13 March 2020
Following the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Egypt in November 2019, Egypt notified the Human Rights Council (HRC) of the recommendations it wishes to implement in the upcoming years. The UPR outcome was formally adopted on March 12, 2020.
On November 13, 2019 Egypt’s human rights record was examined before the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) during the country’s third UPR. The UPR is a peer-review mechanism by which UN Member States make recommendations to the country under review on how to improve its human rights record. As part of this process, Egypt received 372 recommendations from 133 states. Of these recommendations, 270 received support, 71 were noted and 31 received partial support. Of the 71 recommendations which were noted, Egypt described 15 as “incorrect”, 24 as “already implemented”, and 2 as “irrelevant”. Two of these recommendations were described as “hostile” and, during the adoption of the UPR, the representative of Egypt at the United Nations refused to address them on the basis that “they contain untrue and politicised allegations”.
Human rights framework
The authorities rejected all recommendations relating to the ratification of outstanding international human rights treaties, such as the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC), the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICCPED), the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT), and the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (OPII-ICCPR).
Furthermore, despite the fact that Egypt supported broad recommendations to cooperate with international human rights mechanisms, including the recommendation to cooperate with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in order to receive technical assistance in strengthening the independence of the judiciary, Egypt merely noted recommendations to extend a standing invitation to all Special Procedures mandate holders.
Freedom of expression and peaceful assembly
Since the second cycle of the UPR, civil society space has been increasingly restricted in Egypt. Human Rights Watch estimates that over 60,000 people have been arrested since 2013 as a result of state crackdowns on dissent, including lawyers, journalists, and human rights defenders such as Ebrahim Metwally. In 2019, a new NGO law was introduced, limiting the scope of purpose for NGOs and prohibiting any activities considered to be political or in breach vague concepts like “national security,” “public order,” and “public morals.” In addition, the law empowers the authorities to shut down NGOs, conduct raids, challenge sources of funding, and suspend NGO activities.
Egypt has supported several recommendations aimed at enhancing freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, such as the recommendation to allow the effective development of an active and dynamic civil society. However, Egypt has not supported any recommendation calling for national legislation to be amended in order to protect freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, in line with international standards. Instead, several such recommendations were described as “Factually Incorrect,” with Egypt asserting that no-one faces imprisonment in Egypt for exercising such rights, despite recent Opinions of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention determining that individuals are being detained for exercising their right to freedom of expression, including Ezzat Ghoneim and Hisham Jaafar.
Furthermore, Egypt marked as “hostile” the recommendation to “stop the practice of attacks on freedom of opinion and expression, especially those related to the arrest of journalists and the blocking of access to news websites and well-known sources of information.”
Cyber-crime law and censorship
In 2018, Egypt introduced a new cyber-crime law which legalises internet censorship and allows for harsh punishment for those accessing blocked content. During the UPR, several states expressed concern at the provisions of the cyber-crime law. However, Egypt only partially accepted Honduras’ recommendation, rejecting the part calling on Egypt to “put an end to censorship of news and human rights websites” whilst accepting the recommendation to “respect the right to access information.”
Similarly, Egypt noted the recommendation to revise the law on cybercrime, ensuring that it complies with international obligations in terms of human rights, not engaging with the issue of the law’s excessive provisions and instead asserting that “the Government does not block websites on its own” and that “blocking of websites may only take place according to a justified injunction.”
The arrest and detention of thousands of people, including activists, journalists and the political opposition, has been facilitated by the frequent application of Egypt’s Anti-Terrorism Laws, which contains a vague and broad definition of terrorism. Mexico recommended that Egypt reviews the definition of terrorism, to prevent it from being used to limit rights, such as to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly. This recommendation has simply been “noted”, with Egypt asserting that the law has “already been amended”.
On February 28, 2020, seven UN experts published a comment on Egypt’s Anti-Terrorism Laws, expressing concern that the application of the laws has resulted in increased violations of human rights, including the right to liberty and freedom of expression. In addition, the UN experts expressed further concern that recently approved amends to these laws toughen penalties, expand definitions and impose the death penalty on those found guilty of funding of terrorist groups and acts.
Trials, detention and torture allegations
In 2017, the Committee against Torture found that torture was being practised systematically in Egypt, asserting that it “appears to occur particularly frequently following arbitrary arrests and is often carried out to obtain a confession or to punish and threaten political dissenters.” At the third UPR, Egypt accepted several recommendations to investigate allegations of torture, provide training to the authorities and guarantee prisoner rights. In doing so, Egypt asserted that all individual cases of torture or ill-treatment were already thoroughly investigated by the Public Prosecution and that a database of such incidents is currently being developed.
However, Egypt only partly accepted the recommendation to “ensure pre-trial detention and that all court proceedings fully comply with article 14 of International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, including by ending the use of mass trials.” Egypt rejected the requirement to end the use of mass trials, asserting that the Egyptian legislature does not recognise mass trials but that culprits of the same crime stand trial in the same proceedings. In addition, Egypt noted recommendations to amend article 122 of the child law in order to ensure that child and juvenile offenders are never prosecuted alongside adults.
The number of death sentences has escalated in Egypt, with Human Rights Watch reporting in 2019 that, since 2014, over 2,500 death sentences were issued. Several states expressed concern at the continued use of the death penalty and recommended that Egypt abolishes the death penalty. A minima Egypt was also called upon to stablish a moratorium on executions with the view to abolishing the death penalty.
In response, Egypt deemed all such recommendations as “unacceptable” and referenced its 2019 note verbale (A/73/1004), whereby the State affirmed that it is in persistent objection to any attempt to impose a moratorium on the use of the death penalty or its abolition. In addition, Egypt merely noted the recommendation to reduce progressively the list of capital crimes.
Egypt is now responsible for implementing the accepted recommendations ahead of its next review, which will take place in 2024.