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Egypt: Rights groups call for downgrading the National Council for Human Rights for its failure to perform its human rights role

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The Egyptian National Council for Human Rights is preparing to submit its official report to the Accreditation Subcommittee of the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions for re-accreditation ahead of the Subcommittee’s second session in September and October 2023. The Subcommittee’s primary objective is to assess the National Council for Human Rights’ compliance with the Paris Principles, considering both legal and practical aspects.

In light of the human rights and legal developments in Egypt during President Sisi’s era, characterized by unprecedented repression, the Committee for Justice, along with MENA for Human Rights and the Human Rights Foundation, presented a case report to the Subcommittee on the status of the Egyptian National Council for Human Rights.

Established in May 2003 under Law No. 94/2003, the Egyptian National Council for Human Rights consists of 27 members, including 25 ordinary members, a president, and a vice president. The Council is organized into seven committees specializing in various fields of human rights, such as Civil and Political Rights and Cultural Rights, along with six thematic units, including the Legal Affairs Unit, Disability Affairs Unit, and Human Trafficking Unit.

The Subcommittee previously granted ‘A’ status to the Egyptian National Council for Human Rights in October 2006, and the Council’s accreditation was reviewed again in May 2018, reaffirming its ‘A’ status. During the upcoming committee session in October and September 2023, the Council aims to renew its accreditation.

In the previous two reports of the Subcommittee on the National Council for Human Rights, it was highlighted that the current selection process outlined in the existing legislation lacks sufficient transparency and inclusivity. According to the recent amendments in 2017, the House of Representatives has the authority to select members of the Council. However, the Subcommittee noted that the recent elections for the Council were neither free nor fair. The electoral process was marred by widespread arrests and intimidation of individuals critical of the process, along with low voter turnout, allegations of fraud and vote-buying, and significant interference by security services. As a result, the pro-regime lists, led

by the Future of a Homeland political party, secured a parliamentary majority. This situation indicates that the House of Representatives is effectively under the control of the executive authority. Consequently, the members of the National Council for Human Rights are chosen by the executive authority.

Indeed, the status report presented by the three organizations highlighted several crucial aspects regarding the functioning of the National Council for Human Rights, with a particular focus on the process of member selection. The report also addressed various issues, including the failure of Egyptian authorities to authorize the Council to ratify international human rights instruments. The Subcommittee on Accreditation expressed concern over this matter, as it is considered a fundamental function of any national human rights institution. The Subcommittee encouraged the Council to urge Egyptian authorities to amend the law, enabling the Council to obtain the necessary authority to ratify international instruments through an additional provision.

The situation report also addressed the issue of the National Council’s cooperation with international human rights mechanisms, raising concerns from the three organizations regarding Article 3 (8) of Law No. 197/2017. This article stipulates the Council’s cooperation and coordination with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which raises the possibility that the Council may align itself with the policies of the executive branch as assigned by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The report further highlighted that one of the responsibilities of the Egyptian National Council for Human Rights is to handle complaints filed by victims of human rights violations. However, according to the Committee for Justice (CFJ), despite the submission of numerous complaints, including cases of enforced disappearances and arbitrary detention, the Council has failed to provide any meaningful resolution. As a result, the National Council for Human Rights is not regarded as an effective or independent avenue for addressing the grievances of human rights victims.

Furthermore, the report noted that the Council has not published any annual reports since 2020. This absence of regular publications hinders the Council’s ability to fulfill its tasks effectively and independently, as these reports are essential for transparently carrying out its responsibilities.

In relation to the issue of widespread torture and enforced disappearances in Egypt, the submitted case report highlighted that the National Council for Human Rights failed to acknowledge the prevalence of torture as a systemic practice carried out by Egyptian authorities. Instead, the Council attempted to portray these incidents as isolated and individual occurrences. This perspective was further evident in the Council’s comments during the recent Universal Periodic Review of Egypt at the Human Rights Council.

During the review, the Council demonstrated a lack of impartiality towards the Egyptian authorities by defending their systematic use of torture and the persistent impunity enjoyed by government officials. This stance directly contradicts the mandate entrusted to the Council, undermining its credibility and impartiality in addressing human rights violations in the country.

In relation to the right to a fair trial, the situation report highlighted a concerning approach taken by the National Council for Human Rights. Instead of advocating for the fundamental right to a fair trial, the Council focused its attention on highlighting digital transformation initiatives and government efforts to review the Penal Code. This is problematic as human rights criticisms were directed towards the digital transformation for violating the rights of the accused to appear before their judge.

Furthermore, the Council’s response to international criticism regarding the death penalty raised additional concerns. Rather than addressing the valid concerns surrounding the waves of mass executions witnessed in Egyptian courts, the Council expressed distress over the perceived misrepresentation of Egypt’s death sentences. The Council rejected claims that the executions were a form of retaliation against political opponents. These statements strongly indicate the Council’s defense of the Egyptian authorities and their policies, significantly undermining the independence and effectiveness of the board.

These actions and statements further cast doubt on the Council’s ability to function independently and impartially in addressing human rights violations.

Regarding the council’s visits to places of detention, members of the Council affirmed that most of the visit requests they submit to the Egyptian authorities are rejected, and that the visits they make are by prior arrangement. For this reason, the Subcommittee previously recommended that the National Council for

Human Rights call for an explicit authorization to conduct an unannounced visit to all places of detention, which has not been done so far.

For all of the above and more, the three organizations confirm at the end of their status report to the Subcommittee on Accreditation that over the past twenty years the Egyptian National Council for Human Rights has repeatedly received the same recommendations. However, advocacy or change related to these recommendations is still absent. As a result, the independence of the National Council for Human Rights is not guaranteed.

The issue of selection and appointment process poses a significant challenge to the independence of the Council. Currently, all powers lie within the legislative authority, which maintains a close connection to the executive authority. It is worth noting that both the president and vice president of the Council are former Egyptian officials, which raises concerns about their impartiality.

Additionally, the existing legislation fails to ensure sufficient effectiveness in various aspects. For instance, there is a lack of provisions for unannounced and independent visits to detention facilities, impeding the Council’s ability to carry out its tasks effectively. Similarly, the absence of a clear mandate empowering the National Council for Human Rights to promote the ratification or accession to international human rights instruments is a hindrance. Consequently, the Council does not possess the necessary independence and competence to be granted “A” status.

These factors significantly undermine the Council’s independence and its ability to function adequately in promoting and protecting human rights.

Also as indicated in its annual report for 2019/2020, the Egyptian National Council for Human Rights has failed to respond and act on the massive human rights violations taking place in the country, thus failing to fully implement the recommendations of the Accreditation Subcommittee that were formulated in 2018.

Therefore, the three organizations are proposing to the Accreditation Subcommittee to downgrade the Egyptian National Council for Human Rights’ classification to “B” status, during the 2023 re-accreditation procedure.

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