Experts Praise Egypt for Combatting Discrimination, Raise LGBTI Issues, Judicial Independence


The Human Rights Committee this morning concluded its consideration of the fifth periodic report of Egypt on how it implements the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, with Committee Experts commending progress on combatting discrimination, and raising issues concerning police treatment of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons and judicial independence, particularly regarding Terrorism Circuit Courts.

A Committee Expert hailed efforts undertaken by the country to combat discrimination through bringing relevant legislation in line with the Covenant. Legislation did not punish consensual same sex sexual relations, but acts inciting debauchery were still enforced by a 1961 law criminalising homosexuals and transsexuals. What information was there on harassment of these persons by civil and State agents? The Expert said 28 men had been convicted of debauchery charges and had endured forced anal exams. Could the delegation clarify this?

Another Expert asked how the independence of the judiciary and the right to a fair trial was assured in military and Terrorism Circuit Courts.

Introducing the report, Omar Marwan, Minister of Justice and head of delegation, said, following the June Revolution of 2014, women's rights had been translated into laws, strategies and executive programmes. Violence against women had been criminalized and in 2016 the National Council for Women was re-formed. Legislation had also been introduced to protect the right to participate in political life for Egyptian citizens, and bullying had been criminalized as a form of discrimination.

The delegation explained that Egyptian legislation did not criminalise consensual relationships between adults and that the group of 28 persons arrested in Giza caused a violent disturbance in the neighbourhood and drugs and pornography were found in the apartment.

On military courts, the delegation said that they followed the same procedures as civilian courts. The right to remedy and to file an appeal were available. Trying a civilian in a military court was not necessarily a violation of the Covenant if the trial and decision were fair. Terrorism Circuit Courts were regular courts wherein experts dealt with terrorism specifically.

Mr. Marwan, in closing remarks, said Egypt faced many challenges economically and politically as well as international crises. The Government had the political will to work at all levels and safeguard the rights of all Egyptians. The goal was to make human rights a living reality, not just to create more strategies and policies. The State would make sure that no one encroached on the rights of others and would provide swift remedy to violations. The road ahead was long but worthwhile.

Tania María Abdo Rocholl, Committee Chairperson, in her concluding remarks, thanked the delegation as well as civil society organizations for their participation in the meeting. She underscored the issues discussed, including violence against women, non-discrimination, female genital mutilation, rights of migrants, the use of the death penalty and freedom of expression, association and assembly.

The delegation of the Egypt was made up of representatives of the Ministry of Justice, the National Council of Women, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Egyptian National Coordinating Committee on Preventing and Combating Trafficking in Persons, the General Prosecution, The Supreme Standing Committee for Human Rights and the Permanent Mission of Egypt to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The Human Rights Committee's one hundred and thirty-seventh session is being held from 27 February to 24 March. All the documents relating to the Committee's work, including reports submitted by States parties, can be found on the session's webpage. Meeting summary releases can be found here. The webcast of the Committee's public meetings can be accessed via the UN Web TV webpage.

The Committee will next meet in public at 3 p.m., Wednesday 1 March to begin its consideration of the third periodic report of the Turkmenistan ( CCPR/C/TKM/3 ).


The Committee has before it the fifth periodic report of Egypt (CCPR/C/EGY/5).

Presentation of the Report

OMAR MARWAN, Minister of Justice and head of delegation, said he was proud to present the report after a ten-year gap in reporting, the late reports having been submitted in 2019. Egypt's current society was one based on equality, democracy, human rights and rule of law for all Egyptians without discrimination. Egypt's vision for human rights was based on the complementarity of democracy and human rights but also the balance of rights and duties. The exercise of freedoms required control to protect the rights of others as well as order and national security.

Mr. Marwan said there had been positive developments in Egypt. Women had suffered harsh discrimination and even child marriage under the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood group prior to 2011. However, following the June Revolution of 2014, women's rights had been translated into laws, strategies and executive programmes. Violence against women had been criminalized and in 2016 the National Council for Women was re-formed. The year 2017 was declared the year of the Egyptian woman. Since 2021, more positive developments for the rights of women included the appointment of 137 female judges to the State Council. Women held significant roles in the House of Representatives, the Senate, and ministerial positions.

