Egypt is hosting an Africa human rights summit meeting beginning April 24, 2019, while its government is presiding over the worst human rights crisis in the country in recent decades, 11 African, Egyptian, and international organizations said today.
The 64th Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), the African Union’s top rights body, will take place from April 24 to May 14 in Sharm al-Sheikh. In addition to its systematic failure to respect and protect human rights at home, Egypt has also led efforts to undermine the commission’s independence. The commission should strongly raise Egypt’s human rights abuses at the meeting.
“Egypt is trying to appear like a country open for human rights delegates and summits while, at the same time, crushing all dissenting voices and its once-vibrant human rights community,” said Michael page, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “We know that many Egyptian and international organizations are not allowed to work freely in Egypt and cannot voice concerns without severe retaliation from the government.”
The commission should ensure that all government and nongovernment delegations are able to participate freely in the summit. It should also make clear that it will strongly address any measures of reprisals by the Egyptian authorities against criticism of its practices.
A senior staff member of a leading Egyptian rights organization told Human Rights Watch that only three Egyptian human rights groups were considering participating in the summit because most of the groups were concerned about retaliation by the government.
In recent years, the Egyptian authorities have relentlessly cracked down on nongovernmental organizations, issued the 2017 draconian law that effectively bans all independent work by nongovernmental groups, and prosecuted scores of staff workers of Egyptian organizations. It has also frozen the assets of the most prominent human rights defenders in the country and their organizations and issued travel bans against scores of them. In April 2018, the government said it would repeal the abusive 2017 NGO law but the government has not made a new draft law public.
The Egyptian authorities have also taken reprisals against human rights defenders and activists for cooperating with regional and international human rights monitors, including United Nations agencies and experts. In late 2018, Egyptian authorities detained several citizens who met with the UN special rapporteur on adequate housing during her official mission to Egypt, as well as demolishing their houses and banning their travel. The government denied any wrongdoing and accused the UN High commissioner on human rights and other UN officials of breaching UN standards and adopting the “lies” of “terrorist” organizations.
In September 2017, officials stopped Ibrahim Metwally, a lawyer and co-founder of the Associations of the Families of the Disappeared, from traveling for meetings with UN officials in Geneva. Security agencies arrested him at the airport and held him incommunicado for a few days. He is still held in “pretrial detention” for farcical charges.
The Egyptian government has tried to undermine the independence of the commission through spearheading the adoption of African Union’s Executive Council’s Decision 1015, paragraph 5. The provision, which was passed in June 2018, undermines the commission’s independence by subjecting its work to control by the African Union member countries.
The Egyptian government has ignored decisions and resolutions the commission and its experts have made addressing several violations and abuses including the crackdown on civil society, restrictions on freedom of religion, unfair trials and mass death sentences, arbitrary arrests, and sexual violence.
The ACHPR session comes at a time when the Egyptian authorities have been severely oppressing dissent and obliterating any space for peaceful expression or gathering before the public vote held between April 19-22 on highly draconian constitutional amendments that will strengthen the military control of public and political life and further undermine the already weak judicial independence.
Egyptian human rights organization have documented the arrests of over 160 people, often in mass arrests, since February in relation to the ongoing crackdown on dissidents and perceived critics. These amendments, and several other laws that President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has approved in recent years, such as new media laws and laws to expand the use of military courts to try civilians, violate international law standards including the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
Since al-Sisi secured a second term in elections that were largely neither free nor fair in March 2018, his security forces have escalated a campaign of intimidation, violence, and arbitrary arrests against political opponents, activists, and many others who have voiced even mild criticism of the government. The Egyptian government and state media have framed this repression under the guise of combating terrorism, and al-Sisi has increasingly invoked terrorism and the country’s state of emergency law to silence peaceful activists.
In July 2013, the African Union Peace and Security Council suspended Egypt’s membership in all African Union activities following the forcible removal of former President Mohamed Morsy by the army, which was led by al-Sisi, then the defense minister. The suspension ended after al-Sisi was elected President in June 2014.
