Rights organizations call on UN to act on allegations of reprisals against people who met UN special rapporteur in Egypt

Six international and regional rights organizations issued a joint statement on Wednesday, calling on the United Nations to take prompt action in response to allegations that the Egyptian government retaliated against individuals who met the UN special rapporteur on adequate housing during her official visit to the country two months ago.

“Witnesses said that several people who met with the special rapporteur’s team or provided them with information experienced reprisals. They included the demolition of several homes, the incommunicado detention of one man for two days, summons for interrogation in police stations, and a travel ban against one lawyer,” the statement reads.

The rights organizations said that Egypt appears to be using the UN to “whitewash its abysmal human rights record by agreeing to country visits by a few selected UN experts.”

The joint statement came in the wake of a press release by UN special rapporteur on the right to adequate housing Leilani Farha last week, in which she condemned the Egyptian government for what she described as “a pattern of reprisals” against people she met with during her official visit to Egypt, which lasted from September 24 to October 3.

“Egypt has failed to adhere to the assurances provided to me that no person would be harassed, intimidated or subjected to reprisal for meeting or providing information to me or my delegation in the context of my visit,” Leilani Farha said in her statement on December 4. “I am shocked that after my mission a number of families from two communities I visited have suffered forced eviction contrary to international human rights law.”

In response to Farha’s comments, and before the issuance of Wednesday’s joint statement, the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued its own statement on December 6, strongly condemning the UN special rapporteur’s comments.

“From the time she arrived in Egypt, the UN official began fabricating stories and lies during her different meetings, casting doubts on her real intentions towards Egypt,” the Foreign Ministry said. “The Egyptian government will not leave this matter unanswered and will take necessary measures to guarantee that this special rapporteur is blamed for her unprofessional and irresponsible behavior.”

The Foreign Ministry also cited an interview Farha did with Al-Jazeera about her visit, saying the channel is “known for its blatant support of terrorist organizations,” proving that Farha’s statement was “politically motivated.”

Another official response to Farha’s comments came from Egyptian Parliamentary speaker Ali Abdel Aal, who called on the Foreign Ministry to file an official complaint against Farha on Sunday, describing her as “not qualified to be an international representative as she lacks the required impartiality.”

Wednesday’s joint statement was signed by six rights organizations: Amnesty International, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, The Committee for Justice, Human Rights Watch, The International Service for Human Rights, and the Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

“Restricting the work of a UN team after officially inviting them to visit the country and retaliating against individuals who cooperated with her is a testament to how the Egyptian government deals with human rights: mere decorative actions to cover up unprecedented oppression of civil society,” the organizations said.

The rights organizations requested that several UN bodies ensure that the Egyptian government takes “sufficient and credible action” to guarantee respect for the conditions of any further country visits by UN experts, conduct an independent investigation into alleged reprisals and review any ongoing cooperation between the Egyptian government and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, in light of the alleged retaliation.

In the course of her visit two months ago, Farha surveyed what was left of the Maspero Triangle area, the Cairo districts of Duweiqa, Hattaba, 6th of October City and sites in the governorate of Minya. She was unable to visit Warraq Island, where residents are at risk of forced eviction. In a press conference held at the UN Information Center in Cairo, just before her departure, Farha revealed that government officials had told her, for an entire day, that there were not enough security forces to secure her visit to the island. “I leave this to your assessment,” she told reporters at the conference. She later stated that she had managed to meet a number of Warraq residents outside the island.

In her statement, Farha expressed particular disappointment at having no access to Warraq, and warned of the potential of human rights violations there. “If the government’s decision is going to result in the eviction of residents, or compromise housing conditions for residents, that is problematic according to international human rights law,” Farha’s office said.

During her 10-day visit, Farha also met with officials from the ministries of Social Housing, Foreign Affairs, Social Solidarity, Justice and Finance, in addition to the Chief Justice of the Supreme Constitutional Court, President of the National Council for Women and several members of Parliament.

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