The state of emergency introduced in 2017 was lifted in accordance with the Constitution. Some criminal cases were suspended accordingly. Egypt attached great significance to the right to life and the death penalty was only applied to the gravest of crimes, and after a fair trial with the presumption of innocence. Prison conditions had been aligned with article 10 of the Covenant through recent laws. Modernised rehabilitation centres would be created. The right to a fair trial was addressed through a national plan and e-litigation. The implementation of e-litigation was a success, and it would be expanded to all courts of Egypt. Cases were now adjudicated at a much faster rate. Currently courts were overseeing only 2,354 cases submitted before 2020.

To address violence against women, a law had been enacted to prohibit female genital mutilation, which had been made a felony and was dually punished. To combat human trafficking, a victim-centred approach was adopted in a recent national strategy. The National Corruption Strategy 2023-2030, which was a culmination of legislative, judicial and executive efforts, had been launched. Between January and August 2022, there had already been 497 convictions for bribery.

The number of churches and affiliate service buildings that were regularized had been increased to encourage freedom of religion. Synagogues had also been renovated. In 2022, the number of licences issued to newspapers and press organisations had increased by 100 to 806.

To deal with a rapidly developing technological world, Egypt had carried out awareness-raising campaigns on social media. Egypt struck a balance between promoting freedom of speech and controlling hate speech in accordance with the Constitution. The Government had dubbed the year 2022 the "year of civil society" in Egypt, acknowledging civil society's vital role in the protection and promotion of human rights. Last year, a national dialogue was launched to bring together all legitimate political entities. Legislation was introduced to protect the right to participate in political life for Egyptian citizens. Egypt's Constitution promoted non-discrimination. Last year, the first Coptic Christian was sworn in to head the Supreme Constitutional Court. Bullying was also criminalized as a form of discrimination and accompanying legislation had been enacted.

There was still a long way to go. Egypt was confident and determined to continue its serious work and was listening with open ears to the Committee's recommendations.

Questions by Committee Experts

A Committee Expert said, since the last review in 2002, the Committee would have liked to see the State party grant primacy to the Covenant within legislative frameworks. Were the provisions of the Covenant truly guaranteed in practice for all parties under the State's jurisdiction? Did the State party have recent jurisprudence as an example? What approaches had been adopted by judges to determine if a violation of the Covenant had occurred? What measures had been taken to better understand how the Covenant was applied to magistrates, lawyers and other law enforcement officials? Were there specific programmes for training and capacity building of judges and law enforcement officials? Did the State intend to ratify the two Optional Protocols to the Covenant, and the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture? To what extent had the decisions handed down by the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights been implemented? Was there an internal mechanism to monitor the implementation of its decisions?

Egypt had not extended the state of emergency. Could more information be provided about that decision? Under the revised counter terrorist law and law on public infrastructure, the executive power could restrict some freedoms. Legislation also allowed civilians to be prosecuted in military courts. How were these new provisions compatible with the Covenant? The army was supposed to support police to secure facilities. Those strengthened powers could result in more civilians being prosecuted in military courts. How would this be addressed?

The report stated that the State party was eager to cooperate fully with the Committee on Enforced Disappearances. There were reports of alleged cases and that the State party had not responded to inquiries. What was the nature of the State party's relationship with the Committee, in light of increased reports of arrests of persons who were critical of the Government. A 28-day incommunicado prison period was common practice. Did Egypt criminalise enforced disappearances, and would the State party accede to the Convention on Enforced Disappearances?

Could more information be provided on where the public central register of detention centres was held, and how it was updated? Was it public information? Who managed it? What concrete measures were taken for victims of enforced disappearances and what remedies were available? Were there detailed statistics on complaints of enforced disappearances, given that over 2,000 reports had been submitted to the Working Group?

Another Committee Expert said that despite lifting the state of emergency in 2021, the Government continued to apply its laws. A law against publishing misinformation and fake news had been used to arrest and arbitrarily detain journalists. How was law 152 compliant with the Covenant? Did the State party intend to review this law? The Expert noted with appreciation policies and initiatives to address violence against women through combatting sexual harassment. Domestic violence did not seem to be explicitly criminalized. Were there plans to criminalize domestic violence, and "honour" crimes? Were there plans to expand training and education for religious leaders and within the justice system?

