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New NCHR law draws criticism
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 20 - 07 - 2017

Before adjourning for its summer recess parliament approved controversial amendments of the law regulating the National Council for Human Rights (NCHR).
The draft, which MPs approved on 4 July, purports to strengthen human rights and freedoms in line with the 2014 constitution and international conventions to which Egypt is a signatory. “To achieve these two objectives the NCHR should issue annual reports on the situation of human rights in Egypt, raise public awareness of human rights and implement recommendations released by the UN Human Rights Council,” say the regulations, adding that the “NCHR will be in charge of observing respect of human rights in Egyptian prisons and police stations in particular, and report violations, if any, to the president and the cabinet.”
The newly-amended 13-article law notes that though the NCHR receives money from the state budget “it is an independent institution.”
Under the amendments a new NCHR board must be formed within 60 days.
“Before this period expires parliament should coordinate with other institutions, including the Higher Council for Universities, the Higher Council for Culture, the Egyptian General Federation of Trade Unions (EGFTU) and professional syndicates, to nominate members of the NCHR's board.”
It will be up to parliament's Human Rights Committee to name board members.
“Each of the above institutions will send a list of nominees to parliament's Human Rights Committee which will ensure NCHR members represent all sectors of society and have reasonable experience in the areas of human rights and constitutional law.”
The law stipulates the NCHR comprises a chairman, deputy chair and 25 members and “the final composition be approved by two thirds of MPs in a plenary session”. Board members will be limited to serving a maximum of two four-year terms.
The new regulations have been criticised by human rights activists.
Current NCHR board member and head of the Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights (EOHR) Hafez Abu Seada told Al-Ahram Weekly that “the new regulations are a step back for human rights in Egypt.”
“Under the law the NCHR will become a hostage to parliament which will have the final say on who serves on the board.”
“This represents an assault on the independence of the NCHR, making it subservient to parliament. A majority of MPs are loyal to the government and they will make sure that members of the new NCHR share their loyalty. Opposition voices will be excluded from the NCHR.”
Abu Seada also complains that the amendments will allow MPs to dismiss board members. “The new stipulations mark an end to NCHR independence and this is a very bad development for the human rights cause in Egypt.”
He expects opposition figures who are members of the current NCHR to be dismissed.
Headed by former information minister Mohamed Fayek the current board, formed in 2013, includes some opposition figures — Abdel-Moneim Shokr, head of the Popular Alliance Party, George Ishak, veteran political analyst and lawyer Samir Morcos.
Salah Fawzi, a constitutional law professor and member of the government's Legislative Reform Committee, says the new law is not meant to prevent opposition figures and independent human rights activists from joining the NCHR.
“The draft says only that public figures with experience of human rights and constitutional law can join the NCHR. It makes no mention of their political views. Members will be dismissed from the board only if they are found to have received funding without parliamentary approval, not for holding specific political views.”
But restrictions on the receipt of funding, argues Abu Seada, “will make it difficult for the NCHR to fulfil its mandate”.
“The previous law stipulated only that donations be approved by two thirds of NCHR members. Adding the condition that two thirds of MPs must approve makes it all but impossible for the NCHR to raise the additional funds necessary for its work.”
Fawzi insists the condition is necessary to guarantee that NCHR remains immune from foreign influence and points out “a similar amendment, stipulating no foreign or private money can be accepted without prior approval from the Ministry of Social Solidarity, was included in the new NGO law”.
Abu Seada also warns that the stipulation that the NCHR must secure the permission of the Interior Ministry in advance of any prison visits also compromises independence.
“We recommended that the NCHR be required simply to inform the Interior Ministry ahead of visits to detention centres, not petition for permission which, if it is granted, often takes months.”
The majority of human rights complaints come from detainees, says Abu Seada, and are directed at the Interior Ministry. “Yet to investigate the complaints the NCHR will have to secure the permission of the very institution against which the complaints are being made.”
Fawzi argues that the provision is included for logistical reasons. “The Interior Ministry said it is against surprise visits only on practical grounds,” he says.
Abu Seada also worries that the failure to include independent human rights and civil society organisations in the list of organisations invited to nominate board members will lead to accusations that the NCHR “is neither independent nor representative of all sectors of society”, while Fawzi argues that “the law does not impose any ban in this respect.”

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