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UN investigates allegations of Egypt surveillance at COP27

November 14, 2022

The UN climate summit host has described accusations that it was spying on delegates as "ludicrous." Germany's Foreign Ministry, as well as activists and rights groups, had complained.

Egyptian police secure the area of Sharm el-Sheikh International Convention Centre, in Egypt's Red Sea resort city
The United Nations said it was investigating allegations of misconduct by Egyptian police officers Image: Mohammed Abed/AFP/Getty Images

The UN Department for Safety and Security (UNDSS) said on Monday that it was probing allegations that COP27 host Egypt was "monitoring" participants.

Berlin had complained about the purported monitoring taking place at its pavilion to the Egyptian government. The German Foreign Ministry said it expected "all participants in the UN climate conference to be able to work and negotiate under safe conditions."

Cairo has rejected the accusations.

The summit is being jointly secured by the UNDSS and the Egyptian police. Even the part of the venue designated as United Nations territory is secured by Egyptian personnel, the UN confirmed, citing the "scale and complexity of providing security at a large scale event'' as the reason for deploying this rather controversial help.

What did Egypt say?

Wael Aboulmagd, the head of the Egyptian delegation, denied to reporters on Monday receiving any reports on Egyptian police misconduct during the summit. He added that he was only aware of "rather vague, imprecise, inaccurate" media reports.

The accusation particularly circled around one panel held at the German pavilion last week, featuring the sister of jailed political activist Alaa Abdel-Fattah.

The panel featured a disruption by an Egyptian member of parliament, who verbally attacked Abdel-Fattah and his sister, before a brief quarrel with the security personnel, as he refused to forsake the microphone.

Egypt's human rights abuses overshadow COP27 conference

"It seems ludicrous because that's an open event,'' the Associated Press news agency quoted Aboulmagd as saying, in reference to the panel. "Why would any untoward surveillance exist in an open event?''

The veteran Egyptian diplomat accused the critical voices of attempting to distract the conference from the major climate issues at hand.

"We're tired of these apparently intentional distractions from climate issues, excessive focus on unfounded allegations,'' he said.

Feeling 'watched' at COP27

Meanwhile, some participants in the event described their experience to the media. Liane Schalatek, associate director of the Heinrich Boll Stiftung foundation in Washington, has been attending the climate conference since 2008.

She told Germany's ZDF broadcaster that she was "clearly more uncomfortable than at any other COP before." She said she felt "watched," describing cameras directed at speakers' faces in internal coordination meetings as "both unnecessary and unusual."

Egypt has been keen on hosting the climate summit to improve its international reputation. However, the country's controversial human rights record has been at the center of the global convention since it launched last week.

Ahead of the summit, the New York-based Human Rights Watch warned of "sweeping surveillance plans."

It pointed to the conspicuous practice of equipping hundreds of taxis in Sharm el-Sheikh with cameras, as well as the Egyptian smartphone app for attendees, which reportedly requires phone, microphone and location access.

Egypt's human rights human rights violations overshadow COP27: DW's Aya Ibrahim

rmt/fb (AP, AFP)