There was a lack of data on prison conditions, which obstructed the Committee from fulfilling its mandate. There had been reports of poor living conditions, but also a total suspension of lawyer visits without alternative options such as video meetings. Further, prisoners with COVID-19 symptoms were not tested. The National Council for Human Rights' requests to conduct visits were often refused and when they were granted, Council members were not allowed to interview inmates of their choice. What measures would be taken to ensure unhindered access to detention centres?

One Committee Expert addressed counter-terrorism measures. Act 94 of 2015, the counter-terrorism law which listed terrorist entities, had a broad definition of terrorism. Disrupting public order, harming or terrorising individuals, endangering their lives, rights, or other freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution, and harming the environment among other criteria became synonymous with terrorism under the broad definition. This could lead to broad application of the law. How was this law compatible under the Covenant? Further, people designated as "terrorists" were forbidden from traveling; their bank accounts were frozen. Certain persons who participated in protests had been sentenced to death. Terrorism Circuit Courts had the power to deny both witnesses and the right to appeal. Hearings by these courts were not held by entities of the Ministry of Justice but by the Ministry of Interior, and were not attended by media. How was the independence of the judiciary and the right to a fair trial assured in these courts? Could the State party provide the Committee with the number of cases overseen by the Terrorism Circuit Courts, and the number of sentences it handed down?

The 2019-22 anti-corruption strategy had reportedly been 85 per cent successful. What topics did that percentage refer to? A culture of nepotism, favouritism and bribery was part of the daily life of Egyptians, according to reports. Companies therefore relied on connections to operate and gain privileged treatment. Further, legislation was enforced irregularly. What measures were planned for the 2022-2023 strategy against corruption to overcome these challenges?

Another Committee Expert hailed measures taken by the State party on actions taken on discrimination legislation based on the Covenant. The legislation did not punish consensual same sex sexual relations, but acts inciting debauchery were still enforced by a 1961 law criminalising homosexuals and transsexuals. What information was there on discrimination and harassment by civil and State agents for gender non-conforming people? How were homosexuals and transsexuals who were prosecuted subjected to unnecessary medicals acts such as forced anal examinations. Such acts could be considered acts of torture under the Covenant.

Voluntary abortion was illegal, but it was authorized within the first 128 days if the health of the mother was threatened. What information was there on decriminalising abortion in cases where the pregnancy would threaten the mother or child after that period? What were the statistics on women convicted under these abortion laws? What information was available on the accessibility of sexual and reproductive health, including emergency contraception?

Acts of torture were reportedly committed in police stations following arrests with the aim of obtaining confessions from political opponents. Perpetrators enjoyed impunity but the Covenant required that such acts be punished. Torture seemed to be a systematic practice in Egypt. According to statistics from 2022, authorities had started to investigate allegations of torture. Was there disaggregated data on sex, ethnicity and age for the victims? What information was available about the confessions obtained, reparation provided to victims, as well as deaths following torture? What measures were taken to establish an independent mechanism to investigate all allegations of torture and ill-treatment?

Another Committee Expert brought up female genital mutilation. Figures showed that in 2021 86 per cent of married women aged 15 to 49 had undergone female genital mutilation. A gradual drop had been observed since 2014 but 86 per cent remained a high figure. Were there awareness and education campaigns available, especially in rural areas? Did the State party have disaggregated date on the use of female genital mutilation and its sanctions? What policies, including sex education, were in place to combat the scourge of stereotypes? Did victims receive psychological care? The increased use of death penalty for non-violent crimes was concerning. The Secretary-General of the United Nations had noted that Egypt had one of the highest rates of executions in the world, perhaps the highest. Over 100 offenses carried a death sentence, including drug trafficking. The use of the death penalty was an arbitrary deprivation of the right of life. The Expert called for a moratorium on the death penalty. What measures were in place to restrict the use of the death penalty, to inform families of the date of execution and to end mass trials?

The excessive use of force against peaceful protestors was concerning. Did the legislative framework implement rules related to the use of lethal force? What awareness raising protocols aimed at security forces were in place regarding such principles on the use of force?

Responses by the Delegation

The delegation said article three of the Constitution stipulated that all decisions issued by the Government needed to be compatible with international instruments of human rights. Such instruments had precedence over the Constitution. Egyptian legislation did not criminalise consensual relationships between adults. Egypt fought human trafficking through the framework of the Covenant. The death penalty was only applied for felonies that posed a threat to society. No minor or child had ever received a death sentence, and none were issues for misdemeanours. Each country had the right to determine what constituted a serious crime. Only through punishment could serious crimes be decreased.

