for the [Human Rights] Council. The organizations stress that the credibility and effectiveness of the council depends on the election of members that are committed to international human rights standards. The election of candidates known for their hostility towards human rights [issues]... can undermine the credibility of the U.N. Human Rights Council and hinder it in the fulfillment of its duty to improve the human rights situation, not only in our Arab region but in the entire world.

"The organizations wish to point out that the reports of [Egyptian], regional and international [human rights] organizations, as well as those of U.N. human rights committees, describe Egypt as one of the countries that display the greatest [degree of] contempt for human rights, since Egyptian history is replete with grave human rights violations, carried out on a large scale and over long periods of time. Furthermore, Egypt is designated in the world as 'Not Free' and as 'Lacking a Free Press'... Despite the Egyptian government's efforts, in the last few years, to improve its image in the eyes of the international community, reality is at odds with its [new] image, and the last few years have [even] seen further deterioration [in the human rights situation in Egypt]..."

The document brought a number of examples of human rights violations in Egypt. It stated that torture is a common practice in Egyptian detention facilities; the Egyptian security forces carry out arbitrary arrests, especially under the emergency law that has been in place since 1981; there are increasing threats to the independence of the judicial system, and civilians are sometimes tried in military courts; the authorities persecute NGOs and restrict their activities; cases of fraud and fabrications of election and public poll results continue; the freedom of peaceful demonstration and assembly is curtailed; and there are increasing restrictions on freedom of religion as well as growing religious discrimination.

The document also mentioned that the Egyptian authorities continue to punish citizens for expressing and publishing their opinions, as in the case of the Al-Jazeera producer who was arrested for producing a documentary exposing torture in Egypt, [4] and in the case of the Egyptian blogger Abdelkareem Suleiman, who was sentenced to four years in prison for "disparaging religions" and "insulting President Mubarak." [5] Egyptian courts have begun to review the cases of several newspaper editors charged with publishing materials harming the president. [6]

It was further claimed that the amendment to the Egyptian constitution passed in March 2007 allows the security apparatuses to violate the right to freedom and personal security, and also to violate the citizens' right to privacy by searching homes without a warrant, tapping phones and monitoring mail.

The organizations' appeal ends with the following: "The organizations signed below understand that most of the Arab countries [that are candidates for membership in the U.N. Human Rights Council], possibly excluding Morocco, Lebanon and Mauritania, are listed among the countries that disregard the international principles of human rights, and therefore it is difficult to identify the best candidate... among them based on objective criteria... We [nevertheless] feel that the nomination of Egypt would imply [that the U.N.] encourages the Egyptian government and other governments like it to [continue] their policies hostile to human rights.


Sa'd Al-Din Ibrahim: Egypt Does Not Merit Membership in the U.N. Human Rights Council

The chairman of the Ibn Khaldoun Center in Cairo, Sa'd Al-Din Ibrahim, stated that Egypt does not merit membership in the council since it is condemned in all the international classifications and reports. Ibrahim added: "Egypt's National Human Rights Council is nothing but a sham. Its reports are ineffectual, lacking in transparency and do not even remotely resemble the reputable reports of international human rights organizations." [7]

Director of the Arab Center for Independence of Judicial System and Attorney Nasser Amin stated in the Egyptian government weekly October: "Egypt is by no means eligible for membership in the [U.N.] Human Rights Council, for numerous reasons. The fact that there are countries among [the members] of the council that violate human rights does not mean that another such country can join the council, for this would mean granting immunity to countries violating human rights… If Egypt wants to join [the council], it must first take serious steps to improve the human rights situation in the country." [8]





Criticism Within Egypt of the Protest by Egyptian Human Rights Organizations

Criticism of the opposite nature was heard as well, i.e. dissatisfaction with Human Rights organizations' protest against Egypt's election to the U.N. Human Rights Council. Hafez Abu Sa'ada, Secretary General of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights and member of Egypt's National Council for Human Rights, denounced human rights organizations that had protested against Egypt's candidacy for membership in the Human Rights Council. Sa'ada expressed support for Egypt's joining this global association, saying that it would enable human rights activists to put pressure on the Egyptian government to fulfill its obligations with respect to human rights, to stop violating freedom of opinion and speech, and to revoke emergency laws restricting human rights. [9]

Sa'id Abd Al-Hafez, head of the Dialogue Forum for Development and Human Rights, stated: "I object to communiqués and petitions against Egypt's candidacy [to the U.N. Human Rights Council], since [such protest] is not a responsibility of human rights organizations and their activists. Their conflict is with the political regime, not with the state. Egypt's good name is far more important than all those controversies. We should have prepared recommendations to improve the human rights situation in Egypt and set them as conditions for the elements involved, to be implemented after Egypt's joining [the U.N. Council]..." [10]

Editor of the daily Al-Gumhouriyya Muhammad Ali Ibrahim wrote in his daily column: "Naturally, I felt happy at Egypt's election [to the U.N. Human Rights Council], for many reasons, primarily because those who have been making all the noise about human rights violations in Egypt... are biased and are trying to denigrate the regime and the state.

