Urgent Statement on the situation in Egypt
|Publisher||International Federation for Human Rights|
|Publication Date||6 June 2013|
|Cite as||International Federation for Human Rights, Urgent Statement on the situation in Egypt, 6 June 2013, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/51cc38c3c.html [accessed 29 March 2017]|
|Disclaimer||This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.|
Last Update 6 June 2013
The Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network (EMHRN) and the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation against Torture (OMCT), express their most serious concern about alarming restrictions and criminalisation of civil society work in Egypt.
Our organisations are dismayed by the sentence issued by North Cairo Criminal Court on 4 June 2013, condemning 43 Egyptian and foreign staff members of five foreign civil society organisations to one to five years in prison for "managing unlicensed branches" of their organisations, "conducting research, political training, surveys, and workshops without licenses", "training political parties and groups" and "illegally receiving foreign funding".
The court also ordered the confiscation of funds and the closure of Egypt-based branches of Freedom House, the International Republican Institute, the National Democratic Institute, the International Centre for Journalists (ICFJ), and Konrad Adenauer Foundation. This condemnation comes at a time when the discussion of a new draft Law on Associations before the Shura Council gives rise to utmost concern as this draft law aims to dictate civil society organisation their acceptable goals, activities and internal functioning, and seeks to establish multiple-level bureaucratic and content-based controls on all civil society activities.
Indeed, the 29 May version sent by President Morsi to the Shura Council maintains most of the problematic provisions that imposes strict control over NGO's establishment, funding, daily activities, internal decisions and functioning.
This draft aligns with the latest judicial decision of 4 June criminalising the legitimate work of foreign civil society organisations in Egypt and falls far short from meeting international standards regarding freedom of association. Should this law pass, it will make the daily work of local and foreign NGOs, in all fields ranging from development to culture and human-rights promotion, extremely difficult because of excessive bureaucratic controls, government scrutiny and innumerable authorisation procedures for all activities. The basic spirit of this law is to align civil society with government policies, with the risk of stifling any dissenting voice and further criminalising civil activists as was sadly demonstrated by the sentence emitted yesterday in Cairo against international NGO workers.
Now is a critical time for the European Union (EU) and its member states to loudly and strongly demonstrate their support to independent civil society in Egypt as part of the commitments of the new European Neighbourhood policy.
Lastly, on 2 June Egypt's Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC) ruled that both the Shura Council and the Constituent Assembly were formed unconstitutionally, based on an electoral law relating to independent candidates which was also ruled unconstitutional earlier this year. The SCC postponed the dissolution of the Shura Council until after the next parliamentary elections. Reforming the associations' law should thus await the election of a new parliamentary assembly with full legitimacy.
We therefore urge the EU and its member states to immediately, strongly and publicly call on the Egyptian presidency and the Shura Council to postpone the adoption of the law and to review its provisions to ensure that they fully comply with international standards protecting the right to freedom of association ratified by Egypt. Moreover, we call on the EU to urge the Egyptian authorities to immediately put an end to all forms of harassment or intimidation to which independent civil society organisations are subjected and especially to drop all criminal charges against civil society workers.
Also see: the statement by 40 Egyptian civil organizations, 30 May 2013
MOST SIGNIFICANT PROVISIONS OF THE DRAFT LAW ON CIVIL WORK ORGANISATIONS
Registration of Egyptian NGOs would still go through a disguised authorisation procedure despite the wording as "notification". Indeed, Article 6 of the draft law clearly states that organisations become legally recognised only after the lapse of a 30 day period from the time of notification without any objections from the designated authorities.
Foreign funding still has to be approved by a "coordination committee" (art. 63); even material donations (such as publications) are only allowed "as long as their content is consistent with and contributes to the activity of the association" (art. 13) unduly restricting the right to access and disseminate information.
Registration and activities of foreign organisations have to be previously authorised by the Coordination committee on a project-to-project basis. Vaguely worded provisions on restrictions open the door to abusive interpretation, for example in Art. 60 "The foreign NGO should spend its funds to achieve its purposes in line with the rules of the activities it is permitted to practice in the Arab Republic of Egypt and shall observe the constitution and law". At any time, the Coordination committee "may object to any of the activities or funding channels through a registered letter to the organisation requiring the removal of the objection reasons within 15 days" (art. 62). Only then and if the NGO contests the decision, a Financial and administrative examination committee will be formed to further examine the case and possibly bring it to court.
The Coordination committee that will rule over civil society activities is not precisely defined in the law. Chapter 5, art. 53 states that "Four representatives of concerned ministries or organisations to be selected by competent ministers" and "Four representatives of Civil Work organisations to be selected by the General Federation of Civil Work Organisations" will compose it, as well as "any experts or concerned people" deemed appropriate. While previous drafts institutionalised the old practice of Security services' intervention in decisions concerning foreign NGOs and foreign funding, the present draft removed this mention, but leaves a sufficiently vague wording so as to permit virtually any person "deemed appropriate" to be part of the committee.
Finally, heavy sanctions are maintained (with fines ranging from ten thousand pounds to one hundred thousand pounds and prohibition from membership of any board of directors of a Civil Work entity for one year to five years) for violating provisions of the law such as receiving foreign funding without prior license, spending the NGO's funds "for purposes other than the designated purposes" or using the NGO's funds after it was dissolved. The same violations, along with joining an international organisation or network without prior authorisation from the Coordination Committee, also expose the NGO to suspension or dissolution.