Egypt has acceded to the seven major United Nations conventions on human rights, namely: the two International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights; on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1982), the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (1967), the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (1981), the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (1986), the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1990), and the Convention on the Protection of Migrant Workers and Members of their Families (1993). Moreover, Egypt has acceded to the optional protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflicts (2007), and the optional protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography (2002).
Egypt has also acceded to the eight International Labour Organization (ILO) conventions on human rights, namely: the two conventions (29 and 105) on Forced or Compulsory Labour (1955 and 1958 respectively); the two conventions (57 and 98) on Freedom of Association and Collective Bargaining (1957 and 1954 respectively); the two conventions (100 and 111) concerning the Elimination of Discrimination in Respect of Employment and Occupation (1960); and the two conventions (138 and 182) pertaining to Forbidding the Employment of Children and Minors (1999 and 2002 respectively).
Egypt made reservations on certain provisions of the conventions it acceded to:
- The two International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights; on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights: upon accession to the covenants Egypt issued a statement proclaiming its adherence to all provisions as long as they do not contradict the provisions of Islamic law (Shari'a).
- The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination: article (22) on referring any dispute over implementing or interpreting the convention to the International Court of Justice.
- The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women: general reservation on article (2) concerning any contradiction between its provisions and Islamic Shari'a. Article (9/2) on granting women equal rights in their children's citizenship. Article (16) pertaining to equality of women and men in marriage and family affairs during marriage and upon its dissolution, on condition that this equality does not violate such rights as stipulated by Shari'a. Article (29/2) concerning referring any dispute over interpreting or implementing the convention to an arbitration authority.
- The Convention on the Rights of the Child: in July 2003, Egypt withdrew its previous reservations on provisions related to adoption under article 21 and 22.
- The Convention on the Protection of Migrant Workers and Members of their Families: article (4) that defines "family members" as married persons or persons linked by relations equivalent to marriage. Article (18/6) concerning compensating any migrant worker or any of his family members for any abuse resulting from legal judgments.
Egypt has agreed to the "Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam" issued in 1990 by foreign ministers of Muslim countries. The declaration is a guiding document that does not require ratification. Egypt also acceded to the "Arab Charter of Human Rights/Amended" prepared by the Arab Summit in Tunisia in May 2004, but did not ratify it like most Arab states. Egypt also acceded to the "African Charter for Human and Peoples' Rights (1984); and to the "African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (2001).
Human Rights Institutions
Egypt has all sorts of human rights institutions: governmental, national institutions, parliamentary committees and non-governmental organizations. At the governmental level, there are several administrations concerned with human rights, namely: "The Public Administration for Human Rights" at the ministry of justice (2001). The main task of this administration is to establish harmony between national legislation and international charters acceded to by Egypt, in cooperation with state agencies. There is also "Office of the Undersecretary of State for Protection of Human Rights and International Humanitarian Social Issues" (early 1990s). The tasks of this office are: specialized follow up of human rights issues nationally and internationally; conducting constant dialogue with effective NGOs in the field of human rights; preparing replies to complaints concerning human rights received by the ministry of foreign affairs or by its missions abroad. There is also the "Human Rights Complaints Office" attached to the public prosecutor. This office specializes in receiving and examining human rights complaints submitted to the Public prosecutor. Finally, there is a "Human Rights Directorate" at the ministry of interior (2005).
A "Permanent Committee for Human Rights" was established inside the parliament in January 2005. Its jurisdiction includes examining human rights legislation, the international humanitarian law, reports of the National Council for Human Rights, and human rights complaints raised by citizens and organizations. Moreover, human rights jurisdiction was added to the tasks of a committee in the Consultative Council in 2005.
There are three human rights national institutions in Egypt: one of vast and general specialty which is "The National Council for Human Rights"; and two specialized institutions, namely: "The National Council For Motherhood and Childhood" and "The National Council for Women". The National Council for Human Rights was established by a presidential resolution in 2003 according to "Paris Principles". The Council is attached to the consultative council. It is concerned with enhancing respect and protection of human rights, disseminating awareness of human rights, giving its opinion, suggestions and recommendations on cases and issues referred by government agencies, and receiving complaints. The council also follows up on implementation of human rights treaties and conventions, publishes reports on human rights situation in Egypt and submits reports on its activities, efforts and recommendations to the President and to the heads of the people's assembly and the consultative council. The National Council for Women established by presidential resolution (No. 90/2000) as a main platform for women's issues and for promoting the concept of participatory development. The National Council for Motherhood and Childhood was established by presidential resolution in 1988 and commenced its activities in 1989. It is considered the upper national body responsible for setting the policies and development tendencies of the national plan for mother and child, as well as following up on implementation of the national plan in all sectors.
