03/12/2021 United States (International Christian Concern) – For the first time since 2014, the U.S. signed on to the UN Human Rights Council’s joint statement on Egypt, which called on the government to lift curbs on freedoms of expression and assembly. The statement demanded in particular that Egypt end the use of vague “terrorism” charges to hold human rights defenders and civil society activists in extended pre-trial detentions.
The U.S. sign-on comes in a rare move on the part of Washington, which has avoided criticizing Egypt, a close regional ally, but President Biden has promised to speak out against human rights violations and abuses of law both within Egypt and worldwide. The U.S. signature on the statement is important in bringing international attention and pressure to the situation in Egypt, which has been steadily growing worse since the current president, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, overthrew the country’s democratically elected president Mohamed Morsi in 2013. It is estimated that, 60,000 political prisoners are being held in Egyptian jails according to rights groups, and the country is considered the world’s third worst jailer of journalists, behind China and Turkey.
“We urge Egypt to guarantee space for civil society – including human rights defenders – to work without fear of intimidation, harassment, arrest, detention, or any other form of reprisal,” Finland’s ambassador Kirsti Kauppi said in reading the statement to the Geneva forum. “That includes lifting travel bans and asset freezes against human rights defenders…” she said.
“It’s been seven years since there has been any kind of collective action on Egypt at the human rights council, all the while the situation has declined sharply – this is a crucial step,” Kevin Whelan, Amnesty International representative to the UN in Geneva said. “We’re at the point where the survival of the human rights movement in Egypt is at stake.”
The statement is also important for religious freedoms activists, many of whom are targeted for their minority beliefs, and are attacked and detained for activities as simple as attending church, or a meeting. Many hope that this statement will allow such activists to push for increased rights and recognition by the government in the face of international scrutiny and pressure on the Egyptian government. That the U.S. has signed on to the statement is a step in the right direction, and sends a signal to Egypt that, while they may be allies, their continued human rights abuses will not be tolerated.
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