UN rights chief urges Egypt to halt 'clampdown' on civil society groups

Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein, recently appointed UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, holds his first press conference in Geneva, 16 October 2014. UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré

24 March 2016 – The United Nations human rights chief has expressed grave concern over the closure of hundreds of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Egypt and the prosecutions of numerous rights defenders for their legitimate work since November 2014, urging the Government to end such repressive measures.

“This looks like a clampdown on sections of Egyptian civil society and it must stop,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein said yesterday in a press release. “NGOs who have played a valuable role in documenting violations and supporting victims will see their activities completely crippled if this continues. This will stifle the voices of those who advocate for victims,” he added,

Today, a court is expected to rule on the asset freeze ordered against two prominent human rights defenders, who are accused of illegally receiving $1.5 million in funding from a foreign government. Their prosecutions are part of a case that dates back to 2011, when 43 staff from international NGOs were charged with receiving funds from a foreign government without a license.

“Everyone has the right to receive funds to promote human rights through peaceful means,” said the High Commissioner, urging the Egyptian authorities to stop all prosecutions targeting legitimate human rights activities. In particular, they must terminate the cases against those two men, who by international standards have clearly not committed any crime, he added.

Many organizations have been dissolved under Egypt's 2002 NGO law. Many other NGOs have also been dissolved because of their alleged links to the Muslim Brotherhood which is considered a terrorist organization by the Egyptian courts. On just one day this month, at least 20 NGOs were dissolved in the Delta Governorate and other NGOs elsewhere in the country had their activities frozen pending investigation.

Human rights activists, journalists and political activists have also been subjected to travel bans. According to Egyptian sources, hundreds of people have been prevented from entering or leaving the country, in many cases without any judicial order.

Restrictions like these contravene Egypt's obligations under the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights to provide freedom of association and freedom of expression. They also violate the Egyptian Constitution, he said.

“Egyptian civil society activists should be lauded for their dedicated efforts to promote human rights under such difficult circumstances,” Mr. Zeid said, emphasizing that laws that impose undue restrictions on NGO registration and funding – as well as freedom of expression and association –must be amended to create a more tolerant atmosphere.


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