Progress made, but many challenges lie ahead in Egypt's transition to a truly democratic state

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Statement at the Conclusion of OHCHR Mission to Egypt 27 March to 4 April 2011

CAIRO (5 April 2011) -- A delegation of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said Monday that there had been a number of clear human rights achievements in Egypt since 25 January and encouraged the country leadership to translate the legitimate aspirations of the Egyptian people for change into concrete democratic institutional reforms. It also called for a concerted effort and renewed vigilance in combating human rights violations and impunity and ensuring transparency and inclusive dialogue during the transitional period.

The delegation issued its statement at the end of an eight-day visit to Egypt to interact with main national actors about the current situation and identify how OHCHR can support Egypt’s transition to a democratic and open society governed by the Rule of Law.

The five-member delegation met with the Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of Labour, and officials in the ministries of Foreign Affairs, Interior, Justice, as well as members of the judiciary and of the National Human Rights Council, representatives of political parties and of civil society including lawyers, human rights organizations, youth movements and coalitions. The delegation, led by Anders Kompass, OHCHR’s head of field operations and technical cooperation division, also met with representatives of UN agencies and of the diplomatic community.

"We were encouraged by the commitments expressed by governmental representatives to institutionalize respect for human rights, including through the ratification of several human rights treaties or their optional protocols providing for individual complaints procedures,” the delegation said. It also noted a commitment to increase engagement with the United Nations human rights mechanisms including the independent UN human rights experts known as Special Procedures.

"We were impressed by the clarity of analysis presented by civil society representatives, especially the youth, and their vision for a new Egypt based on the revolution’s slogans of Dignity, Freedom and Social Justice," the delegation said, adding that “the credibility of reform for any society in transition depends on the way past as well as current human rights violations are addressed.”

The delegation welcomed a number of achievements since the fall of the Mubarak regime, including the registration of political parties and new independent trade unions, and the ongoing investigations of human rights violations and announcements of indictments in cases of corruption. The OHCHR team also welcomed the Constitutional Declaration issued on 30 March preparing for parliamentary and presidential elections.

The delegation noted the words of one young woman they met, who said: "Revolutions don't make change, they open doors and create opportunities for change … but the old mindsets have to change." The delegation stressed that the reversal of decades of abusive policies cannot be easily achieved, and that many competing challenges lie ahead during this crucial transitional period.

“If Egyptians are to trust the State and its institutions, authorities must remain vigilant and ensure full respect for human rights,” the delegation said. It also emphasized “the importance of showing tangible results in the effort to combat past abuses and impunity and to ensure accountability at all levels, so that justice is both done and perceived to be done across the board.” The delegation noted that families of people who were killed and people who were severely injured during the revolution, are still awaiting the outcome of investigations as well as effective sanctions against perpetrators and just redress, including reparations.

The delegation noted with concern that it had heard “reports of continuing arbitrary arrests and detentions, and allegations of torture and ill-treatment against a number of citizens, including women, as well as attempts to place restrictions on freedoms of expression and assembly.” “These alleged human rights violations must be speedily investigated and addressed, and a major effort is needed to ensure they do not reoccur,” the OHCHR delegation said. In addition, it expressed concern about the continuing practice of trying civilians before military courts whose judgments are not subject to appeal, and breaches of fair trial and due process guarantees, including denial of contacts with lawyers and family members. The delegation also stressed the need to lift the state of emergency as soon as possible.

"Everyone we met asserted that Egypt will never go back to how it was before 25 January, ”the OHCHR delegation said. It added that “It is crucial to ensure inclusion and participation of all parts of society, without discrimination, in the development of a new social contract. In addition, consideration should be given to the people’s expectations in relation to a more equitable system where due attention is paid to economic, social and cultural rights. To succeed in achieving these goals, all Egyptians should have the right to participate freely and effectively in the conduct of public affairs, which should be managed with full transparency.”

The delegation highlighted the importance of ensuring the broadest possible dialogue through the organization of national consultations during this transitional period. “Debates on any new policy or legislation, in particular for the drafting of a new Constitution, must be inclusive of all sectors of society, all generations and with equal representation of women and men,” the delegation said. “In addition, it is of critical importance that a system be in place to ensure that the elections to be held later this year are free and fair.”

Both the government and civil society made a number of requests for support to the delegation, including training and capacity building programmes, technical assistance in specific areas and the opening of a UN human rights office in Egypt.

The delegation said it had passed on a personal message of solidarity and support to the Egyptian population from UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, and said that, based on the mission’s recommendations, OHCHR will develop a set of concrete measures to support Egypt’s efforts in meeting the demands of its people for laws, policies and practices that are consistent with international human rights standards.