UN: Don’t Let Egypt Undermine Expert’s Role

This article was first published by Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies

Protect Human Rights in Counter terrorism Operations

States at the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva should ensure that Egypt is not allowed to seize a leading role in relation to the mandate of the United Nations’ expert on human rights and counter-terrorism, nine international human rights organizations have said. In light of Egypt’s record of severe and widespread abuse of counter terrorism measures to violate human rights, the organizations warned against attempts by Egypt to undermine the expert’s mandate.

The mandate of the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism is due to be renewed in the coming weeks at the ongoing Human Rights Council session in Geneva. Mexico has for many years led the resolution that established and maintained the expert but is now understood to be in discussions with Egypt about a possible leadership role for Egypt. Other changes to the resolution text may also be under consideration.

“Egypt has an appalling record of abusing counterterrorism measures against human rights defenders and other dissenting voices and was recently denounced by the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders for severe reprisals against people who spoke with another visiting UN expert,” said Matt Pollard, senior legal adviser and UN representative for the International Commission of Jurists in Geneva. “To give such a country shared leadership on the renewal of the mandate of the UN’s expert on human rights and counter-terrorism would only do further harm to civil society and others in Egypt and elsewhere, undermine the work of the expert and the UN as a whole, and badly tarnish the long history of leadership Mexico has shown on these issues.”

Nine organizations – Amnesty International, ARTICLE 19, Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Human Rights Watch, International Commission of Jurists, International Service for Human Rights, and Privacy International – had earlier sent a joint letter to all countries representatives in Geneva highlighting their concerns. This was followed by a joint oral statement at the Human Rights Council session on March 1, during an interactive dialogue with the special rapporteur.

Egypt has gradually sought to dilute or distort the longstanding focus of the UN Human Rights Council’s work to protect and promote human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, the groups said. In 2018 it succeeded in watering down the council’s longstanding thematic resolution on the topic, in which states annually recognize concerns about abuses and urge respect for human rights at a global and abstract level.

However, any move to gain control over the resolution on which the mandate of the special rapporteur depends, or to dilute or reframe her mandate, would have far deeper and further-ranging damaging effects. The special rapporteur acts on individual complaints, reports on the situation in particular countries, and addresses in detail topics relating to counterterrorism work around the world on an ongoing basis. The special rapporteur also serves an essential function in providing independent oversight of counterterrorism measures from a human rights perspective within the overall UN system. The mandate holds a uniquely important role in the UN counterterrorism architecture, as the only UN entity with the exclusive mandate to ensure the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism.

The organizations have been urging other countries to strongly oppose any attempts to weaken the mandate of the special rapporteur. The special rapporteur’s role should not be diluted by including the flawed Egyptian-led approach into the resolution for its renewal, or by sharing the leadership of the mandate renewal resolution with Egypt or other countries that have such an appalling record in relation to the very issues the mandate is to address.

Allowing Egypt to jointly lead the mandate renewal would only serve to encourage a continuation of its pattern of gross human rights violations and abuses against civil society and others within Egypt in the name of countering terrorism, while shielding it from international scrutiny, the groups said. It would also pose a long-term threat to the UN’s role in ensuring that counterterrorism measures are consistent with human rights, and that measures to uphold human rights for all and the rule of law are the fundamental basis for the fight against terrorism.

The organizations included are:

  1. Amnesty International
  2. ARTICLE 19
  3. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
  4. CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation
  5. Human Rights Watch
  6. International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
  7. International Commission of Jurists
  8. International Service for Human Rights
  9. Privacy International