But Egypt has failed to effectively investigate or to hold any official or member of the security forces accountable for the mass killings of protesters in the summer of 2013 despite several national and international calls, including by the ACHPR, and despite incriminating evidence. In August 2013, Egyptian security forces most likely at least 817 people in a few hours during its violent dispersal of the largely peaceful pro-Morsy sit-in in Cairo’s Raba’ Square. The killings likely amounted to crimes against humanity.
“Through such summits, Egypt is trying to whitewash its dire record of abuses,” George Kegoro, executive director of Kenya Human Rights Commission said. “The African human rights commission should take the opportunity of this meeting to vigorously engage the Egypt government on its own actions that threaten the rights, and the very lives, of many Egyptians.”
The co-signing organizations are:
Andalus Institute for Tolerance and Anti-Violence Studies
Belady Center for Rights and Freedoms
Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
Committee for Justice|
Egyptian Front for Human Rights
Human Rights Watch
Kenya Human Rights Commission
The Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms
The Freedom Initiative
The International Commission of Jurists
Egypt: International organizations urged to monitor constitutional referendum amid repressive climate
Joint Press Statement
The undersigned rights organizations call on international organizations to monitor the upcoming referendum to amend the Egyptian constitution; if approved, the amendments will grant unilateral authority to President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi by expanding presidential term limits together with eliminating judicial independence[J1] [Office2] . In its campaign to ensure the amendments’ passage in the referendum scheduled for April 19-22, the Egyptian state has trampled upon all guarantees of a free, impartial referendum; completely denying citizens their right to peacefully express any objection to the amendments, whether in the context of governmental or state-sanctioned channels, the media, or the public sphere.
Not only did the Egyptian state harness its repressive arsenal to silence any voices critical of the proposed constitutional changes, but it also sped along the process to such an extent that public debate was not even feasible: it took less than three months since the amendments’ proposal on February 3rd for them to be sent to referendum. Even though the final amendments were not made public, the parliament approved the articles yesterday, and the referendum will be held on Friday. The uncanny haste in which the amendments’ are being pushed through, together with the suppression of their content, is indicative of the state’s desire to finish the process so quickly that Egyptians will be denied any opportunity to discuss or even know how the amendments will impact their lives.
The signatories urge international organizations to evaluate the national milieu in which the amendments were proposed; a climate characterized by threats of imprisonment and prosecution against persons peacefully expressing opposition to the amendments; the media silencing of any discussion about the amendment’s details alongside smear campaigns and accusations of treason against dissident voices; and the curtailing of any role for Egyptian independent civil society in monitoring the referendum.
The Egyptian state’s severe overreach in its campaign to guarantee the amendments’ passage is illustrated by its elimination of official, state-sanctioned channels to express peaceful opposition. Members of parliament and other public figures were threatened and intimidated, or arrested and prosecuted for expressing independent or dissident opinions about the amendments through ostensibly government-approved channels. As soon as the formation of the Federation to Defend the Constitution was announced as an open, democratic framework to protect the constitution through peaceful means, the state security apparatus acted to break up the federation and intimidate its members.
Security forces stormed the home of former Member of Parliament Mohamed Mohi el-Din, a founder of the Federation and a former constituent assembly member, on February 22, 2019. After appearing before the prosecution without his lawyer, Mohi el-Din remains in custody on charges of “forming a group in violation of the law…to obstruct the operation of state institutions and the enforcement of the constitution and law,” under case no. 277 of 2019. That same day, security forces arrested four members of the Dostour Party, part of the Federation to Defend the Constitution, from their homes in connection with the same case.
Like the Federation to Defend the Constitution, the Democratic Civil Movement pursued legally sanctioned methods to register its opposition to the constitutional amendments. It filed an application to hold a peaceful demonstration in late March to oppose the amendments, in line with the conditions set forth in Law 107 of 2013 on demonstrations. Although demonstrations and rallies in support of the amendments proceeded and continue to proceed without permits and with the blessing of the competent court, the Movement’s application was denied on the grounds of unsuitable security conditions. Those who filed the application or were calling for the demonstrations —among them former presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabahi, media figure Ibrahim Eissa, and businessman Naguib Sawiris—were threatened with imprisonment by the security establishment.
