UN experts: Egypt hinders civil society role in COP27

CAIRO (AP) — A group of United Nations-appointed experts on Friday criticized the Egyptian government for imposing a wave of restrictions that jeopardize the “safety and full participation” of individuals and organizations wishing to attend the international climate summit in the Arab country next month.

Egypt’s poor human rights record has come under renewed international scrutiny ahead of its hosting of the global COP27 summit in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh. Since taking office in 2013, President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi’s government has relentlessly silenced dissenters and clamped down on independent organizations through mass arrests, detentions and prison sentences, among other restrictions.

In a statement issued Friday, U.N. human rights experts joined dozens of international rights groups in criticizing Egypt’s “sustained crackdowns on civil society and human rights defenders.”

‘‘The wave of government restrictions on participation raised fears of reprisals against activists,’’ the statement said. The group also called for future summit hosts to meet human rights criteria as part of the deal for holding the major climate event.

Among several issues, U.N. experts have condemned Cairo for a lack of transparency over the accreditation for Egyptian NGOs, an increase in hotel room rates, visa delays and restrictions over gatherings and protests.

The experts are appointed by the U.N.’s human rights council but are independent in the sense that they not receive payment from the body. Among the group who released the statement are Ian Fry, special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of climate change, and Mary Lawlor, special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders.

A draconian law introduced by el-Sissi’s government in 2013 effectively bans all street protests. However, Egypt’s foreign minister and president-designate of COP27, Sameh Shoukry, told The Associated Press in May that there will be designated zones in Sharm el-Sheikh where protests can take place.

The office of Egypt’s foreign minister did not immediately respond Friday to a request for comment. Earlier this month the foreign ministry denied allegations that it was thwarting participation, saying in a statement that the process for accreditation to the conference was governed by U.N. rules. It added that as host, it had put forward 56 organizations from Egypt, Africa and the region to join the discussions.

Egyptian authorities have recently released dozens of high-profile detainees under presidential pardons and established a new “strategy” to upgrade human rights conditions. Earlier this year, it also announced a national dialogue, claiming that it will include voices from opposition groups.

Amnesty International has described these measures as “a shiny cover-up, ” accusing the government of using November’s summit as an attempt to whitewash their poor human rights record. The group’s website is one of dozens blocked in Egypt.

Egypt is among the world’s worst jailers of journalists, along with Turkey and China, according to 2021 data produced by the U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists. Human Rights Watch estimated in 2019 that as many as 60,000 political prisoners are incarcerated in Egyptian prisons.

A large number of those arrested and charged with crimes related to “spreading false news” and joining an “illegal group” — a reference to the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood which governed Egypt during 2012 and 2013. These are typical charges for detainees and political activists who oppose the government.

Many of the major activists involved in Egypt’s 2011 popular uprising that rocked the Middle East and toppled former leader Hosni Mubarak remain behind bars. El-Sissi has said in the past that the country has no political prisoners and justified detentions on grounds of national security.

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