CAIRO: Egypt’s United Nations Geneva representative Walid Abdel Nasser said Egypt was “convinced that there should be positive communication” with the U.N. Human Rights Council (HRC)” in a statement given during the 25th HRC session Tuesday.
On March 7, 27 U.N. members released a joint statement to the HRC, echoing the recent meetings of representatives from the U.N. with Egyptian human rights organizations.
As had been proposed by Egyptian human rights organizations, the statement encouraged Egypt to open a regional HRC office in Cairo.
According to a February statement by the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), Egyptian authorities have justified ongoing security crackdowns since the ouster of former President Mohamed Morsi as “counter-terrorism efforts,” but because such efforts “include every dissident” and have been “futile,” critical voices started to spread in Egypt.
The joint statement of the U.N. countries, which include the U.S., the U.K., Germany and France, condemned terrorism in Sinai and elsewhere, but also said “security forces have a duty to respect the right to peaceful assembly and should operate in line with the State’s international human rights obligations and commitments relevant to the use of force, even when faced with persistent security challenges.”
The 27 countries welcomed the fact-finding committee formed by a presidential decree, however, the recent preliminary report released by the committee on March 5 was widely criticized by Egyptian activists on social networking websites.
The pro-Muslim Brotherhood National Alliance to Support Legitimacy released a statement On March 5 denouncing the report, saying the report “lacks professionalism and objectivity and abandoned the general principles of human rights.”
The fact-finding committee, made up of members of the state-affiliated National Council for Human Rights, was even criticized by Hafez Abu Seada, one of its own members.
“The council’s report about the dispersal of the Rabaa sit-in was extremely strange, and many of the council’s members rejected it because it was inaccurate and did not document anything,” Seada told Al-Ahram newspaper’s Arabic website on March 7.
The statement issued by the U.N. countries said there was a need for accountability and urged Egypt to make public two previous fact-finding committee reports, one made under the Supreme Council of Armed forces in 2011 and one under Morsi’s rule in 2012.
The U.N. countries urged Egypt to enhance accountability and called for timely trials.
Three years after the killing of over 800 protesters during the January 25 Revolution, in trials held under SCAF, Morsi and the current interim government, only two low-level officers are serving prison sentences for killing protesters, according to the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights.
The HRC statement also referred to the need to respect media freedom and the right to peaceful assembly.
20 journalists and activists are currently being tried for belonging to a “terrorist” group and spreading false information about Egypt. The defendants include three Al-Jazeera journalists; Peter Greste, Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed, who were arrested on Dec. 29.
Thousands of protesters have been detained since the ouster of Morsi, including hundreds of university students. Twelve Al-Azhar University students were sentenced to 17 years in prison in November, and 19 others were sentenced to five years in February. The students are charged with “rioting” and “assaulting police officers,” among a number of other charges.
Nasser, in his statement to HRC, said Egypt is determined to protect human rights in light of the “rule of law and the independence of the judiciary.”
In a February statement, CIHRS and a number of human rights organizations accused Homeland Security of controlling the prosecution and the judiciary.
“Judges sometimes issue sentences that aim to ‘deter,’ which is not their job … not to mention that some prosecution reports do not even lay out a strong case,” Taher Abou el-Nasr, a lawyer at the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, told The Cairo Post in February while commenting on the sentencing of protesting students.
Nasser cited Egypt’s constitution as an unprecedented charter on human rights, which the joint statement of the U.N. countries took positive note of; but also called on Egypt to only try civilians in civil, not military, courts.