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UN: Anti-terror laws in Egypt’s Sinai increase rights violations

Egyptian armed forces in Siani [Pool/Egyptian Armed Forces/Anadolu Agency]
Egyptian armed forces in Sinai [Pool/Egyptian Armed Forces/Apaimages]

The UN has written a report expressing “serious concern” over amendments to Egypt’s terror laws.

In August 2015 Egypt enacted a sweeping anti-terror law that broadly defined terrorism as an act that disturbs public order with force. It was seen as part of President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi’s sweeping crackdown on dissent, which has worsened as he has consolidated his power.

These latest amendments toughen penalties for terror-related crimes, expand the definition of financing terrorism and impose the death penalty on people found guilty of funding terror groups and acts.

The UN is alarmed at increasing practices of arbitrary detentions, torture, ill-treatment, the absence of judicial oversight, restrictions on freedom of expression and the right to peaceful assembly in the country, the report says.

In Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, Al-Sisi has been waging a war on terror since he assumed power, which local citizens describe as a war on civilians, that is completely disproportionate to the threat that is posed.

Anti-terror laws have given the government cover to increase human rights abuses in the peninsula, including socio-economic rights violations, including the suspension of schools across North Sinai.

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Property has been damaged, there is a food crisis, internet and communications networks have been blocked and electricity cut.

Legal changes made since 2013 have also restricted public space, limited fundamental freedoms and allowed widespread detentions to be carried out. Exceptional trials and the use of the death penalty are common, all of which meets the threshold of a permanent state of emergency in North Sinai.

The report says that whilst it understands why the government needs to issue new laws and decrees in response to terror attacks in Sinai, “we underscore that such measures must pursue a legitimate aim, conform with the requirements of legality, and be necessary, proportionate and non-discriminatory.”

We are of the view and are gravely concerned that the Anti-Terrorism Law, Protest Law, Association Law, and related measures are neither necessary nor proportionate.

“Approaches by the government violate fundamental rights, particularly regarding the silencing effect the laws have on citizens’ rights of freedom of expression, and on the peaceful and legitimate activities of human rights defenders and political opposition.”

“We recommend review and reconsideration of certain aspects of this legislation to ensure that it is in compliance with Egypt’s international human rights obligations.”

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