EGYPT: Alkarama's report to the SCA concludes that downgrading the NCHR's "A" status is necessary to promote justice and credibility

مقر المجلس القومي

Geneva, June 1, 2024 – Alkarama submitted a follow-up report to the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions (GANHRI) urging its Sub-Committee on Accreditation (SCA) to downgrade Egypt's National Council for Human Rights (NCHR). The report sheds light on the NCHR's failure to address its lack of independence from the government and its ineffectiveness in tackling serious human rights violations.

Alkarama's report comes on the heels of the SCA's decision last October to grant the NCHR a one-year deferral to rectify these critical issues. Despite being initially rated 'A' by the SCA in 2018, indicating independence and effectiveness, the NCHR has been criticized by Alkarama for serving as a mere facade for the government to mask its concerning human rights track record. The NCHR's close alignment with the government has compromised its ability to impartially investigate human rights abuses in Egypt, as highlighted by Alkarama's report.

A PR tool for the government to gloss over a dismal human rights record

In 2023, the SCA echoed civil society concerns about the NCHR's lack of effectiveness, particularly in "addressing serious human rights violations, including torture, enforced disappearances, detention and prison conditions, the situation of human rights defenders, the right to a fair trial and due process, and freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association".

This serious shortcoming is due to the NCHR's lack of independence from the government, particularly the executive branch, which prevents it from freely investigating sensitive human rights issues in Egypt without interference. Alkarama highlighted that since the launch of the National Human Rights Strategy in September 2021 by President General Al Sissi, the military-led government has used the NCHR as yet another tool to gloss over its dismal human rights record.

Scrolling through the NCHR's website of press releases praising the executive authorities for their commitment to human rights, one can clearly see the lack of independence and critical distance. The perception of the NCHR as a government-affiliated body is shared not only by independent civil society, but also seems to be the government's understanding of the NCHR, and the NCHR's own view of itself.

"Egypt's national human rights institution will never fulfill its mandate if it remains a government body dependent on the approval of the executive branch," said Rachid Mesli, director of Alkarama. "We call on Egypt to amend the law of the NCHR to grant it independence in accordance with the Paris Principles and allow it to become an effective watchdog and not an arm of the state."

No improvement in sight

In its September-October 2023 report the SCA urged the NCHR “to strengthen its efforts to address all human rights violations” and “ensure that its positions on these issues are publicly made available, as this will contribute to the credibility and accessibility of the institution for all people in Egypt”.

However, the lack of independence and effectiveness remains, severely hampering the NCHR's ability to address, report and monitor human rights violations in accordance with the Paris principles.

The National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) remains aligned with Egypt's military-led government, as evidenced by a press release in which the NCHR congratulated Egyptians on the '30 June Revolution'. This referred to the military overthrow in June/July 2013, which led to an unprecedented human rights crisis with over 60,000 political prisoners.

This statement only underlines the NCHR's clear bias in favour of the military-led government, which has waged a fierce crackdown on political opponents of all ideologies, leading to the arbitrary detention of a record number of Egyptian citizens on suspicion of sympathy or affiliation with the Muslim Brotherhood.  

Alkarama stressed that the victims of the crackdown are precisely those most in need of an independent national human rights institution with an exemplary reputation for impartiality. The institution should be available to all victims of human rights violations, regardless of their real or perceived political opinions.

The National Human Rights Commission lacks the capacity to deal effectively and impartially with complaints of torture and ill-treatment in detention. This conclusion is drawn from the NCHR's own report to the UN Committee against Torture, which found that an 'overwhelming majority' of torture allegations made by victims were unfounded.  

The NCHR's finding is even more disturbing given that the UN Committee against Torture has documented widespread and systematic torture in Egypt, while independent international and local human rights groups continue to report pervasive torture and ill-treatment in detention.  

The stark discrepancy between reports from detainees' families and international human rights organisations, on the one hand, and the NCHR's reports, on the other, highlights the lack of independence of the institution in one of its most important functions: visiting prisons.

Downgrading the status of the Egyptian NCHR: a necessity for credibility and justice

Alkarama stressed that the NCHR's statements in its shadow report to the CAT show a worrying lack of independence, which even jeopardises the safety of torture victims who refer their cases to it.

In addition, maintaining A status would give stakeholders the false impression that the NCHR is independent and that they can rely on its biased and inaccurate information.

Thus, the NCHR's reports demonstrate the dangers of granting A status to a non-independent NHRI, and allowing the NCHR to retain A status would both be a disservice to Egyptians and undermine the SCA's review process.  

In conclusion, Alkarama stressed that downgrading the NCHR is not only crucial for civil society and victims seeking justice. It is also essential to ensure the credibility of the GANHRI's grading system in Egypt and worldwide.

What is next?

The SCA will review the NCHR during its September-October 2024 session, based on information provided by the institution and NGOs.

Following the review, the SCA may decide to grant a further year's deferral, a downgrade, or to maintain the A status.