The Egyptian Constitution of 2014 aimed to achieve gender equality. A follow-up observatory had been established to monitor compliance with the articles of the Constitution. Legislation defined "violence against women" as any act that resulted in harm to or suffering of women, be it social, economic, physical or psychological in public or private life. Training programs for forensic doctors and police had been institutionalised to properly address victims of sexual violence. The National Council of Women was mandated to receive complaints and refer them to the competent authorities. Psychosocial support was also provided to victims. Hotlines were another resource available to report cases of violence. The complaints unit had examined 10,000 complaints.

Egyptian law criminalized all violence against women. Some acts were more severely punished depending on the relationship of the offender to the victim. Women had the right to file for divorce and current legislation aimed to punish but also rehabilitate perpetrators and victims. Awareness campaigns existed in schools and in 2021 legislation was adopted to allow judges to withhold the identity of victims of molestation or indecent acts. Marital rape was criminalized as an assault on the physical integrity of a person. The severity of the crime was classified based on the level of harm to the victim.

Contraception was affordable and available to those who needed it in places such as university hospitals. Egypt had reduced the prevalence of female genital mutilation. According to a health survey of 2022, there has been a reduction in the percentage of women and girls subjected to female genital mutilation to 14 per cent compared to 21 percent in 2014. Female genital mutilation was a crime that was punished in the courts. Awareness raising was a main strategy to combat female genital mutilation. Information campaigns were used to empower women. Boys and men were also engaged in awareness raising campaigns. The Government cooperated with Instagram and Facebook to protect women from cyberbullying. Cooperation with clerics and nuns was important to this outreach also.

Egypt received over 9,000,000 migrants each year. The National Committee advanced the situation of migrant women, specifically through support hotlines. A card with numbers for the hotlines was distributed to all migrant women so that they had access. Shelters existed for victims of human trafficking that had received migrant women as well.

The Egyptian Public Prosecution was a branch of the judiciary that implemented the international protocols and conventions that Egypt was a signatory to. It not only investigated perpetrators but also protected victims. The Public Prosecution received reports from all parties, whether oral, written or digital. The Supreme State Security Prosecution body was affiliated with the Public Prosecution but investigated different crimes.

Enforced disappearances and all forms of abduction and deprivation of liberty were criminalized in Egypt, whether perpetrated by officers or citizens. Egypt investigated all such incidents. There were no secret detention centres in Egypt. Torture and degrading or humiliating punishment was also investigated in line with the Constitution by the Public Prosecution. All cases were referred to criminal prosecution if enough facts were established. Physical examinations took place to determine the nature and extend of violence.

Law 109 of 1972 regulated police officers' use of firearms and their conduct, and was in line with the Convention. If force was used, care was taken to not harm innocent civilians. Victims of pre-trial attention were housed in appropriate facilities which ensured dignified treatment. In 2020, some prison visits were done electronically. Detainees were allowed to communicate with families and lawyers using phones.

Egypt had been victim to several serious terrorist attacks that had traumatized families. Places of worship and innocent people had suffered as a result. Deterrents to terrorism did not exist in legislation alone. Egypt's definition of terrorism was in line with that of the United Nations Security Council as well as other bodies. Antiterrorist courts were simply ordinary courts.

Jurisprudence was in line with the Covenant. One emblematic case, case 22 of 2015, invoked article 11 of the Covenant, for the non-respect of a contract. Further, the right to nationality had been enforced according to the Covenant. Training programmes for judges and prosecutors had been implemented on matters pertaining to torture and ill-treatment. The difference between civilian and military courts was objective. Military courts followed the exact same procedures as civilian courts. The right to remedy and to file an appeal were available. Trying a civilian in a military court was not necessarily a violation of the Covenant if the trial and decision were fair. Terrorists could be tried for attacks on infrastructure if a public and vital infrastructure was attacked or if the attack was a qualified crime threatening the protection of specific installations. 240 crimes against these facilities had been recorded. Law 144 passed in 1955 established the restriction of freedom of movement and it had provisions for a quarantine that could be imposed during a pandemic. It could not last longer than one year and had to be published in the national gazette. The Parliament could decide to impose and revoke quarantines.

