- Documents on Democracy
On August 22, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies and 35 other Egyptian human-rights organizations sent a complaint to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. The statement condemned the campaign of the Egyptian government and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces against the country’s civil society organizations and human-rights groups following the deposal of former president Hosni Mubarak. Excerpts appear below:
The undersigned organizations wish to draw your attention to the organized campaign by the Government of Egypt (GoE) against Egyptian civil society organizations. The aim of the campaign is to discredit these groups by branding them as foreign agents allied with foreign states, because of the foreign funding which they receive.
These accusations are a direct response to the role played by Egyptian civil society, particularly human rights defenders, in exposing abuses committed by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). Recently, civil society groups have raised several rights issues related to transitional justice and the democratic transition in Egypt. They have also publicly exposed several abuses perpetrated by the military police. . . .
The GoE has adopted a set of increasingly harsh measures against Egyptian civil society. The government has attempted to amend legislation to create new obstacles to their work. A governmental fact-finding commission, headed by the Minister of Justice, is looking into the funding of civil society organizations, and the government has requested from the Central Bank to monitor all their bank transactions. Finally, it was reported in the press that the Supreme State Security Prosecution has launched investigations into the receipt of foreign funding by several civil society groups, and specified that these groups would face [End Page 176] charges of high treason, conspiracy against the state, and of compromising national security through the implementation of foreign agendas. This is in addition to the intensive and organized campaign launched by the state-owned press to discredit Egyptian civil society, particularly rights groups. . . .
It was expected that, after the revolution, the GoE would take measures, including legislative amendments, to free NGOs from the tight grip of the state. Instead, we have been dismayed by the tendency of the GoE and the SCAF to place additional restrictions on the work of NGOs. It is difficult to understand what new legal restrictions the government seeks to enshrine, as the current law already contains numerous restrictions, particularly on the receipt of foreign grants, which require prior government approval. Practical experience has shown that such laws regulating grants tend to be used to hinder the work of civic organizations, particularly if these organizations work to defend human rights and expose government abuses. . . .
There is undoubtedly an organized state campaign to discredit civil society groups, particularly those working in human rights. The constant talk of investigations and measures against these organizations, the investigations against them by the Supreme State Security Prosecution, and talk of charges of conspiracy and treason, all serve to make Egyptian society wary of these groups and suspicious of their objectives, and ultimately, to undermine their work in exposing human rights violations. Indeed, it makes the very message of such groups— respect for human rights—subject to doubt, due to developing societal belief that these groups are implementing foreign agendas. This incitement to hatred against civil society associations carries the threat of some form of violence in the future, as a result of such provocative allegations. It also makes society predisposed to reject the ideas advanced by the groups, from peaceful coexistence to the respect for human rights.
The stance of the current government in this regard is no different from that of previous governments in the era of former president Hosni Mubarak, and may even be more severe. Indeed, it is no exaggeration to say that one of the defining features of the former president’s rule was human rights abuse; however, even Mubarak never accused human rights groups of high treason.
The undersigned organizations condemn the assault of the GoE and the SCAF on civil society organizations, and request the Special Rapporteurs to call on the GoE to:
1. End the targeting and harassment of civil society...