Protest law and freedom of expression in Egypt highlighted at UN rights session
UN Human Rights Council - Photo courtesy of therepublicsquare

CAIRO: A moratorium on the death penalty, review of the 2013 Protest Law, protecting freedom of expression and amending the definition of torture were among the top recommendations by member states of the United Nations Human Rights Council to Egypt during Wednesday’s session.

The session hosted Egypt’s second Universal Periodic Review of human rights, which discussed the human rights situation in the four years since the nation’s first review in 2010, and how it had acted on recommendations since then.

The second UPR session for Egypt comes to review a period full of major political shifts in the history of the country, which has regularly pledged to respect freedoms and rights of the people through its new transition.

During a three-hour session, Egypt had received a number of recommendations and questions regarding its human rights status, to which it responded by the end of the session and said they will be “carefully studied.”

Egypt takes the floor

Egyptian Minister of Transitional Justice Ibrahim el-Henedy delivered Egypt’s opening statement, and said his country “surpassed the 2010 recommendations” despite “depressing” political circumstances.

Henedy listed national programs aiming to decrease poverty, install housing and promote women’s representation and children’s protection.

The Egyptian delegation claimed its 2014 constitution was a “victory” for human rights and freedoms, and a number of other countries commended Egypt for progress on its 2013 roadmap.

Saudi Arabia praised Egypt’s human rights record, and said the kingdom would remain “side by side” with Egypt in its fight for democracy and human rights. Also, the Russian delegation praised Egypt’s efforts in the rights arena and recommended continuity in fighting terrorism and extremism.

A number of Western countries, however, drew attention to a controversial 2013 protest law, which criminalizes any political gathering without official permission by security authorities. Since the law went into force, many activists and students have been jailed for violating it, and activist Sanaa Seif, 20, was recently sentenced to three years in prison for violating the law.

Turkey and the United States referenced the protest law, and the later called for the release of political detainees and ensure fair trials. A number of European countries such as Spain and Sweden also called for a moratorium on the death penalty.

The United Kingdom delegation said it was “deeply concerned” by number of detainees in pretrial detention and restrictions on freedoms of assembly.

Austria also expressed concern about what it called “excessive use of force,” and was the first country to mention the August 2013 dispersal of Rabaa al-Adaweya sit-in. Government sources say that approximately 650 persons died in the dispersal, but a number of international organizations have estimated the number is above 1,000.

Norway called for the immediate release of detained journalists and right defenders, and also called for freedom of assembly.

The Egyptian delegation took the floor again to defend its use of the death penalty, noting that 50 countries still retain the practice, and adding that those sentenced to death have the right to multiple appeals. It also said that it was “examining” the possibility of amending the protest law.

Mervet el-Tallawy, the head of the National Council for Women, and a member of Egyptian delegation, said that there were many achievements in women’s rights in Egypt, adding there was a “political will” to stop harassment. However, Tallawy said that “status of women is not satisfactory,” and she referred to negative impact she said was left by the Muslim Brotherhood, which was ousted from power in July 2013.

The delegation also said that there were no detainees in Egyptian jails without legitimate warrants, and denied the judiciary was politicized.

Seven Egyptian organizations announced this week they would not participate in the session, despite having submitted their reports to the U.N. according to a Tuesday release.

The announcement coincides with a registration law for NGOs, under which they may be closed if they fail to register by Nov. 10. The law has been widely criticized and considered an attempt by the government to expand its authority to contain the independent organizations.

During the 2010 UPR session, Egypt accepted 119 recommendations out of 165, and partially agreed to 25 others. In the national report, the government said it implemented a total 112 recommendations and is studying 14 others.

Next March 2015, Egypt will officially respond to the comments and announce which recommendations it agreed to implement and which ones it rejected.

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