The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Friction inside the National Council for Human Rights

An interesting story today on the front page of Al Misry Al Yom about the National Council for Human Rights (NCHR). At its end of the year performance review board members accused the Council's leaders of hindering the NCHR's work, taking unilateral decisions without consulting the rest of the Council, and failing to respond to many human rights issues, such as the recent Coptic demonstrations, or the alleged sweeping human rights abuses that occurred in Sinai in the wake of the Taba bombings. NCHR's president, Boutros Boutros Ghali, its vice-president, Kamel Abu el-Maged, and its general secretary, Mukhlis Qutb, bore the brunt of the criticism.

I just spoke with Hafez Abu Saada, head of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights and a board member on the National Council for Human Rights. With regards to the NCHR's failure to act on the human rights abuses in Sinai, Abu Saada said:

I asked to invite these human rights organizations [that had reported on the abuses in Sinai] to come to the Council and give us a testimony about their report, to see how we could respond or interact with this report, and take a stand as a council against what was happening. He [Secretary General Mukhlis Qutb] refused to do this. He said that because the [Complaint] Committee's quorum was not complete-- only five out of 13 were present-- it's recommendation was invalid. This is not his decision. This is the decision of the council... He hasn’t the right to intevene.

At yesterday's meeting members also accused the government, specifically the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Justice, and the general prosecutor's office of failing to respond to complaints from the NCHR. Abu Saada said that the Council has sent an estimated 2,500 complaints regarding specific human rights abuses to various government bodies. The government has responded to only 100 of those complaints, and those responses have been casual dismissals of the original complaint. The Interior Ministry, by far the recipient of the most complaints, has yet to respond to a single complaint, according to Abu Saada. Abu Saada said:

If you look at the replies that we’ve received from the government there are no solutions to the problems. All they say is this man has no right to complain, or this man must go to the court. And we haven't received any reply from the Minister of Interior which is the main complaint for violations committed by the police, or regarding illegal detentions, or the situation in the prisons.

As far as trying to gauge the National Council for Human Rights' independence the Sinai case is a telling example. It wouldn't be surprising if Abu Saada is right about the Council's leadership squashing any attempt to broach the issue. The human rights abuses in Sinai, and the alleged large-scale arrests and torturing of Bedouins there, was and continues to be a very sensitive topic. Remember that one of the more popular theories as to why the editor of Al Araby Al Nassery was abducted, beaten and left naked in the desert, was that he had tackled this subject in his weekly column.

When I interviewed Nawal al Saadawi a few weeks ago she talked briefly about the National Council for Human Rights and summarized the matter very simply. Said Al Saadawi:

How can the government protect human rights and then violate human rights? The government is violating human rights. So how can the government establish a council to protect human rights. This is a contradiction.