(Paris,December 2, 2020) – FrenchPresident Emmanuel Macron should strongly press Egypt’s PresidentAbdel Fattah al-Sisi to address human rights violations before his upcomingvisit to Paris, particularly to release arbitrarily detained activists andhuman rights defenders, 17 organizations said today.
President al-Sisi is scheduled to arrive in Paris on December 7, 2020, fora two-day visit, just three weeks after his government’s security agenciescracked down on the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), one of thelast remaining independent human rights organizations in the country, arrestingthree of its directors. The arrests were apparently in direct retaliation forthe EIPR meeting with foreign diplomats, including the French mission in Cairo,in early November. Egypt has also arbitrarily detained Ramy Shaath, a prominentEgyptian-Palestinian human rights defender married to a French national, forover a year without trial.
French diplomacy has, at the highest levels, long indulged Presidental-Sisi’s brutal repression of any form of dissent. It is now or never forPresident Macron to stand up for his self-declared commitment to promote human rightsin Egypt.
If Egypt does not release arbitrarily detained activists and defenders ahead ofthe visit, and those who unjustly imprison them are rewarded with arms dealsand praise, the implication for what is left of Egypt’s human rights communitywould be devastating and President Macron’s commitment to human rights in Egyptwould be undermined, the groups said.
Between November 15 and 19, Egyptian security forces arrested the EIPRexecutive director Gasser Abdel-Razek, and Karim Ennarah and Mohamed Basheer,the group’s criminal justice and administrative directors respectively.Prosecutors have ordered their pretrial detention pending investigations onabusive terrorism-related charges stemming only from their human rights work.
These latest detentions mark another escalation in the Egyptianauthorities’ campaign to eradicate the human rights movement in Egypt, rangingfrom asset freezes and travel bans to enforced disappearances and torture, andprolonged arbitrary detention in abysmal conditions amid the COVID-19 pandemic.The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has sounded the alarm, situating the newestarrests within “a broader pattern of intimidating organizations defending humanrights and of the use of counter-terrorism and national security legislation tosilence dissent,” leading to “a profound chilling effect on an already weakenedEgyptian civil society.” The retaliatory nature of these arrests has been publicly recognized and denounced acrossEurope and the United States of America.
Receiving President al-Sisi on an official visit while not adequatelyraising concerns as so many activists and human rights defenders are detainedover their human rights work, many on abusive “terrorism” charges and some evenadded to “terrorist lists”, would sabotage France’s own efforts to promotehuman rights within its partnership with Egypt and undermine France’scredibility in many countries in the region, the groups said.
France’s Foreign Ministry condemned the EIPR arrests in a November 17 statement,saying it maintained “a frank,exacting dialogue with Egypt on human rights issues.” But if France’sresponses stop at verbal condemnation and do not rise to the seriousness of thesituation in Egypt, such condemnations are meaningless. Human rightsorganizations have documented years of the consequences of the lack of concreteaction on the increased scale and grave nature of human rights violations inEgypt and the authorities’ boldness in shredding the rule of law.
Moreover, for President Macron to receive President al-Sisi in Francerepeatedly without Egypt releasing activists and human rights defenders, and infact arresting more of them, would contradict significant voices withinMacron’s own political movement. Of the 66 French parliament members fromacross the political spectrum who signed a recent cross-European public letter calling onPresident al-Sisi to release prisoners of conscience, the majority were fromPresident Macron’s party, La République en Marche; a noteworthy number sit onDefense and Foreign Affairs Committees.
A recent French parliamentary report on French arms sales alsostresses the reputational damage and increasing political cost that France willmost likely incur for continued arms and surveillance technology sales toEgypt, recognizing the country’s dismal rights record and credible reports ofits use of French arms for violent repression of protests and in crimescommitted in the context of counterterrorism operations in Sinai includingextrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, and arbitrary arrests.
France has sold many weapons to Egypt, overtaking the US to become Egypt’smain arms supplier between 2013 and 2017. In 2017 alone, it delivered more thanEUR 1.4 billion worth of military and security equipment. France has providedwarships, fighter jets, and armored vehicles, while French companies – with thegovernment’s approval – have provided surveillance and crowd control tools,with little transparency and without adequate monitoring of the end use ofthese weapons supplied to the military and police involved in seriousviolations.
With this visit, France has an opportunity and duty to take a strong publicposition in line with the values President Macron asserted during his January2019 visit to Cairo, and to signal to his Egyptian counterpart that the samelevel of international cooperation cannot be maintained against the backdrop ofthe Egyptian authorities’ flouting of international law, including theunprecedented assault on one of the most prominent human rights organizationsin Egypt and the values it represents.
President Macron has long justified his support to President al-Sisi’sgovernment by saying it is a partner in the regional fight against terrorism.But Egypt has made it crystal clear that it misuses counterterrorismlegislations to stamp out legitimate human rights work and uproot any peacefulopposition.
List of Signatories:
2. Amnesty International
3. ANKH (Arab Network for Knowledgeabout Human Rights)
4. Cairo Institute for Human RightsStudies (CIHRS)
5. The Egyptian Human Rights Forum(EHRF)
6. EuroMed Rights
7. The Franco-Egyptian Initiative forHuman Rights and Freedoms (IFEDL)
8. The Freedom Initiative
9. Front Line Defenders
10. Human Rights Watch (HRW)
11. International Federation for HumanRights (FIDH)
12. Ligue des Droits de l’Homme (LDH)
13. MENA Rights Group
14. Project on Middle East Democracy(POMED)
17. World Organisation Against Torture(OMCT)
For Human Rights Watch, in Berlin, Amr Magdi (English, Arabic): +1-646-659-8020(mobile); or email@example.com. Twitter:@ganobi
For Human Rights Watch, in Paris, Bénédicte Jeannerod (French, English):+33-6-74-32-88-94 (mobile); or firstname.lastname@example.org.Twitter: @BenJeannerod (Human Rights Watch)
For ACAT-France, in Paris, Christina Lionnet(French), +33-6-27-76-83-27 (mobile); or email@example.com.
For CIHRS, in Belgium, Leslie Piquemal (French, English): +32474508271 (mobile); or firstname.lastname@example.org
For World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT),in Geneva, Iolanda Jaquemet (English, French) +41-79-539-41-06 (mobile); or email@example.com.
For Amnesty International France - ClaireCerniaut - +33 6 76 94 37 05 – firstname.lastname@example.org
For Amnesty International, in Tunis, Hussein Baoumi (English, Arabic);+216-56-512-000 or email@example.com.Twitter: @husseinmagdy16
For EuroMed Rights, in Brussels, MaxenceSalendre ( French/English/Arabic): +32 492 39 59 39 or firstname.lastname@example.org