Cablegate: Goe Upr Human Rights Report Focuses On Commitments, but Is Short On Details

DE RUEHEG #2277/01 3441211
R 101211Z DEC 09

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 CAIRO 002277



E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/10/2029
SUBJECT: GOE UPR HUMAN RIGHTS REPORT FOCUSES ON COMMITMENTS, BUT IS SHORT ON DETAILS REF: A. CAIRO 2164 B. CAIRO 1948 C. CAIRO 1925 D. CAIRO 1836 E. CAIRO 1433 F. CAIRO 814 Classified By: Economic-Political Minister-Counselor Donald A. Blome for reason 1.4 (b).
1.KEY POINTS -- (C) According to the MFA, the GOE's report for the UN Human Rights Council's (UNHRC) February 17 Universal Periodic Review (UPR) focuses on commitments on human trafficking legislation, a counterterrorism law to replace the State of Emergency, and limiting defamation cases. -- (C) The report also refers in general terms to NGO law amendments, the draft Uniform Places of Worship Law, and the definition of torture. -- (C) The report lists achievements such as press freedom, and notes obstacles such as the threat of terrorism and socio-economic problems. -- (C) The MFA wants to use the February 17 session to highlight its cooperation with UNHRC mechanisms, and is interested in a "respectful" exchange that would exclude discussion of sexual orientation discrimination.

2.(C) Comment: The report's commitments appear to track generally with the quasi-governmental National Council for Human Rights' recommendations in its May annual report and September UPR submission (refs B,F). However, in comparison, the GOE commitments are largely watered-down and generalized, following months of inter-agency negotiations under the supervision of the parliamentary affairs minister. It appears that the MFA, which attaches great importance to UN fora, would have preferred more specific commitments, but encountered resistance from the Interior Ministry. End comment. --------------------- Voluntary Commitments ---------------------

3.(C) On December 7, MFA Deputy Director for Human Rights Omar Shalaby characterized the November 12 report's voluntary commitments section as "the most important." He said the UN would make the report text available to member states at least two weeks before the February 17 UPR session. According to Shalaby, the report pledges the GOE to pass a counterterrorism (CT) law to replace the State of Emergency, although no timeframe is specified, and to enact a comprehensive human trafficking law. He acknowledged internal GOE disagreements over the draft CT law, and said the MFA hopes the report will "put pressure" on the Interior Ministry. (Note: Per ref C, the Parliamentary Affairs Minister told us one sticking point between the MOI and others is the length of pre-trial detention. End note.) Shalaby affirmed the GOE's intention to pass a law by May 2010, but conceded that the way forward is "unclear."

4.(C) Shalaby said the GOE pledges to limit defamation suits (often used to target journalists) by requiring the Public Prosecutor (attorney general-equivalent) to screen cases where the plaintiff is not directly involved. (Note: Current law allows anyone to file defamation cases on behalf of the "public good." End note.). According to Shalaby, the report notes a general intention to amend the NGO law, but provides no supporting detail. He said that a "carefully formulated" reference to the draft Uniform Places of Worship Law, which would ostensibly streamline approval of church construction, was a "last-minute addition." (Note: MFA, National Council for Human Rights and Coptic activist contacts have all assessed that this draft law is unlikely to move forward. End note.)

5.(C) Shalaby told us the report also commits Egypt to review its definition of torture (which is currently defined only in the context of extracting a confession), join the UN Convention on Forced Disappearances and improve human rights capacity building. He said the body of the report, but not the commitments section, notes the GOE will address the issue of prison terms for journalists. Shalaby also told us the CAIRO 00002277 002 OF 002 report stresses that the GOE will strengthen its relationship with civil society. ---------------------------------------- Human Rights Achievements and Challenges ----------------------------------------

6.(C) According to Shalaby, the report lists GOE advances on human rights, but "does not pretend we have done wonders." He said the submission notes achievements such as an independent press, an estimated 160,000 bloggers, increased GOE refurbishments of places of worship, cooperation with UNHRC mechanisms, the quasi-governmental National Council for Human Rights, and the continuing UNDP human rights program which provides training to judges, prosecutors and Interior Ministry officials. Shalaby said the report acknowledges the GOE "has a long way to go on human rights," and asserts that the terrorism threat and resulting State of Emergency have slowed progress. He said the submission cites other obstacles, such as problems with economic development, healthcare, housing, sanitation and literacy.

7.(C) Comment: Journalists are generally free to criticize government policy, but coverage of topics such as the military and security services often results in government harassment. Bloggers write about a range of topics, but the GOE has detained some bloggers for insulting President Mubarak and religion, and for their political activism. Three bloggers remain in jail (ref D). The National Council for Human Rights, founded in 2003, is dominated by reform-minded GOE insiders and issues substantive criticism and recommendations, which the government has generally ignored (refs B,F). Activists have criticized the UNDP program as ineffective (ref A). End comment. ------------- GOE UPR Goals -------------

8.(C) Shalaby acknowledged that a significant portion of the 20-page report deals with the government's legal framework on human rights issues such as administrative detention. He said the GOE will focus more on practical steps forward during its intervention at the February 17 UPR session. Shalaby claimed that the GOE wants to use the UPR process to highlight its engagement with UNHRC mechanisms, and the human rights dialogue in Egypt between the government and actors such as civil society, labor unions and opposition politicians. He noted that the GOE wants a "respectful" exchange with other governments February 17, although it expects "tough questions." He stressed that the GOE will be particularly sensitive to any discussion of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Scobey

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