"Human rights activists, as they call themselves, are currently engaged in nothing but attempts to incite the world against Egypt, in maintaining contacts with other organizations all over the world, and in making unfounded accusations against the government, based on isolated and sporadic cases which they [however] depict as representative of the general human rights situation in Egypt.

"I believe that whoever objectively selected Egypt as a legitimate member of the U.N. Human Rights Council did so after examining and evaluating numerous factors, such as the size of the opposition in the Parliament and political representation of all political elements - including the [Muslim] Brotherhood, in spite of its hostility towards the government and the state...

"I cannot understand why Egyptian human rights activists are so determined to defame their country overseas. Are they expected to fulfill a [certain] function against the government? Is American money aimed at strengthening democracy in the Arab world channeled towards these organizations so that they write their dubious reports and play their disgraceful roles?..." [11]

Karem Gaber, columnist for the Egyptian weekly Roz Al-Yousef and chairman of its Board of Directors, wrote: "Egypt's gaining membership in the U.N. Human Rights Council is a resounding slap in the face of the 19 Egyptian [human rights] organizations that signed the communiqué calling upon the U.N. not to accept their country to this highly respectable body...

"Why did these 19 Egyptian [human rights] organizations decide to dampen the joy over this great national event, when they knew full well that their attempts were doomed to failure [in advance], and that the only thing they would accomplish is a [media] uproar and the defamation of [Egypt's] good name? It is possible that [their conduct] stemmed from their desire to prove their loyalty to, and association with, the countries that fund them, demand [critical] reports [about Egypt], and dictate their agenda? Or perhaps they would have felt embarrassed not to take this step, after having led [such] protracted campaigns of attack and criticism against the Egyptian government. That is to say, [perhaps] their silence would have aroused doubts as to the reports they write and send overseas.

"What are the supporting arguments that those 19 organizations presented to the U.N. In other words, why did they want to prevent Egypt from gaining membership in the U.N. International Council for Human Rights? What facts are found in the communiqué [sent to the U.N.]? [Let us examine them:]

"1. Torture in jails... - This fiction raises the question of whether the Egyptian authorities keep silent in the face of the isolated cases that [occasionally] occur, or whether they, of their own initiative, put the perpetrators on trial. [The answer is] that the Interior Ministry itself has tried a large number of officers accused [of these offenses]…

"2. Civilians tried in military court... - The response to this fiction is that this is done in accordance with the law and the constitution, and is resorted to only in the case of extremist and terrorist movements. Most countries in the world today use this option when they are forced to deal with a threat to their security or stability.

"3. Persecution of NGOs... - The response to this [claim] is that, if the government does [indeed] interfere in this fashion, why did it not intervene against the 19 organizations that incited the U.N. against Egypt? Why does it remain silent about the fabrications, complaints and lies presented in the reports of these organizations, which identify with whoever gives them money, and with extremist and terrorist streams? Why does it allow them to receive support and assistance from overseas, asking no questions about their funding sources?

"4. The imprisonment of an Egyptian Al-Jazeera journalist... - The response to this [claim] is that this journalist staged a rape of a veiled woman at a police station, at a time when the entire country was preoccupied with [Egyptian Culture Minister] Farouq Hosni's statements about the veil. [12] The Al-Jazeera journalist, full of hatred and resentment towards Egypt, decided to pour oil on the fire by recruiting extras [to impersonate] officers raping veiled women at detention facilities..." [13]

[1] Al-Akhbar (Egypt), May 18, 2007.

[2] Al-Ahram (Egypt), May 19, 2007.

[3] May 14, 2007.

[4] The producer, Howayda Taha, was fined and sentenced to six months' imprisonment for producing a documentary which showed the torture of civilians in what appeared to be Egyptian police facilities. Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), May 3, 2007.

[5] For further details, see MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 1504, "Arrest of Reformist Blogger Sparks Criticism in Egyptian Press," March 16, 2007, ; MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 1382, "Egyptian Blogger Abdelkareem Suleiman Arrested for Criticizing Al-Azhar Sheikhs: 'You Will End up in the Dustbin of History,'" December 7, 2007,

[6] Among the editors are Ibrahim Issa, editor of the Egyptian opposition paper Al-Dustour; Wael Al-Abrashi, editor of the opposition paper Sawt Al-Umma; Abd Al-Hakim Al-Shami, editor of Aafaq Arabiyya; and the editor of the opposition paper Al-Karama, Abd Al-Halim Qandil.

[7] October (Egypt), May 20, 2007.

[8] October (Egypt), May 20, 2007.

[9] October (Egypt), May 20, 2007.

[10] October (Egypt), May 20, 2007.

[11] Al-Gumhouriyya (Egypt), May 19, 2007.

[12] In November 2006, Hosni said that the veil signified cultural regression and backwardness. Al-Gumhouriyya, (Egypt), November 18, 2006.

[13] Roz Al-Yousef (Egypt), May 19, 2007.

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