(Photo by PHILIP DAVALI/Ritzau Scanpix/AFP via Getty Images)

Egypt: Lift restrictions on civic space to ensure a successful COP27

Egypt’s abysmal record of cracking down on peaceful dissent and civic space must not be allowed to undermine the success of the UN Climate Change Conference, COP27, due to start in under six months in Egypt, Amnesty International said today.

In a detailed analysis issued today, the organization stresses that the spotlight on Egypt as it prepares to host the COP27 should be used as an opportunity to press for meaningful progress on human rights in the country. Amnesty International calls on governments participating in COP27 to press the Egyptian authorities to ensure the safe, effective and meaningful participation of Egyptian and non-Egyptian civil society actors.

“COP27 is a key moment for addressing the climate emergency – a human rights crisis of unprecedented proportions. Given Egypt’s record of stifling critical voices and cracking down on independent organizations, there are growing concerns that civil society actors will be unable to engage freely with each other and conference participants such as government and corporate representatives to debate crucial issues for the future of the planet,” said Philip Luther, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Research and Advocacy Director.

“The Egyptian authorities must not be allowed to use the COP27 as a rebranding exercise to deflect criticism of their human rights record. Instead, UN member states and international bodies and organizations participating in the event should press them in private and in public to guarantee the meaningful participation of Egyptian and international civil society. That requires the authorities to ease their iron grip on civic space, to instruct security forces to allow peaceful protests to take place, refraining from any arrests or other reprisals against those exercising their human rights or on the basis of discrimination, and to release all those arbitrarily detained on such grounds.”

The annual UN Climate Change Conference (COP27), scheduled to take place in the Egyptian resort town of Sharm El-Sheikh between 7 and 18 November 2022, represents an important moment for states to show evidence they are implementing the pledges made under the Paris Agreement and at COP26, and to adopt further decisions to rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions in a manner consistent with human rights. At COP27, states must take bold measures on emission reductions, climate finance, loss and damage, Action for Climate Empowerment (ACE), and guarantee meaningful public participation to meet their human rights obligations and to protect the human rights of all, now and in the future.

COP27 is a key moment for addressing the climate emergency – a human rights crisis of unprecedented proportions.

Philip Luther, Amnesty International

Civil society participation

The hosting by an African country is expected to provide more visibility to the priority demands of African civil society and states. Yet during previous events hosted by Egypt including of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, some African activists raised concerns about being denied visas, while others said they were harassed by security forces and denied entry badges.

Egyptian independent human rights activists and civil society representatives have also raised concerns about their inability to safely engage with the COP27 and express their views, fearing reprisals. Such fears are justified given how Egyptian human rights defenders have been subjected to arbitrary detentionsummons for coercive questioning, threats of closing independent human rights organizations, travel bans, asset freezes and other draconian tactics to shut down civic work. Authorities have warned independent NGOs to register under the draconian 2019 NGO law or face closure by next year.

“To ensure the engagement of a wide range of actors at COP27, Egyptian authorities must immediately cease their persecution of independent NGOs in Egypt. They should start by closing all politically motivated criminal investigations against NGOs, lifting travel bans and other restrictive measures on staff members and bringing national legislation into line with their international obligations on the right to freedom of association,” said Philip Luther.

COP27 to take place against the backdrop of a repressive climate

While Egypt is preparing to host COP27, thousands of individuals, among them human rights defenders, journalists, peaceful protesters, lawyers, opposition politicians and activists continue to languish in Egyptian jails in conditions that violate the absolute prohibition of torture and other ill-treatment, solely for exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association or peaceful assembly, without legal basis or following grossly unfair trials.

The Egyptian authorities must not be allowed to use the COP27 as a rebranding exercise to deflect criticism of their human rights record.

Philip Luther

Street protests have been an integral part of previous UN climate conferences, but this year they are at risk, given the Egyptian authorities’ zero-tolerance approach to peaceful protest over the past eight years, using unlawful force, thousands of arrests, criminal prosecutions including on terrorism-related charges and heavy sentences against peaceful protesters has successfully eradicated protests in Egypt.

There are also concerns around the safety of all participants at COP27, given the Egyptian authorities’ appalling track record in failing to protect women and LGBTI people from discrimination and gender-based violence as well as prosecuting them on bogus “indecency”, “morality” or “debauchery” charges, simply for the way they dress, talk and express themselves on social media or for sexual relations between consenting adults.

Background

The Conference of the Parties (COP) is the governing body of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), representing all states that are Parties to the Convention. It advances the implementation of the Convention and of any other legal instruments that the COP adopts. With the exception of 2020 when the meeting was cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the COP meets every year. Hosting countries for each COP are selected through a regional rotation system, with the 27th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP27) scheduled to take place in Egypt. Environmental and human rights groups have raised the issues of accessibility and affordability, as the rising cost of accommodation at Sharm El-Sheikh hotels is expected to impede participation from grassroots groups and activists, particularly from the global south.  

At COP27, states are due to deliver on critical pledges made at COP26, such as enhancing their emission reduction targets, and phasing out fossil fuel subsidies and coal. As part of the “Glasgow dialogue on loss and damage”, they are also expected to agree on modalities for providing additional funding to developing countries facing loss and damage due to the climate crisis.

Amnesty International’s key demands to states ahead of COP27 are available here.