The United States and other countries on Wednesday slammed the human rights situation in Egypt at a United Nations meeting reviewing the country's record for the first time since the 2011 ouster of longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak.
The blistering criticism came as human rights groups said that conditions in Egypt have worsened in recent years, rather than improved, and warned that their work to highlight abuses is becoming increasingly difficult.
"We are deeply concerned with steps taken by Egypt that have resulted in violations of freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and association, deprived thousands of Egyptians of fair trial guarantees, and undermined civil society's role in the country," U.S. Ambassador Keith Harper told the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council.
Harper called for the release of political prisoners and urged Egypt to "investigate excessive use of force by security forces, publicly release findings, and prosecute those identified as being responsible." Hundreds of protesters were killed during clashes with security forces under the transitional military leadership after the popular uprising that toppled Mubarak, as well as since the first democratically elected president, Mohammed Morsi, took office in 2012. The violence against protesters only intensified when the military overthrew Morsi following mass protests against him last year, with security violently breaking up protests by Islamists denouncing his removal. Hundreds were killed over a few days in the summer of 2013.
Washington's criticism echoed that of many other countries, including Britain, Sweden, Germany, Turkey, Brazil, the Netherlands and Norway, who particularly faulted Egypt's crackdown on rights groups and journalists. They also criticized the harsh sentences — including hundreds of death sentences — meted out against government critics, who are routinely branded as traitors and spies.
Egypt's minister for transitional justice, Ibrahim el-Heneidy, bullishly defended his country's record, saying its new constitution was "a true victory for human rights and freedoms" and insisting that the government was committed to upholding the international treaties it had signed.
Hesham Badr, deputy foreign minister of Egypt, told the session that some of the comments by delegations were based on "misconceptions," lauding his government's efforts at legal and constitutional reforms and commitment to international obligations.
Lashing out at the criticism, he added: "Egypt urges that the remarks (at the review) be based on correct and accurate information, because some of them appear to be dealing with conditions in a country other than Egypt in which we live. Maybe some here have the wrong address."
Badr said the government would consult with civil society groups following a Nov. 10 deadline the authorities have set for them to register under a restrictive law that dates back to Mubarak's era or risk being shut down. Rights groups view the deadline as directly affecting them and have said government policy toward their work has been unpredictable.
On Wednesday, seven Egyptian rights groups said they wouldn't attend the UN meeting in Switzerland for fear of being targeted by authorities on their return.
The council will publish a conclusion Friday containing non-binding recommendations for ways in which Egypt can improve its human rights situation. In most cases, countries that are reviewed immediately respond by noting which recommendations they accept or reject.
The review, usually a technical meeting, garnered considerable interest because of successive reports of widespread abuse in Egypt. The Egyptian government has usually brushed off criticism, adding that it has been abiding by law or is in the throes of a violent wave of militant attacks that require a tough security policy.
News item syndicated from AP