The intimidation, arrests, and prosecution of Egyptian citizens using state-sanctioned channels for expressing peaceful opposition to the amendments is accompanied by a media silencing of any dialogue about the amendments’ details, with independent or oppositional perspectives essentially eliminated from media discourse. Opponents of the amendments have been branded as traitors and numerous official complaints have been filed against them, accusing them of spreading false news, high treason, and inciting against and defaming the Egyptian state.
The media’s alignment with the state in smothering any semblance of opposition to the constitutional amendments should not be surprising, given that state’s tightening stranglehold over virtually all media outlets in Egypt. The security apparatus has extended its control over most television channels and newspapers, either by purchasing them outright or acquiring control of their administrative and financial structures. Concurrently, state has blocked 500 websites, and routinely intimidates and threatens media figures, journalists, and others expressing independent or oppositional voices.
Not only is Egypt lacking any independent media context in which an open, free dialogue about the upcoming constitutional referendum could occur, it is also lacking an adequate public sphere where such a process can be implemented with fairness and partiality. Repressive legislation has eliminated citizens’ right to peacefully protest while the ability to express opposition through political channels has been eliminated by the targeted arrests of political party and movement leaders, and the placing of party leadership on terrorist lists. Independent civil society organizations, which could potentially monitor the referendum process, have been exceptionally crippled by draconian legislation and state prosecution. 
In sum, the current national climate in Egypt is devoid of any space in which a constitutional referendum can occur with even minimal guarantees of partiality and fairness. The undersigned organizations condemn all repressive, unjust measures taken against those who oppose the amendments or call for a boycott of the referendum while reaffirming their call to international organizations to monitor the constitutional referendum process, which is set to eliminate arguably the last remaining gain of Egypt’s 2011 revolution, the enshrining of presidential term limits into the constitution. [J3]
- Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
- Egyptian Front For Human Rights
- Committee for Justice
- The Freedom Initiative
- Nadeem Center
- Belady Center for Rights and Freedoms
 According to al-Araby al-Jadid, those who filed the application to hold the demonstration were told that it was futile to seek support from abroad, since the constitutional amendments would be pushed through. They were then warned it would be difficult to avoid imprisonment if they did not avoid announcing demonstrations.
 This was the case with actors Amr Waked and Khaled Abu al-Naga, both of whom had their membership in the Actors Syndicate suspended after they met with members of the US Congress to discuss the proposed amendments, the status of human rights, and the future of democracy in Egypt.
 Over the past six years, taking control of all avenues for the free expression of opinion, taking control of the public sphere by eliminating the right to peacefully demonstrate with Law 107/2013 and its frequent invocation of the repealed Law 10/1914 on assembly, leading to a wave of unjustified arrests on charges of advocating for or participating in an unlawful assembly, and demonstrating without a permit.
 Seeking to hollow out the public sphere further, the state has similarly sought to cripple political parties and movements by arresting their senior and midlevel leaders, imposing upon them a broad array of charges, such as “establishing a group in violation of the law,’ to placing party members on terrorist lists.. All potential presidential candidates were arrested in the run-up to the 2018 presidential election; General Sami Anan, former army chief of staff, is now serving a ten-year prison sentence, while Anan’s Human Rights Affairs Deputy Judge Hisham Genena is serving five years in prison.
 It has fostered a climate of intimidation for civil society organizations, particularly rights groups, while banning their leaders from travel and freezing their assets to paralyze their operations.
425 violations monitored across the two months with extrajudicial killings and arbitrary detentions leading the violations
Sharqia governorate had the biggest number of enforced disappearance incidents:
Committee for Justice issued its report on monitoring Egyptian places of detention – official and nonofficial – covering the months of January and February 2019; amid signs that Egyptian authorities continue to adopt a systematic approach to violations in a way that hasn’t changed since the start of this monitoring project back in 2017.
Detention Watch team monitored 425 violation incidents across the two months, where 247 violations were monitored in January, while 178 violations were monitored in February.
Arbitrary detention was the leading violation observed in January with 132 monitored cases (55.44% of total violations monitored). Enforced disappearance came second with 65 cases (26.31%) followed by extrajudicial killings with 19 cases.
