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The Egyptian Organization for Human Rights
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Press release
Cairo:3/6/2003

Egyptian National Council for Human Rights Against Human Rights NGOs

Official EOHR Position on the Proposed Council

from the Perspective of International Human Rights Law

 As the time of the establishment of the Egyptian National Council for Human Rights approaches, and in light of current debates concerning its establishment, EOHR would like to offer its perspective on the subject to be submitted to concerned bodies - in particular, members of the Egyptian Parliament and Shura Council.  This position statement has been prepared by Mr. Hafez Abou-Se’da, the Secretary General of EOHR, and is founded on current international human rights principles.   

EOHR is pessimistic about the future relationship between the National Council and human rights NGOs in Egypt for the following reasons: 

  1. The proposed legislation that will establish the National Council was prepared without consultation with human rights NGOs or any other concerned parties within Egyptian civil society.

  2. The establishment of the National Council comes at a time when the majority of human rights NGOs are still in a state of legal ambiguity.  The new NGOs Law (84/2002) imposes numerous restrictions on the activities of such organizations.

  3. The majority of government statements concerning the National Council do not highlight the role of the National Council as an instrument for combating human rights violations; rather, the departure point is from the standpoint of criticism directed towards the Egyptian human rights community.  This gives the impression that the work of human rights NGOs is directed against the government and the Council. 

 Accordingly, it appears that the Council is merely a propagandistic mechanism to be used by the state, and not a competent body for combating human rights violations.

 

EOHR welcomes the establishment of an independently functioning body that will advocate for greater respect for human rights in Egypt.  It also looks forward to collaborating with such a body in a relationship of efficient partnership.  However, EOHR stresses that the official governmental mindset has not until now supported such objectives, as it is the same mindset that produced the NGOs Law under which human rights organizations currently suffer. 

 

In this context, EOHR emphasizes that the primary aim of the National Council should be the promotion and protection of human rights in Egypt, and only on this ground should NGOs meet and collaborate with it.  The proposed structure as it stands is not conducive to achieving these objectives; therefore, EOHR proposes the following amendments to the structure of the National Council. 

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EOHR’s Proposed Blueprint for the Structure of the Egyptian National Council for Human Rights 

Over the coming days, Parliament and the Shura Council will discuss and approve a proposal by the Egyptian Minister of Justice for the establishment of a National Council for Human Rights.  EOHR would like to offer its position on the proposed body in the context of furthering the development of human rights in Egypt.  This position is based on relevant UN resolutions and recommendations concerning the establishment of national institutions for the promotion and protection of human rights. 

Since 1978, the UN General Assembly has issued several resolutions and recommendations concerning the establishment of national human rights institutions.  One of the most notable is UN General Assembly Resolution 48/134 (1994), which was issued during the 48th session of the UN General Assembly in March, 1994. The resolution emphasized the important role that the institution can play at the national level to protect, promote and raise public awareness of human rights and basic civil liberties.  This resolution stipulated a number of competencies and responsibilities that should be included in the enacting legislation of the state.  Resolution 48/124 outlines these competencies and responsibilities as follows:

 

1.      A national institution shall be vested with competence to promote and protect human rights.

2.      A national institution shall be given as broad a mandate as possible, which shall be clearly set forth in a constitutional or legislative text, specifying its composition and its sphere of competence.

3.      A national institutional shall, inter alia, have the following responsibilities:

a.       To submit to the Government, Parliament and any other competent body, on an advisory basis either at the request of the authorities concerned or through the exercise of its power to hear a matter without higher referral, promotion and protection of human rights; the national institution may decide to publicize them; these opinions, recommendations, proposals and reports, as well as any prerogative of the national institution, shall relate to the following areas:

                                                   i.      Any legislative or administrative provisions, as well as provisions relating to judicial organizations, intended to preserve and extend the protection of human rights; in that connection, the national institution shall examine the legislation and administrative provisions in force, as well as bills and proposals, and shall make such recommendations as it deems appropriate in order to ensure that these provisions conform to the fundamental principles of human rights; it shall, if necessary, recommend the adoption of new legislation, the amendment of legislation in force and the adoption or amendment of administrative measures;

                                                 ii.      Any situation of violation of human rights which it decides to take up;

                                                iii.      The preparation of reports on the national situation with regards to human rights in general, and on more specific matters;

                                               iv.      Drawing the attention of the Government to situations in any part of the country where human rights are violated and making proposals to it for initiatives to put an end to such situations and, where necessary, expressing an opinion on the positions and reactions of the Government;

b.      To promote and ensure the harmonization of national legislation regulations and practices with the international human rights instruments to which the State is a party, and their effective implementation;

c.       To encourage ratification of the above-mentioned instruments or accession to those instruments, and to ensure their implementation;

d.      To contribute to the reports which States are required to submit to the United Nations bodies and committees, and to regional institutions, pursuant to their treaty obligations and, where necessary, to express an opinion on the subject, with due respect for their independence;

e.       To cooperate with the United Nations and any other organization in the United Nations system, the regional institutions and the national institutions of other countries that are competent in the areas of the promotion and protection of human rights;

f.        To assist in the formulation of programmes for the teaching of, and research into, human rights and to take part in their execution in schools, universities and professional circles;

g.       To publicize human rights and efforts to combat all forms of discrimination, in particular racial discrimination, by increasing public awareness, especially through information and education and by making use of all press organs.

 

In addition to the foregoing, it is also important that the National Council play a protective role in respects to receiving and investigating complaints related to human rights violations.  One might argue that this would lead to overlapping responsibilities and competencies between the governmental bodies – like Parliament and the state prosecution – and the Council; however, there is in fact no conflict or contradiction in this regard as the role of the National Council should merely be for collecting information, sending fact-finding missions, and submitting and preparing reports to be submitted to concerned bodies like Parliament and the state prosecution so that they may take suitable action according to relevant national human rights legislation.  In addition, the role of the National Council should be to act as a mediator between parties, and to effect an amiable and cooperative resolution to disputes.

 

In order to achieve these objectives, articles of the constitution of the National Council should empower it to access information related to human rights violations from governmental bodies, to hear testimony from both complainants and the respondents, and to bring state respondents before parliamentary committees. 

 

Another important role of the National Council is to review Egyptian laws and legislation to ensure that they are in conformity with current international human rights standards.  Bringing Egyptian legislation into conformity with international human rights instruments is governed by Article 151 of the Egyptian Constitution, which states that all agreements ratified by the President and approved by Parliament will automatically become part of domestic law immediately after publication in the Egyptian Gazette.  Accordingly, Article 151 ensures that all international treaties and conventions – if ratified by the President and approved by Parliament – supersede any conflicting domestic legislation.   

Furthermore, the National Council should not replace human rights NGOs but instead work with NGOs in a relationship that is based on cooperating and coordinating to achieve the common goal of furthering the protection and promotion of human rights in Egypt.  Hence, the Council should be legally, politically and financially independent to avoid any pressure from governmental or non-governmental influences.  Moreover, members of the Council should be free from fear of removal from their positions and the members themselves should be unaffiliated with governmental bodies.  Governmental representatives should only be allowed to attend Council meetings if they are granted permission from the Council itself.  While present at Council meetings, such individuals should have no right to vote on issues put before the Council.  Finally, the Council should include in their constitution the right of the Council to establish branches and committees in different Egyptian governorates to work according to the primary principles of the Council.

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