How to protect human rights in the interim period

Egyptian civil society organizations, especially human rights groups, have lately been concerned with how the period of democratic transition in Egypt can be managed in a way that ensures human rights violations of the past are not repeated. The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies recently compiled a list of procedures that the Egyptian government must follow and has sent it to the Prime Minister’s office. The list includes:

1.    An immediate end to the state of emergency

2.    Ensuring all new legislation or amendments to existing legislation are consistent with international treaties to which Egypt is signatory.

3.    Consultating with non-governmental organizations concerned with human rights issues.

4.    Establishing institutional channels of cooperation between human rights organizations and different ministries, especially the ministries of interior, foreign affairs, justice, workforce, education and religious endowments.

5.    Involving these organizations in the retraining of administrative and security cadres responsible for implementing the law.

6.    Issuing a law barring the most prominent figures of the old regime from exercising their political rights for five years.

7.    Establishing an independent judicial body to look into complaints regarding torture, disappearance, and murder presented by human rights organizations to investigative authorities over the last few decades.  

8.    Establishing cooperative relations between human rights organizations and major agencies within the ministry of interior, including police stations and security agencies.

9.    Looking into the complaints presented by employees and researchers at the National Council for Human Rights, regarding the State Security Investigation Services’ over the council’s activities and reports prior to 11 February.

10.    Investigating efforts by the ministry of foreign affairs (prior to 25 January) to weaken international mechanisms to protect human rights in Egypt and working towards making the protection human rights one of the cornerstones of Egyptian foreign policy.

What struck me the most in the memorandum were the proposals regarding the State Security agency. Some of the center’s most important suggestions are that the State Security agency be eliminated all together (and not replaced by another one under a different name), that a legal committee review the files of previous state security officers to determine their fate, and that the interior ministry’s control over other government agencies through the use of security bureaus be ended.

I’m not sure how much agreement there is among human rights organizations in Egypt regarding this list of proposals. The memorandum has come to the attention of Prime Minister Essam Sharaf, who has set up a meeting with the head of the center to discuss the proposals. Perhaps it would be better for all human rights organizations in Egypt to discuss the memorandum and agree among themselves on a comprehensive list that reflects the demands of Egyptian civil society on this issue before meeting with the prime minister. Nonetheless, the efforts undertaken by the Cairo Institute to prepare this list and the prime minister’s prompt response must be commended.

Translated and abridged from the Arabic Edition.

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