UN rights expert warns about growing restrictions on civil society in Egypt

The United Nations Special Rapporteur on freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Maina Kiai, warned today about growing restrictions on civil society in Egypt, with human rights defenders and organizations in particular being targeted.

This warning comes two weeks after the Cairo Criminal Court froze the assets of five prominent human rights defenders and three non-governmental organizations (NGOs) as part of a case on foreign funding. The assets will henceforth be under Government custodianship, taking away independent decision-making power from the organizations and human rights defenders.

In a news release issued by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Mr. Kiai said that such developments represent further Government intervention into a continued crackdown on Egyptian human rights defenders and civil society organizations since the 2011 “173 Foreign Funding Case” was reopened.

As a result, the Egyptian Government has begun what Mr. Kai warns is a systematic attack on civil society “in an effort to silence its voice.” Several organizations and human rights defenders are under investigation.

The crackdown is also finding its way into legislation. On 8 September, the Egyptian Cabinet approved a draft of a new law that would retain the restrictive provisions in the current law governing NGOs (No. 84/2002).

The Special Rapporteur explained that “the draft law also limits NGO work to ‘development and social objectives,’ and imposes a high level of minimum capital required to set up an NGO. Other new elements introduced by the draft law include the establishment of a specific tax for foreign funding, the banning of activists who have received a prison sentence for forming their own NGOs, and requiring the NGOs to conduct work that meets social needs.”

Mr. Kiai is concerned that the new law would exacerbate an already restrictive legislative framework and raise questions about Egypt’s adherence to international human rights obligations. In 2014, under the second UPR cycle, the Government accepted recommendations that would strengthen and encourage the right to freedom of association and put forward new legislation for NGOs that meets international human rights standards.

“I call on the Government of Egypt to halt the ongoing harassment of human rights defenders and organizations and urge the government to ensure the compliance of the NGO draft law with international law standards, following a transparent consultation process with the civil society organizations,” urged the Special Rapporteur today.

Independent Experts and Special Rapporteurs, are appointed by the Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme. The positions are honorary and the experts are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work.

Source: UN News Centre.