Authorities in Egypt have shown no genuine will to acknowledge, let alone address, the country’s deep-rooted human rights crisis despite launching a National Human Rights Strategy one year ago. Instead, they have continued to stifle freedoms and commit crimes under international law in the lead up to the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27), said Amnesty International today.
In a new report “Disconnected from Reality”: Egypt’s National Human Rights Strategy covers up human rights crisis, Amnesty International presents a detailed analysis of the strategy in light of the human rights situation on the ground, revealing how authorities have used it as a propaganda tool to conceal ever growing repression of any form of dissent ahead of COP27 in November 2022.
“Egyptian authorities have created the National Human Rights Strategy as a shiny cover-up to their unrelenting violations of human rights, thinking they would fool the world ahead of COP27. But the grim reality of their notorious human rights record cannot be rebranded in a PR stunt,” said Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary General.
“The international community must not be deceived by Egypt’s attempts to conceal the magnitude of the human rights crisis in the country. It must instead put pressure on the Egyptian authorities in public and in private, to take meaningful steps to end the cycle of abuse and impunity, starting by releasing the thousands of critics and opponents arbitrarily detained in Egyptian jails, easing their grip of civil society and allowing peaceful protests.”
Amnesty International’s new report is based on extensive documentation of patterns of human rights violations committed in Egypt since President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi came to power, as well as information gathered since the launch of the National Human Rights Strategy (NHRS) from multiple sources, including victims, witnesses, human rights defenders and lawyers. The organization also reviewed official documents, audio-visual evidence, and reports by UN bodies among others. Findings and recommendations were shared with the Egyptian authorities on 7 September 2022.
A misleading picture
Since the launch of the NHRS, the Egyptian authorities have repeatedly referred to it in public and in private meetings with other governments as evidence of their commitment to human rights. The five-year strategy was drafted by the government without any consultation with independent human rights organizations or public engagement and presented a deeply misleading picture of the human rights crisis in Egypt. It absolves the authorities of any responsibility by blaming security threats, economic challenges and Egyptian citizens themselves for “failing to understand” and exercise their rights.
The strategy lauds the constitutional and legal framework, while ignoring the authorities’ introduction and application of a series of repressive laws that effectively criminalize or severely restrict the exercise of the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly. These laws further eroded guarantees of fair trial, and entrenched impunity for security and military forces.
The strategy also ignores the authorities’ dismal record since July 2013 of cracking down on dissent, with thousands still arbitrarily detained or unjustly prosecuted. In the past two years alone, dozens have died in prison following deliberate denial of healthcare and detention in cruel and inhuman conditions.
In recent months, in a positive but very limited step, dozens of prisoners of conscience and others held for political reasons have been released. However, the authorities continue to arbitrarily arrest scores of other critics and opponents, while many of those released are banned from travel.
Since 2013, authorities have also censored hundreds of websites, raided and closed independent media outlets and detained dozens of journalists for expressing critical views or simply doing their jobs.
The NHRS praises the State’s commitment to “the principles of equality and non-discrimination” and lists some initiatives by official bodies. Amnesty International has found that authorities continue to subject men, women and children to human rights violations on the basis of their sex, gender identity, sexual orientation and religious beliefs.
“No strategy will protect our right to freedom of expression or achieve peaceful coexistence of people unless it frees all the people who are imprisoned because of their opinion, because of ideas they expressed and because they had a different narrative than that imposed by the State,” said prominent human rights activist Mona Seif to Amnesty International. Her brother Alaa Abdelfattah has been arbitrarily imprisoned for the majority of Egyptian President Abel Fattah al-Sisi’s rule.
The NHRS overplays the government’s self-declared achievements on socio-economic rights that are in sharp contrast not only with the authorities’ failure to progressively realize these rights, but also with their unrelenting attacks on those expressing their socio-economic grievances, including workers, medical professionals and residents of informal settlements.
Overall, the NHRS also overstates constitutional and legal guarantees but fails to explain how these are not in line with Egypt’s international obligations or how they are widely flouted in practice. It completely overlooks patterns of ongoing or past human rights violations and ignores the role of security forces, prosecutors and judges, in committing or facilitating human rights violations.
Amnesty International welcomes some of the NHRS modest recommendations, presented as “target results”, including the review of crimes punishable by the death penalty and alternatives to pretrial detention as well as the introduction of comprehensive legislation to combat violence against women. However, overall its “target results” don’t begin to address the scale of the human rights and impunity crisis in the country. Meaningful advancement of human rights in Egypt must start with authorities releasing the thousands of people arbitrarily detained for peacefully exercising their human rights. All politically motivated criminal investigations against human rights defenders must be closed and all travel bans, asset freezes and other restrictions must be lifted. Criminal investigations into crimes under international law and other serious human rights violations committed by security forces must be initiated, with the view to bringing those responsible to justice. These include unlawful killings of hundreds of protestors and extrajudicial executions, torture, and enforced disappearances.
“President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi must acknowledge the depth of the human rights crisis, for which his government is responsible, and take concrete action to resolve it. Given the depth of the human rights and impunity crisis and lack of political will to reverse course, the international community must support efforts to establish a monitoring and reporting mechanism on the human rights situation in Egypt at the UN Human Rights Council,” said Agnès Callamard.
Egypt is set to host the UN Climate Change Conference, COP27 in Sharm El-Sheikh in November. Environmental and human rights groups have raised concerns about limiting protests to “designated areas” and the ability of the Egyptian civil society to meaningfully participate without fear of reprisals.