Open letter to HR/VP Mogherini ahead of the EU-Egypt Association Council of 20 December

Egypt, Europe, Open Letter, Shrinking Space for Civil Society

Ms Federica MOGHERINI
High Representative of the Union
for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy
and Vice‐President of the European Commission

Brussels, 17 December 2018

Open letter to HR/VP Mogherini ahead of the EU-Egypt Association Council of 20 December

 

Dear High Representative Mogherini,

On 20 December, the EU-Egypt Association Council will hold its 8th meeting. The EU should not miss this crucial opportunity to denounce loudly and clearly Egypt’s appalling human rights track record, as silence on the EU’s part will be taken as an endorsement by the Egyptian authorities.

Egypt is far from being a democratic state. The elections of March 2018 were neither free, nor fair and left no space for meaningful political opposition or critical media reporting. We are extremely worried that a plan has been reported to amend the Constitution to extend the power of the President indefinitely, which shows the true intentions of an authoritarian state.

The EU-Egypt Association Agreement, Partnership Priorities and the EU’s Single Support Framework are guided by a “shared commitment to the universal values of democracy, the rule of law and the respect of human rights.” The EU guidelines on human rights dialogue state that “the EU will ensure that the issue of human rights, democracy and the rule of law will be included in all future meetings and discussions with third countries and at all levels”. This includes ministerial talks and the EU-Egypt Association Council should be no exception.

The EU should not turn a blind eye to the fact that there is a widespread torture policy in Egypt fed by the total impunity of security forces and acquiescence at the highest level of the state. More than 60,000 political prisoners are currently detained in Egypt, in dreadful detention conditions, where torture is rife. The Committee for Justice documented at least 129 cases of death in custody in 2017. 1,520 cases of enforced disappearances have been documented by the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms between July 2013 and August 2018. In its 2017 annual report, the UN committee against torture concluded that “torture is a systematic practice in Egypt.” One of the committee’s recommendations was for Egypt “to prosecute perpetrators of torture, including those with command or superior responsibility.”

A year later, in July 2018, Egypt did the exact opposite by adopting a law that allows the President to exempt some high-ranking army officials from legal accountability for potential crimes committed from July 2013 to January 2016, which includes mass killings perpetrated by the army and police. This law encourages a climate of impunity. The increasingly politicised judiciary and lack of enforcement of human rights, including those enshrined in the Egyptian constitution, only strengthen this vicious circle. Egyptian authorities have recently made ample use of the death penalty: the latest death sentence in a mass political trial, far from the international guarantees of a fair trial, was confirmed on 24 September 2018, showing an extremely concerning pattern of death sentences resulting from unfair trials.

In recent years, Egyptian authorities have conducted a generalised crackdown on Egyptian civil society and activists, including arbitrary detentions, travel bans, asset freezes, closure and intimidation. The latest wave included mass arrests and some enforced disappearances of human rights defenders such as Ezzat Ghoneim – missing since September 2018, media workers, lawyers and rights activists. Woman human rights defender Amal Fathi remains in prison for publishing a video on Facebook denouncing sexual harassment in Egypt, in one of two court cases against her. She is the wife of human rights defender Mohamed Lotfy, whose organisation, the Egyptian Commissions for Rights and Freedoms, documents enforced disappearances and torture in Egypt and has been threatened with closure by the authorities. Her verdict hearing is scheduled on 30 December. Last week, the European Parliament highlighted these issues in an urgency resolution on Egypt, notably the situation of human rights defenders. We join the resolution’s call to maintain a strong and unified position on human rights at the EU-Egypt Association Council.

The draconian new NGO law, no 70/2017, violates Egypt’s Constitution and international rights commitments and effectively shuts down the space for civil society in Egypt. Its bylaws have not been published but the law is enforced in practice. This law will prevent the EU’s implementation of cooperation projects in Egypt, as it criminalises receipt of foreign funding that does not meet the strict criteria set in the law and places onerous barriers for the registration of NGOs. Last month, President Al Sisi has announced that this law would be amended. We urge for a new law to be drafted instead, after meaningful consultation with independent civil society. Furthermore, the foreign funding case (no 173/2011), which targets international and Egyptian organisations alike, should be closed and all charges should be dropped.

The EU should not dismiss the consequences of Egypt’s direction for long-term stability and, instead, should use its political leverage to promote a meaningful engagement on democracy and rule of law, which in turn will lead to a more stable country.

Yours sincerely,

Wadih Al-Asmar
President of EuroMed Rights