The United States and several European countries urged Egypt yesterday to ensure civil liberties in the run-up to parliamentary elections later this year and a presidential poll in 2011.
They also called on the administration of President Hosni Mubarak to end the state of emergency that has been in force since his predecessor was assassinated in 1981 and which Egyptian critics argue is used to suppress dissent.
“The United States recommends the government of Egypt lift the state of emergency… and replace the Emergency Law with a counterterrorism law that guarantees civil liberties,” a US delegate told the 47-member United Nations Human Rights Council.
France, the Netherlands and Britain, speaking in a three-hour discussion of Egypt’s human rights record in the council’s Universal Permanent Review (UPR) process, made similar calls, putting them in the context of the coming elections.
In a report to the UPR, Egypt argued that civil and political rights were well protected under its constitution and noted that the Emergency Law was due to run out on May 31 this year, to be replaced by counter-terrorism legislation.
“When issuing and extending the declaration of the state of emergency, the political authorities have always pledged to refrain from using their emergency powers except to deal with terrorism and drugs offences, and they have kept their pledge,” the report declared.
Under the UPR, every UN member country undergoes a review of its rights record once every four years. This week Iran was in the spotlight for the first time and it was also Egypt’s first appearance.
France welcomed the fact that in its report Egypt had promised to reform its penal code to include an internationally accepted definition of torture, but urged it to act quickly on the change, and echoed by Britain called on Egypt to move towards abolition of capital punishment.
Egypt denies that torture is widespread and says there are strict punishments for any public employee involved in it. In its report, it argued that the death penalty was only handed down for serious offences like murder linked with rape.
These and dozens of other recommendations many from other developing countries hailing Egypt for cultural and social progress will be included in a report to be adopted by the council today, stating the recommendations Egypt accepts, rejects or will study. The council has no mechanism to compel countries to implement pledges they make in the UPR.
Pic: President Honi Mubarak of Egypt