The US and other Western countries urged Egypt to investigate alleged killings and torture by security forces and release journalists and others arrested for exercising freedom of expression.
Egypt is deflecting criticism of its rights record and prison conditions ahead of the United Nations review following a new wave of arrests. Cairo tries to balance fighting terrorism with respecting rights.
The UN Human Rights Council in Geneva is reviewing Egypt’s record for the first time in five years as part of a regular examination of all UN member states.
“While recognising the terrorism threat Egypt faces, we call on the government to better counter that threat by easing restrictions on freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and association and ensuring fair trial guarantees,” US rights counsellor Daniel Kronenfeld told the Council.
Kronenfeld urged Egypt to “address impunity by credibly investigating allegations of extra-judicial killings, torture and forced disappearances by security forces, publicly release findings and prosecute those responsible”.
The US left the UN forum in 2018 and attends only reviews of member states.
Britain and Sweden also voiced concern at Egypt’s restrictions on activists through arrests, travel bans and asset freezes.
The head of Egypt’s delegation defended the record of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s government, saying there was a “blanket prohibition” on torture, added there may be “isolated cases”.
“During the past five years, many criminal and disciplinary actions were taken for incidents related to torture, many trials were organised against perpetrators of torture and ill-treatment,” said Omar Marwan, Minister of Parliamentary Affairs.
Egypt’s latest arrests, which rights activists say was the most intensive for years, came after rare protests against Sisi in Cairo and elsewhere in September.
Around 3 000 people, including lawyers and academics, are held under charges such as using social media to spread false news, joining a banned terrorist group and protesting without a permit, the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms says.
Criticism from Western powers keen to develop security and economic ties with Sisi’s Egypt is muted and the session in Geneva provides a forum in which they can pose questions publicly.
The forum can make recommendations but lacks tools to punish any country found to have violated human rights. Egypt is due to respond on Friday to recommendations states make.