Saturday,25 May, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1419, (22 - 28 November 2018)
Saturday,25 May, 2019
Issue 1419, (22 - 28 November 2018)

Ahram Weekly

Stronger voice for human rights

A committee has been formed to defend Egypt’s human rights record, Gamal Essam El-Din investigates

On 16 November, Prime Minister Mustafa Madbouli ordered a Higher Committee on Human Rights to be formed. A cabinet statement said the committee will be tasked with dealing with human rights issues, and in particular responding to allegations made against Egypt’s human rights record.

The committee will comprise representatives from the ministries of defence, social solidarity, justice, parliamentary affairs and interior, the General Intelligence Agency, the Administrative Control Authority, the National Council for Women, the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood, the National Council for the Physically Challenged, the State Information Service and the Prosecution-General.

Cabinet Spokesperson Nader Saad said the committee will be headed by Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri who will be free to call on independent experts to become members.

“The Higher Committee will be responsible for drafting a new national strategy on human rights and overseeing its implementation in collaboration with all concerned state agencies,” said Saad.

The committee will also be tasked with responding to reports issued on human rights in Egypt and abroad.

“It will draw up a unified vision to be promoted in international and regional forums and compile the report Egypt submits to the Universal Periodic Review [UPR] mechanism of the UN Human Rights Council [UNHRC], and follow up on the recommendations Egypt accepts. It will also be assigned to oversee the implementation of existing international obligations,” said Saad.

The announcement came after this month’s World Youth Forum (WYF) passed a number of resolutions, including a call for a comprehensive review of the legal framework of human rights in Egypt. WYF also proposed a comprehensive national dialogue be held to suggest amendments to the NGO law which will strengthen the role of human rights organisations.

Alaa Abed, head of parliament’s Human Rights Committee, told reporters the Higher Committee should act as an umbrella organisation, unifying the efforts of all those involved in human rights. 

“Activists need to coordinate their efforts, particularly when it comes to responding to allegations against Egypt’s human rights record made in foreign circles,” said Abed.

The Human Rights Committee has repeatedly recommended a unit be created under the supervision of the Foreign Ministry to take charge of responding to critical reports issued by Western human rights organisations.

“I hope the new Higher Committee will do a systematic job, issuing quick responses to Western reports and correcting the grave mistakes they often contain,” said Abed.

Abed praised the State Information Service, saying it had done a good job responding to Western reports on the human rights situation in Egypt, but insisted “we now need collective and stronger action.”

The Higher Committee will have a technical secretariat-general responsible for running its affairs and holding periodic meetings.

On 19 November Mohamed Ismail, deputy chairman of the Human Rights Committee, issued a statement noting the National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) would not be part of the Higher Committee.

“The reason might be that although the NCHR receives funding from the government it is an independent entity,” said Ismail.

The NCHR was created in 2003 and made an affiliate of the now defunct Shura Council. It is now under the purview of the House of Representatives. Critics say the NCHR has become ineffective and that a stronger body is needed to improve the situation of human rights in Egypt and to respond to foreign attacks in this respect.

The Higher Committee, says Saad, will prepare “an annual report on the efforts exerted to improve human rights in Egypt and propose appropriate legislation”.

While the NCHR has produced an annual report on human rights in Egypt since it was formed the reports of the Higher Committee will be broader, says Ismail. It will launch awareness campaigns, conduct research and studies and work with human rights experts on implementing Egypt’s international obligations.

The Higher Committee will coordinate cooperation with specialised UN agencies to ensure the technical support necessary to strengthen the systematic structure of human rights in Egypt is available.

In a television interview Hafez Abu Seada, secretary-general of the Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights (EOHR), warned the Higher Committee could turn into yet another toothless bureaucratic body.

“As far as I know the NCHR has the same roles and duties of the new Higher Committee, though we should wait and see how it performs. I agree it is necessary to respond to Western organisations critical of Egypt’s human rights record and that the Higher Committee could be a good tool in this respect,” said Abu Seada. 

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