Egypt’s Universal Periodic Review highlights international concerns over the country’s human rights record

21 November 2019

On November 13, 133 states made over 370 recommendations on issues such as torture, the death penalty and the detention of human rights defenders.

On November 13, 2019, Egypt’s human rights record was examined before the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) during the country’s third Universal Periodic Review (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. Egypt is then required to notify the HRC of the recommendations it wishes to accept and those it rejects during the upcoming 43rd session of the HRC in March 2020.

Freedom of expression and peaceful assembly

Since November 2014, when Egypt underwent its second UPR, tens of thousands of protesters, human rights defenders and members of the Muslim Brotherhood have been subjected to severe measures including arrest, disappearance, mass trial and execution, such as Ahmed Amasha. Concerns regarding the recent actions of the Egyptian authorities were reflected in the recommendations of several states, such as the United States and the Netherlands, who recommended that Egypt “release those detained for exercising their right to freedom of expression.” Furthermore, the use of excessive force in response to demonstrations was emphasised, with Belgium recommending that Egypt “conduct investigations, in accordance with international standards, into excessive violence committed by military and security forces during demonstrations and to bring those responsible to justice.”

In addition, several countries highlighted the tightening of restrictions on civil society organisations and access to the media, with Finland recommending that Egypt “allow human rights defenders and all other civil society actors to exercise freedom of expression and their professions without fear of being persecuted, intimidated or detained” and Honduras recommending that Egypt “put an end to censorship of news and human rights websites and respect the right to access information.”

Right to a fair trial

Throughout the UPR, recommendations also covered the issue of unfair trial practices. In their recommendations, France urged Egypt to “ratify the International Convention on Enforced Disappearances, put an end to excessive and undue preventive detention and ensure that competent authorities have the right to visit places of detention unexpectedly,” whilst Germany recommended that Egypt “guarantee the rights of prisoners to regular family visits, medical treatment and access to lawyers, including in high-security prisons.” In the wake of the increased use of military courts to try civilians, recommendations also included limiting the jurisdiction of military courts to military cases (Switzerland, Mexico and Czechia).

Torture

The prevailing use of torture was of particular concern to many states during the UPR, particularly in light of the conclusions of the UN Committee against Torture, following its four-year-long inquiry, that torture is habitual and widespread in the country. Several countries recommended that Egypt ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture, whilst Chile and France recommended that a criminal definition of torture be adopted in accordance with international law. Additionally, due to the abduction, torture and murder of Italian student Giulio Regeni in 2016, Italy urged Egypt to “strengthen efforts to prevent and combat all forms of torture and ill-treatment, ensuring that those responsible are held to account, including the perpetrators of the brutal killing of Giulio Regeni”.

Concerns over the need for greater accountability were also raised, with several countries, including the Republic of Korea and New Zealand, recommending that Egypt extend a standing invitation to all special procedure mandate holders. Currently, the mandate holders, who are human rights experts, are only allowed to undertake a country visit upon the invitation of the Egyptian Government. In extending a standing invitation, Egypt would be declaring a commitment to working with the mandate holders for the protection and promotion of human rights.

Death Penalty

The use of the death penalty in Egypt has risen since 2013, with thousands of civilians having been sentenced to death. Crimes punishable by death in Egypt include espionage and being a part of an armed gang with the intention to attack, loot, pillage, plunder, and misappropriate public resources, and to terrorize people or to hinder the police from doing its job. Several states recommended that the number of crimes punishable by death be limited whilst others, including Iceland, recommended that Egypt “implement a moratorium on all executions, with a view to abolishing the death penalty.”

Other Recommendations

Additional recommendations made by the states included adopting measures to enhance female participation in governance and promote gender equality, to strengthen employment opportunities, reduce poverty, assist victims of human trafficking, end the persecution of LGBTQ+ individuals, and to promote interfaith dialogue.

Next steps

Egypt has until the 43rd session of the Human Rights Council – which will run from February 24, 2020 to March 20, 2020 – to provide responses to the recommendations it received during its UPR. Egypt will then commit itself to implementing accepted recommendations ahead of its next review, which will take place in 2024.

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