The cited cases of corruption involved, among others, a Minister, a dean of a university and a president of a tax administration. All of these people were convicted and punished.

Egypt responded to all communications with the African Union. Egypt was considering the recommendations of the African Union to ensure their compatibility with already existing legislation. Reviewing Egypt's legislation was a priority. All detention centres were subjected to monitoring. Independent entities investigated abuses, and abusers were dually prosecuted. Through collaboration with the Working Group on Enforced Disappearances, the delegation would organize training of law enforcement officers.

Abortion was prohibited as a family planning method, but the law allowed it in cases where the mother or unborn child were endangered or if the embryo had severe deformations. In cases of rape, the victim received abortion pills. Clinics of the National Council and the Ministry of Health provided services to pregnant women between the ages of 15 and 49 and provided women with free or subsidised sexual and reproductive health services. Medical equipment and family planning was available, even to rural women. Midwives were also advised to encourage national births. Doctors would be incentivised to deliver babies naturally. Awareness-raising campaigns were also widely available in schools.

Follow-Up Questions by Committee Experts

A Committee Expert said lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people were the subject of police provocation and discrimination. Egypt had previously rejected recommendations to combat discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people in 2020. Had the Government's position changed?

Another Expert asked for statistics in writing about pre-trial detention centres.

One Committee Expert said asked about the level of independence of the Prosecutor's Office. How were prosecutors appointed? If counter-terrorism courts were regular courts, did they only judge terrorism cases? How were those courts' judges appointed?

Responses by the Delegation

The delegation said Egypt would send a copy of the report to the Working Group for the Committee on Enforced Disappearances. 12 visits were conducted last year to detention centres, which ensured proper treatment for prisoners. During the pandemic, there was a hotline for prisoners that guaranteed access to doctors. Further, all inmates were vaccinated against COVID-19. During the visits, prison conditions were inspected and measures to combat illiteracy were being implemented. Both Arab and foreign experts participated in visits, which had led the release of several inmates. Inmates from 15 old detention centres had been moved to new ones, while many had released since 2016 in line with presidential policy.

The delegation said that the 27 individuals subjected to harassment based on their sexual orientation had gathered to sell drugs. The situation degraded quickly and weapons were used. Prosecutors and judges were independent and were subject to the law. The General Prosecutor of the Court of Cassation was irremovable from his post. Courts dealing with terrorism were headed by specialised judges, as judges that specialised in corruption would try corruption cases. Terrorism courts were regular courts wherein experts dealt with terrorism specifically. All detention and rehabilitation centres chose the prosecutor who monitored the work of these centres. These centres fell under the jurisdiction of the neighbourhood. Detainees' bodily integrity was respected. There had been no deaths in detention due to torture, however there had been natural deaths.

The death penalty was enforced in specific cases such as premeditated murder. The accused person had the right to a lawyer and confessions obtained under torture were not admissible. Judges had to unanimously agree to enforce a death penalty. There was a process wherein the President could provide amnesty to the accused. The death penalty was not used for minors under the age of 18 or pregnant women. Executions were not public and the convicted person could see their family. All executions were recorded by death certificate and occurred with a lawyer present. The death penalty was compatible with the sixth article of the Covenant.

Questions by Committee Experts

A Committee Expert reiterated a question about violence against women: though the judicial system had a cadre for domestic violence, it continued to persist. Was there a plan to expand to expand education and include religious leaders and actors in the customary justice system? The increase in pre-trial detention and freedom of conscience were of concern. Pre-trial detention conditions were not in line with the Covenant and pre-trial detention should be the exception and not the rule. How many people were held in pre-trial detention? The Expert was appalled by reports of "rotation," a practice forced accused persons to remain in custody without charges indefinitely. Political prisoners who had been released were instructed to register with the National Security Agency and were instructed to remove content on their social media. How were these practices compatible with articles nine and 14 of the Covenant? The right to conscientious objection to military service was protected under the Covenant. Did the State party conform to this?

The Expert took note of Egypt's efforts to instil religious diversity. Discrimination against persons practicing non-Abrahamic religions was of concern. Religious minorities such as Coptic Christians, Shia Muslims, Baha'i as well as atheists were targeted by violence with impunity. What measures would be taken regarding the lack of religious rights for these minorities, including houses of worship?

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