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UN experts condemn Egypt's rights record ahead of COP27

Alex Berry
October 7, 2022

Egypt's mistreatment of activists may cast a shadow over the upcoming international climate change conference. A group of UN experts has said future hosts must meet strict human rights criteria.

An Egyptian police officer at the entrance of the Tora prison on the southern outskirts of the Egyptian capital Cairo
Arrests and detentions have created a climate of fear for Egyptian civil society group, UN experts saidImage: Khaled Desouki/AFP

A group of five UN experts has expressed concern over the treatment of human rights and civil society activists by Egyptian authorities in the run-up to the COP27 summit to be held in Sharm el-Sheikh in November.

A statement released by the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights on behalf of the group on Friday said a new wave of repression was undermining the right to participate in public affairs.

"Arrests and detention, NGO asset freezes and dissolutions and travel restrictions against human rights defenders have created a climate of fear for Egyptian civil society organizations to engage visibly at the COP27," the group of UN special rapporteurs said.

What is Egypt doing to hinder activists?

The statement pointed to Egypt's record of crackdowns on civil society, including the "harassment, intimidation and reprisals" some groups have experienced after working with the UN.

The UN experts said they were concerned about a series of tools they say are being used to try and minimize the amount of participation, and criticism, from activists at the COP27 summit.

The statement cited a "lack of information and transparent accreditation criteria for Egyptian NGOs, a coordinated increase in hotel room rates," and "undue restrictions to freedom of peaceful assembly outside the COP27 venue," as well as "unjustified delays in the provision of visas to those traveling from abroad were the main concerns for civil society activists."

Egypt is in the same league as countries such as Turkey and China when it comes to arresting journalists. Human Rights Watch estimated that some 60,000 people were being detained as political prisoners in Egypt in 2019.

The Egyptian Foreign Ministry denied allegations that it was thwarting participation, saying in a statement that the process for accreditation to the conference was governed by UN rules. Cairo has pledged to respect human rights and to include more opposition voices in a national dialogue.

But Amnesty International has spurned the measures as a "shiny coverup."

Human rights body calls for new host selection criteria

"Instead of further limiting their rights, civil society actors and human rights defenders, including those working on climate rights, must be given an opportunity to raise awareness about their views and protection needs," the UN experts wrote in their statement.

"We strongly believe that COP27, organized by the United Nations, should uphold the public's right to participate in the conduct of public affairs, as recognized by Egypt," they added.

Previous summits have seen large-scale protests as activists express their interest in taking concrete steps to avoid the most disastrous levels of warming and biodiversity destruction.

The UN High Commission on Human Rights called on the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which organizes the COP summits, to consider a country's human rights record when next deciding who will host future COPs.

The Associated Press material contributed to this report.

Edited by: Sean Sinico

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