Rights advocate sceptical about role of Egypt institutions

Sunday 16/10/2016
He resigned as head of Human Rights Committee in August

CAIRO - The outgoing head of the Human Rights Committee in Egypt’s parliament said he does not trust state institu­tions to take actions needed to improve human rights in Egypt.

“Sorry to say state officials become very nervous when you mention human rights to them,” Mohamed Anwar Sadat said. “Human rights as an issue needs revision and direct intervention from the president.”

Sadat, a nephew of Egypt’s late president Anwar Sadat, resigned as head of the Human Rights Committee in August to protest the lack of cooperation on human rights issues.

Sadat and his 39 colleagues on the committee had created subcommittees to focus on specific areas, including political rights and economic rights. They planned a series of field visits to Egypt’s prisons and hospitals. They also wanted to travel outside of Egypt, including to the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva.

However, none of the visits were approved by parliament Speaker Ali Abdel Aal.

Sadat said Abdel Aal shunned him when he wanted to discuss salaries of army generals. Another time, the speaker accused him of writing a “negative” report about human rights conditions in Egypt and sending it to an international organisation.

Sadat said when committee members wanted to visit a prison, hospital or school, the parliament speaker, who has to approve the trips, told them the security apparatus had refused the requests.

“The security apparatus controls parliament, which violates the independence of this parliament,” Sadat said. “This parliament needs to work independently from security agencies.”

Human Rights Watch in 2015 described Egypt as a country in crisis. It said authorities imprisoned tens of thousands of people, effectively banned protests and outlawed the country’s largest opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood.

“Law enforcement forces committed torture and enforced disappearance, and deaths in custody continued,” Human Rights Watch said. “At least 3,000 people were charged or sentenced in military courts.”

The National Council for Human Rights, a local agency, concedes some violations in its 2015 report, released in August. The council referred to torture in police stations, the death of prisoners in police custody and the enforced disappearance of some people.

Sadat said there is a lack of readiness inside decision-making circles in Egypt to improve human rights conditions.

“Whenever you speak about human rights, the answer is always that Egypt is in a state of war and that such discussions should be delayed until this country becomes more stable,” Sadat said. “The government believes that opening up to rights and civil society freedoms will further destabilise the country.”

The result of such an attitude, Sadat said, is that most of Egypt’s human rights violations go unaddressed.

Some question Sadat’s assessment and his motivations, said Mohamed al-Ghoul, a lawmaker and a member of Sadat’s committee. By resigning Sadat only wanted to appear in the news, he said.

“He resigned only when the legislative session would have ended after few days,” Ghoul said. “He only wanted to make a show because if he had really been maltreated by the parliament speaker, he could have resigned long before the session ended.”

Sadat said most members of the Human Rights Committee had thought of resigning long before the legislative session ended in early September because they were sure they would not be allowed to act against human rights violations.

A video on social media shows Abdel Aal fiercely castigating Sadat for inquiring about the salaries of army generals.

Sadat added the timing of his resignation was meant to send a strong message about parliament’s readiness to handle human rights violations.

“I wanted to send the message that my decision wasn’t hasty but taken after I had seen enough evidence that nothing good would come out of this parliament,” he said.

Sadat said he does not plan to seek another term as committee chairman in the new legislative session, which started on October 4th. He said that another committee member, who is a retired police officer, will most likely fill the post in the new session after receiving strong support from Abdel Aal.