The EU and human rights in Egypt
Supporting reform, technically and financially, is the best way for Europe to support human rights in Egypt, writes Marc Franco*
Today we are celebrating the 62nd anniversary of the signature of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Few people know that Egypt played an important role in drafting the declaration -- Mahmoud Azmi, a prominent Egyptian diplomat, was the general rapporteur of the committee that drafted the declaration.
The declaration's signature in 1948 was the first building block of a comprehensive, international legal framework for the protection of human rights. Since then, these simple yet powerful words, "All human beings are free and equal in dignity and rights," have been the cornerstone of European external actions. Everyone has the right to live a life of freedom and dignity; human rights are universal, they apply to everyone, everywhere; they are inalienable because they cannot be taken away; and they are indivisible because there is no hierarchy between rights.
As the ambassador of the European Union (EU) to Egypt, I am often asked how the EU supports human rights in the country. I take this opportunity to give the Egyptian public and this newspaper's readers an overview of what we do.
Our bilateral support to the Egyptian government's reform agenda seeks to create the right conditions for economic growth and prosperity. It is important to overcome poverty, hunger and disease as a first step in moving towards the enjoyment of civil and political rights. On the other hand, our direct support to civil society organisations aims to strengthen their ability to play an active role in shaping and implementing the reform agenda. In a nutshell, we seek to encourage a balanced dialogue between duty-bearers and right-holders.
Looking back over the last few years, it is only fair to say that Egypt has made courageous steps towards promoting a culture of human rights at all levels of Egyptian society. Allow me to flag some key developments of note.
Firstly, from an institutional perspective, Egypt has set up three new bodies that are powerful agents of change in the field of human rights: the National Council for Human Rights, the National Council for Women, and the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood. Secondly, from a reform perspective, Egypt has enacted legislation to improve the status of women and children in society, including a ban on female genital mutilation (FGM) and an active policy to protect vulnerable children, notably street children; the minimum age of marriage for women rose from 16 to 18 years and allowed women to obtain a birth certificate for their child without listing the father's name; the opening of 64 new seats in the new People's Assembly for women candidates is now a reality; important legislation on human trafficking was adopted in May 2010, as well as a new law on organ transplants that was enacted after a long standing debate on the issue.
I am pleased that the EU has supported most of these reforms, financially and technically. Since 2002, we have allocated 120 million euros to governance and human rights reforms while 536 million euros have been dedicated to promoting social reforms in sectors such as education, health, child protection and family empowerment. All these reforms are essential to fight discrimination. In some instances, a platform of dialogue between non-governmental and civil society organisations and state authorities has helped shape the reforms.
Finally, this year Egypt participated in the Universal Periodic Review of the UN Human Rights Council and committed to a total of 14 reform recommendations suggested by its peers, which have been added to the country's reform agenda. Looking ahead, the EU stands ready to support the Egyptian government in implementing this roadmap.
* The writer is head of the delegation of the EU to Egypt.