Egypt: Alkarama Submits its Observations on the Egyptian National Council for Human Rights

On 24 June 2016, Alkarama sent a report to the Sub Committee on Accreditation (SCA) of the International Coordinating Committee of National Institutions for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights (ICC-NHRI) in view of its review of Egypt's National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) at its next session in November 2016. Recalling that the NCHR had not been reviewed since 2006, Alkarama stressed that it had not been able to independently and impartially promote and protect human rights in Egypt and it therefore invited the Sub-Committee to downgrade the NCHR from status A to B to mark its non-compliance with international standards.

What are we talking about?

Through its Sub Committee on Accreditation (SCA), the International Coordinating Committee reviews and accredits National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) on the basis of the Paris Principles, a set of international standards that details and frames the work of NHRIs, in order to ensure their pluralist representation of society and their independence from government, and reviews the scope of their mandate in order to ensure that they effectively promote and protect human rights.

Egypt's NCHR non-compliance with Paris Principles

Egypt's NCHR was established by Law n°94 of 2003 and has been since acting for the promotion and protection of human rights in the country. This 27 members body was first reviewed in 2006 by the SCA and granted status A. Expected to be reviewed again in 2011, its re-accreditation had however been deferred of one year amidst Egypt's turmoil following the revolution. The SCA nevertheless expressed concerns regarding the NCHR's "selection and appointment process, the duration of appointment of members, security of tenure, appropriately defining the grounds and process for dismissal of members, access to places of detention and confinement and a broader mandate to promote and protect human rights," thus putting into question its compliance with the Paris Principles.

The year after, the review was deferred again before being postponed indefinitely in 2013. Then, the SCA announced that it would review the NCHR in November 2016. In the meantime, despite the Sub-Committee's recommendations, the authorities failed to adopt amendments to Law n°94 of 2003 and the concerns regarding the body's independence and impartiality remained. In fact, these concerns became more and more important after the July 2013 military coup. Indeed, while the members had been since appointed by the Shura Council – an entity dissolved in 2012 – they were appointed in August 2013 by the executive branch following a non-transparent and non-participatory process, thus putting in jeopardy the member's necessary independence to carry out their mandate. Additionally, the NCHR was prevented from visiting places of deprivation of liberty without prior authorisation from the Ministry of Interior and all visits were made under the supervision of executive officials, in contradiction with the Paris Principles.

One visit in particular to Al Aqrab prison, one of Egypt's most notorious detention centre, in August 2015 sparked anger from local organisations and even from some NCHR's members. Furthermore, while the NCHR submitted individual cases of human rights violations to the authorities, it did not seek effective remedy for the victims. In fact, it mostly acted as a channel between victims and the Public Prosecution, despite being granted with quasi-judicial powers. Finally, while it condemned some restrictive laws that were adopted by the executive, it did not launch campaigns for their annulment nor did it propose draft laws of its own. In fact, while the country is facing unprecedented human rights violations, the NCHR has failed to uphold to its mandate.

Draft law to be reviewed by the House of Representatives

In any case, the NCHR will soon find itself in a legal limbo if a new law is not adopted. Indeed, its members are, according to Law n°94, appointed by the Shura Council. Since this body was removed by the 2014 Constitution, there is no official body to appoint them anymore. The current members' tenure ending in September 2016, the House of Representatives intends to present a draft law that would grant the Parliamentarians with the power to appoint the NCHR's members and amend Law n°94 of 2003. This draft does not provide answers to all of the concerns raised by Alkarama and the SCA however and could thus leave the NCHR with limited powers and without guaranteeing its complete independence from the executive branch.

"The NCHR can potentially become a strong advocate for the promotion and protection of human rights in Egypt but it needs to publicly push for the adoption of a new law that meets the Paris Principles and confront the authorities for the violations they commit," said Thomas-John Guinard, Alkarama Regional Legal Officer for the Nile region. "In a time where human rights violations have become commonplace in Egypt, it is of upmost importance that the NCHR be empowered with an effective mandate to end impunity for these violations."

In the absence of such amendments, the NCHR will remain a semi-governmental human rights body and will thus not comply with the Paris Principles. Hence, Alkarama invited the SCA to recommend its accreditation with status B.

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[UPDATE] This article was first published at 10:00 on Monday 27 June 2016. In the meantime, Alkarama was informed by the ICC Sub-Committee on Accreditation that it had accepted the Egyptian National Council for Human Rights' request to defer its re-accreditation to 2017 and not November 2016 as scheduled. It is the fourth time in a row that the SCA postpones this review since 2011. Alkarama nevertheless believes that the information contained in its report provides a useful testimony of the work undertaken by the NCHR since August 2013 and the appointment of its current members. Additionally, Alkarama hopes that the recommendation contained in its report will be of assistance to the Egyptian House of Representatives in view of the adoption of a new NCHR law.