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Member States of the United Nations,
The United Nations Human Rights Council,
The European Parliament,
The undersigned human rights and civil liberties organizations write to raise serious concerns about recent efforts by the Egyptian Government to crackdown civil society and silence Egyptian human rights advocates and civil society leaders. These efforts undercut government commitments, expressed in the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, to respect the work of human rights advocates, restrict civil society from holding the government accountable for human rights violations, and put the safety and lives of Egyptian advocates at risk.
Since Sisi’s election in 2014, Egyptian authorities have initiated many efforts to regulate the civil society. First, the state media’s campaign against civil society that claimed the nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) as allies with terrorists or working on behalf of foreign powers to divide the country along sectarian lines
In September 2014, the Egyptian government issued an amendment to Article 78 of the penal code that banned the receipt of foreign funding for any activity deemed harmful to “national interests” or “compromising national unity” and imposed life sentences for noncompliance. The vague definition of these activities was used to target any foreign-funded civil society organization, thereby essentially voiding their right to receive foreign funding. Under this amendment, human rights defenders who had made it their primary task to defend those wrongfully accused of violent extremism and to document state abuses committed in the name of counterterrorism, were prosecuted.
In result, a systematic repression mechanism against civil society has taken shape, consisting of the stifling of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) operations through bureaucratic hurdles and delays, funding restrictions, raids and interrogations, asset freezes, travel bans, digital attacks, and—in the most extreme cases—office closures and criminal charges.
On May 2017, President El-Sisi issued a new law that regulates nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). Under Law No. 70 of 2017 for Regulating the Work of Associations and Other Institutions Working in the Field of Civil Work, the civil society and human defenders work is prohibited and criminalized and power is given to an authority body created under this law (The National Authority for the Regulation of Foreign Non-governmental Organizations is created and includes representatives of Egypt’s top national security bodies – the General Intelligence Directorate and the Defense and Interior Ministries – as well as representatives from the Foreign Affairs Ministry and the Central Bank of Egypt) to interfere in every aspect of nongovernmental organizations’ (NGOs) existence, administration and activities, and to oversee the work of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), including any funding or cooperation between Egyptian associations and any foreign entity.
On October 9, 2018, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi signaled at the World Youth Forum that he would be willing to review a controversial law that restricts non-governmental organizations (NGOs). On November 17, Prime Minister Moustafa Madbouly issued a decision to form a committee led by Minister of Social Solidarity Ghada Wali to amend law No. 70 of 2017 for nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and civil society organizations.
We, hereby, inform you that no independent non-governmental organizations (NGO) have been invited to the dialogue rounds and meetings held to amend the law, as well as none of opposing or dissenting parties, and that all the prosecuted local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) are still under criminal investigations.
Therefore, we express our skepticism in the seriousness of the Egyptian regime in making amendments that affects the essence of the law and that stops the repression and restriction over Egyptian civil society, and we consider that this verdict is completely political and it is an effort to mute international and domestic criticism, and to meant to decriminalize the work of civil society in Egypt.
- whereas the Egyptian Government has intensified its crackdown against civil society organisations, human rights defenders, peaceful activists, lawyers, bloggers, journalists, labour rights defenders and trade unionists, including by arresting and disappearing several of them and increasingly using counter-terrorism and state of emergency laws; whereas since late October 2018, at least 40 human rights workers, lawyers and political activists have been arrested, some of them forcibly disappeared; whereas women human rights defenders and activists defending the rights of LGBTQI people in Egypt continue to face various forms of state-led harassment, notably via defamatory campaigns and judicial prosecution;
- whereas there is an ongoing state of emergency in Egypt, in place since April 2017 and extended for three months from 15 January 2019; whereas the President and those acting on his behalf have the power to refer civilians to state security emergency courts for the duration of the three-month period;
- whereas Egypt’s 2015 counter-terrorism law uses a broad definition of terrorism that includes ‘infringing the public order, endangering the safety, interests, or security of society, obstructing provisions of the constitution and law, or harming national unity, social peace, or national security’, putting peaceful dissenters, pro-democracy activists and human rights defenders at risk of being labelled terrorists and sentenced to death;
- whereas at the end of November 2018, Egypt announced the establishment of a ‘High Permanent Commission for Human Rights’, reportedly in order to ‘respond to claims’ made against Egypt’s human rights record and ‘formulate a unified Egyptian vision’; whereas the main members of this commission are representatives of the foreign and interior ministries, the military, and the intelligence services;
- Whereas no independent non-governmental organizations (NGO) have been invited to the dialogue rounds and meetings organized by the committee formed in November 2018 to and led by Minister of Social Solidarity, as well as none of opposing or dissenting parties
- Having regard to the Constitution of Egypt, notably its Articles 52 (on the prohibition of torture in all forms and types), 73 (on freedom of assembly) and 93 (on the binding character of international human rights law)
- Having regard to the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and the Arab Charter on Human Rights, which have been ratified by Egypt,
- Having regard to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Egypt is party, and in particular to its Articles 14 and 18 and its second optional protocol on the death penalty,
- Having regard to the EU Foreign Affairs Council conclusions on Egypt of August 2013 and February 2014,
- Having regard to the EU-Egypt Partnership Priorities 2017-2020, adopted on 25 July 2017, to the joint statement issued following the 2017 meeting of the EU-Egypt Association Council, and to the joint statement issued following the 5th meeting of the EU-Egypt Subcommittee on Political Matters, Human Rights and Democracy in January 2018,
- Having regard to Protocols 6 and 13 to the European Convention on Human Rights, also having regard that according to the International Covenant, the Signatory States must “adopt a legal framework obliging commercial companies to give proof of reasonable diligence with respect to human rights in order to identify, prevent and attenuate the risks of violation of the rights set out in the Pact” based on the interpretation of Articles 2 and 8 provided by the European Court of Human Rights in relation to the obligations of States to protect human rights on their territory with respect to industrial activities
- Having regard to Article 2 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union,
- Having regard to the African Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Fair Trial and Legal Assistance, which prohibit military trials of civilians under all circumstances,
- Having regard to Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), which stipulates that when there is a substantial risk of negative consequences, no export authorization may be given. Having regard to Article 7 of this treaty, carry out an assessment of all conventional arms exports, ammunition, or associated parts and components in order to determine whether that equipment risks being used to commit or facilitate grave violations of international law relative to human rights or international humanitarian law, or to commit or facilitate any act constituting an offense with regard to the international conventions and protocols on terrorism or organized transnational criminality to which the exporting State is a party.
