Egypt: Government rejects Criticism by UN Rights Investigator

Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies

Egypt’s use of the Emergency Law to justify arbitrary detention and the use of exceptional courts was examined before the UN Human Rights Council today in a ground-breaking report presented by Martin Scheinin, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms while Countering Terrorism. The report is the first issued by the main human rights body of the United Nations that deals exclusively with the human rights situation in Egypt. Representatives from the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights and the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies attended the session in Geneva as observers and delivered oral interventions in which they supported the report’s recommendations and urged the government to implement them immediately. 

In his report, based on a mission to Egypt in April 2009, Mr. Scheinin highlighted that administrative detention orders repealed by the judiciary in Egypt are often “renewed immediately upon a person’s release or, in the worst case, just ignored through unacknowledged detention until a new order of official administrative detention is obtained.”

The report of the Special Rapporteur also expressed concern over the fact that Egypt’s Emergency Law is often applied in situations where there is no link to terrorist activities, such as the frequent arbitrary detention of political activists and bloggers and the repeated use of military courts and state security courts in politically motivated cases. The Special Rapporteur also emphasized that when combined with the pending counter-terrorism law, Article 179 of the Egyptian Constitution as amended in March 2007 would create a permanent legal state of emergency.

According to Moataz El Fegiery, Executive Director of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, “Today the Special Rapporteur confirmed what human rights defenders have been warning about for several years: the proposed counter-terrorism law in Egypt is an attempt by the government to normalize the state of emergency and undermine the constitutional protection of fundamental rights.”

During the presentation of the report by the Special Rapporteur, Egypt denied all of its substantial observations by claiming that the Emergency Law does not suspend or limit ordinary laws or judicial oversight despite clear legal clauses that do precisely this. 
”Egyptian officials did everything they could to limit the scope of the Special Rapporteur’s mission: they barred him from visiting prisons and interviewing detainees and refused to let him observe any terrorism trials or meet with families of victims and detainees” said Hossam Bahgat, Executive Director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights. “But the facts are clear, and the mission report provides the most damning assessment of systemic human rights abuses committed in the name of security since 1981.” 

The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies and the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights urge the Egyptian government to implement the recommendations of the Special Rapporteur. Specifically, CIHRS and EIPR urge Egypt to lift the State of Emergency, to abolish the recently added Article 179 of the Constitution on combating terrorism and to ensure that any existing and future anti-terrorism law complies with all international human rights standards. CIHRS and EIPR call on the Egyptian government to allow the Special Rapporteur to undertake a follow-up mission that he has requested and to give him full access to detention facilities which he was barred from visiting during his last visit. On 9 March, the EIPR and CIHRS in collaboration with Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the International Federation for Human Rights will organize a side panel discussion in Geneva with the participation of the Special Rapporteur. The panel discussion is entitled: “Human Rights in Egypt: Counter-terrorism and the Price of ‘Stability’.”


(8 March, 2010 – Geneva