Medical negligence came fourth with 13 monitored cases, then death in custody (7 incidents), torture (7 cases) and finally visits prohibition with 4 monitored incidents.
In February, extrajudicial killing was the leading violation, with 74 monitored deaths (41.57% of total violations monitored), reflecting a remarkable increase compared to January where our team monitored 19 extrajudicial killing incidents.
Arbitrary detention came second with 55 monitored incidents (30.8% of monitored violation), followed by enforced disappearance with 33 cases (18.53%), then torture with 7 incidents, medical negligence with 5 cases, death in custody with 3 deaths and finally visit prohibition with two incidents.
Enforced disappearance maintained the leading position within committed violations, with 65 cases monitored in January 2019, representing 26.31% of the total number of monitored incidents. As of the time of writing the report, only 7 cases had reappeared either in a court trial or in places of detention spread across Egypt (10.76% of forcibly disappeared cases reappeared later).
In February 2019, CFJ team monitored 33 cases of enforced disappearances, of which only 9 appeared later at the time of writing this report, representing 27.27% of the total number of enforced disappearances monitored during the month.
Sharqia governorate remains the governorate with largest number of enforced disappearances in Egypt, recording 27 cases of enforced disappearance, which represent 41.15% of total cases monitored in January. It also maintained its position in February with 8 monitored cases (24.24%), while Behira governorate came second in the two months with 9 cases in January, and 5 monitored cases in February.
Our team monitored 187 cases of arbitrary detention across the two months, of which 132 cases of arbitrary detention took place in January, while February witnessed 55 cases of arbitrary detention.
In January, Behira governorate recorded the highest number of arbitrary detentions with 23 cases representing 17.42% of the total arbitrary detention cases monitored, while Beni Suef had the highest number of arbitrary detentions in February with 20 cases (36.36% of total monitored cases).
Medical negligence continued to threaten the lives of detainees as a tool for slow death. Our team monitored 7 deaths in places of detention in January 2019, 6 of which were due to medical negligence. The team also monitored 13 cases of medical negligence in prisons, while in February the team monitored 3 death incidents in places of detention due to medical negligence as well as 5 cases of medical negligence in prisons.
Torturing of detainees continued, where CFJ monitoring 7 torture incidents against 7 detainees in different places of detention in January beside 6 cases of torture monitored in February 2019.
Committee for justice team continued its efforts in documentation, a procedure that is superior to monitoring, reaching a total of 25 documented violations that took place inside 9 known places of detention in Egypt against 23 detainees.
CFJ documented 8 violation incidents in prisons across January and February 2019, where medical negligence was leading in terms of number of documented violations. Tora reception prison and Tora investigations prison registered the highest number of violations documented during the two months.
According to documented data on 23 detainees, our team found that 21 out of 23 detainees were forcibly disappeared (91.3% of documented cases). During the period of their enforced disappearance ,they were detained in different areas throughout Egypt, which include five different state security headquarters and two police stations. CFJ also documented the torturing of four detainees during their enforced disappearance.
In January and February 2019, Committee for justice documented five cases of medical negligence in places of detention as well as three cases of arbitrary detention that fall under category 2 (arrest and detention due to the practice of legitimate rights such as protesting and freedom of expression) and category 3 (severe violations to the principles of a fair trial) of the categories of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.
Committee for Justice affirms the need for Egyptian authorities to take full responsibility for their obligations under the law. CFJ will continue to monitor the current and ongoing reality in places of detention and to enable families of victims and detainees to build documented cases of illegal and inhumane conditions which they have endured.
Committee for justice also stresses on the importance of engaging the Egyptian authorities in a dialogue that can build coherent and consistent strategies and laws aimed at ending such violations and preventing impunity in cases of human rights violations in places of detention.
For this report, after collecting primary data, CFJ team employed the “verification tool”, which is a step that is regrettably overlooked by many other human rights organizations reporting in the same field due to difficulties in establishing contact, time consumption and risks associated. For CFJ, authenticating the data collected is a crucial step to safeguard the credibility of the data presented, and to be able to legally hold the violators accountable with proof.