- Having regard to the International Pact on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, where Signatory States to various binding instruments of international law may be held directly liable for the actions or inactions of commercial companies, by the Maastricht Principles, and then by Observation 24 of the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which is binding for States that have ratified the International Covenant.
- Having regard to the European Union Common Position 2008/944/PESC of the Council of the European Union dated 8 December 20085, the second principle of which advocates the denial of export permits if there is an “obvious risk that the equipment whose export is contemplated will be used for domestic repression”.
- Having regard to the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (“UN Guiding Principles”) that indicate that States must encourage and where appropriate require the exercise of effective due diligence with respect to human rights. This obligation also applies to institutional investors, even minority shareholders
- Having regard to the OECD Guiding Principles for Multinational Companies, which in their 2011 revision include a chapter on human rights that is in line with the UN Guiding Principles. These Guiding Principles also indicate that when States hold or control companies, they have more resources for ensuring the exercise of effective due diligence.
We the Undersigned,
we strongly condemn the continuous restrictions to the freedom of expression in Egypt, both online and offline, freedom of association and assembly, political pluralism and the rule of law in Egypt; call for an end to all acts of violence, incitement, hate speech, harassment, intimidation, enforced disappearances and censorship directed at human rights defenders, lawyers, protesters, journalists, bloggers, trade unionists, students, women’s rights activists, LGBTI people, civil society organisations, political opponents and minorities, including Nubians, by state authorities, security forces and services and other groups in Egypt; condemn the excessive use of violence against protesters. We also condemn the reprisals against persons who cooperate or seek to cooperate with international human rights organisations or UN human rights bodies, and we address the following demands:
- We call on the Members States of the United Nations and the Member States of The European Union to urge the Egyptian authorities to drop all existing baseless criminal investigations into NGOs, including the ‘foreign funding case’, and to repeal the Law No. 70 of 2017; encourage the replacement of that law by a new legislative framework, to be drafted in genuine consultation with civil society organisations in accordance with Egypt’s domestic and international obligations in order to protect freedom of association;
- We call for the Members States of the United Nations and the Member States of The European Union to request the Egyptian Government to conduct an independent and transparent investigation into all human rights violations and for those responsible to be held to account;
- We call on the Members States of the United Nations and the Member States of The European Union to stress the Egyptian Government to immediately and unconditionally release human rights defenders detained solely for the peaceful exercise of their freedom of expression, in violation of Egypt’s constitution and international obligations;
- We call on the EU and the United States of America to implement in full its export controls vis-à-vis Egypt with regard to goods that could be used for torture or capital punishment;
- We call on the Members States of the United Nations and the Member States of The European Union to urge the Egyptian Parliament to review Egypt’s Criminal Code, Code of Criminal Procedure, counter-terrorism legislation and Military Code; call on the Egyptian authorities to cease trying civilians in military courts;
- We call on United Nations Human Rights Council to prioritise the situation of human rights defenders in Egypt, and to condemn the alarming human rights situation in the country, including the use of the death penalty
- We call on the Members States of the United Nations and the Member States of The European Union to use all means of influence to put pressure on Egypt to improve its human rights situation and to encourage the Egyptian authorities to respect their commitments to international norms and laws;
- We call on the United States of America, the United Kingdom, and the Member States of the European Union to halt exports of surveillance technology and security equipment to Egypt that can facilitate attacks on human rights defenders and civil society activists, including on social media;
- We call upon the United Nations, and their member states, to use their positions as mediators within the international community to hold Egypt accountable for legislation that muzzles civil society to such a severe degree.