Egypt has more than 40 non-governmental organizations operating in the field of human rights. Some NGOs work on enhancing and protecting human rights, such as the Arab Organization For Human Rights (1983) and The Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (1985). Some NGOs work only on enhancement, such as the Cairo Center for Human Rights Studies (1993) and The Association of Human Rights Supporters (1994). Other NGOs work on legal assistance, such as "Human Rights Legal Assistance Society" (1999). Other NGOs work on the rights of specific groups, such as: "Human Rights Association for Helping Prisoners" (1997); "Candles Association for Sponsoring Human Rights" that works on the rights of the disabled and persons with special needs (2000); "Center for Rights of Egyptian Child" and "Arab Program for Human Rights Activists" (1997); and "AnNadim Center for Rehabitating and Psychological Treatment of Torture Victims" (1993).
Achievements on the Road to Good Governance
1. The President proposed a constitutional reform program that included: reorganizing the relationship between the legislative and executive authorities in a way that creates a more balanced relationship between them; strengthening the parliament's supervisory role; the extent of government sharing executive power with the President; setting controls over the President's exercise of his constitutional powers in confronting threats to the country's safety; adopting the best election system that guarantees the chances of political parties to be represented in the parliament; guaranteeing a minimum number of parliamentary seats for women; improving local administration and supporting decentralization; adopting a new anti-terrorism law that replaces the emergency law; enhancing judicial independence; realizing compatibility between constitutional provisions and current economic conditions; and asking the People's Assembly and the Shura Council to amend 34 articles of the constitution to realize the above mentioned goals.
2. The state carried out legal reforms in 2006 that included:
a) Amending the criminal procedures law by law 145/2006 that became effective on July 28. Law 145 reformed the system of provisional detention which became a punishment in itself as a result of abuse and misuse. The amendment set a maximum period for provisional detention during interrogation or other phases of the trial. It also defined the situations to which provisional detention is applicable, and permitted alternative measures.
b) Amending the penal code on crimes of expression. The amendments covered 3 areas: replacing imprisonment by fines, careful wording of some articles for the sake of exact clarification of indictment criteria, and reducing the amount of fines. However, the law no. 145 was criticized for retaining some penalties that weaken press freedoms, such as the article on insulting the Egyptian President or the rulers of other countries where imprisonment still applies. In addition, imprisonment still holds if a press release or commentary harms government security. On 14 September 2007 an Egyptian court sentenced to one year in prison seven journalists, five of whom are editors of daily newspapers, for insulting the top leadership or publishing false news about the president’s health. Shaikh Al-Azhar Mohammad Sayyed Tantawi expressed his support to the government by issuing two religious opinions (Fatwa) that condemn journalists who criticize government officials.
c) Alongside these legal amendments, the government passed a law establishing the "national commission for quality of education" and a law for consumer protection.
3. Government efforts to reassert citizenship rights following violent sectarian incidents that reflect a state of sectarian antagonism.
4. In response to United Nations mechanisms for protecting and enhancing Human Rights, the Egyptian government submitted its first report to the international committee on protecting the rights of migrant workers and members of their families. The report would be discussed in April 2007.
5. Egyptian women attained a new achievement in March 2007 by overcoming the existing discrimination against them in terms of occupying judicial positions. A total of 33 females who were members of the administrative prosecution commission were appointed as judges in the courts of Cairo, Giza and Alexandria. Egyptian women were previously appointed to the administrative prosecution and state cases commissions that are considered judicial bodies by the constitutional court.
6. In protest against sentencing the seven journalists to jail in September 2007, 22 Egyptian newspapers, some of which belong to political parties while others are independent, decided not to publish their issues on October 7, 2007. Three electronic websites took the same decision, namely "Brothers online" (Muslim Brothers website), "The Egyptian" and "My Country". Major protesting newspapers were: "Al-Wafd" published by "Al-Wafd" liberal opposition party; "Al-Arabi" published by the "Arab Nasserite Party"; "Al-Ahali (leftist Rally party), and "Al-Karamah" (published by "Al-Karamah” party that is still being established). Several independent political, economic and sports newspapers joined the protest. Editors of the 22 newspapers said that the jail sentences were part of a campaign to silence voices that criticize the government.