Representatives of a wide range of countries have expressed concern over Egypt’s human rights record at the UN Universal Periodic Review.
Concern over torture, extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, mass trials, dire detention conditions, discrimination against women and the death penalty were all raised.
Over 30 Egyptian human rights workers have been banned from travelling outside the country allegedly for receiving illegal foreign funding. The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies campaigned for the travel ban to be lifted after scores of activists were not able to present their work in Geneva.
Despite well recorded human rights abuses in the country since President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi’s rise to power in 2014, the Egyptian Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Omar Marwan told the review that Egypt is going to great lengths to improve its human rights record.
“There is a right to demonstrate… everyone has the right to express their opinions, but they are not allowed to vandalise or commit violence or incite hatred,” he told AFP after the review.
The Egyptian government has repeatedly denied that human rights abuses are taking place in the country, with Al-Sisi once telling France 24 that there were no political prisoners in Egypt. It is estimated that there are actually 60,000 in the country.
After rights groups asked the Egyptian government to open a serious investigation into torture allegations put forward by detained activist Alaa Abdul Fattah, the government produced a propaganda video of prosecutors and reporters visiting Tora Prison.
Activists slammed the staged photos of meat being grilled which was allegedly for the prisoners as detainees report being given scarce amounts of food whilst inside and many rely on visitors to provide them with meals.
British Ambassador Julien Braithwaite told the review, “we remain deeply concerned by restrictions on human rights defenders” whilst Swedish Ambassador Veronika Bard called on Egypt to “stop unduly restricting space for civil society.”
Italian Ambassador Gian Lorenzo Cornado asked Egypt to prevent torture and ill treatment and hold perpetrators to account, including those responsible for the murder of Giulio Regeni, in reference to the brutal murder of the Italian doctoral student who was found dumped by the side of the road nine days after he disappeared in January 2016, his body bearing all the hallmarks of torture.
Ahead of the review Amnesty International called on the international community to demand the release of peaceful protesters and human rights defenders following the “draconian crackdown” unleashed in September.
In Egypt’s heaviest crackdown since Al-Sisi rose to power in 2014, over 4,000 lawyers, opposition politicians, activists, journalists and former detainees were arrested as protests spread across the country.