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UN Human Rights team returns from Egypt

“The credibility of reform for any society in transition depends on the way past as well as current human right violations are addressed”, said a delegation of the UN Human Rights office (OHCHR) at the end of an eight-day visit to Egypt.

Egyptians gathering at Tahrir Square, Cairo on 25 February 2011 © EPA Photo/Tiago PetingaIn January up to three million demonstrators had gathered for “days of revolt” across the country to protest against torture, poverty, corruption and unemployment. The UN Human Rights office has been following closely the human rights situation in Egypt since the beginning of the popular uprising, repeatedly urging authorities to refrain from the use of violence to quell demonstrations and to respect people’s right to peaceful assembly. While the protests were on-going, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, called upon the Government to follow through and make the necessary reforms to promote human rights and democracy.

In several statements, she stressed the need for transparent and impartial investigations in the response to the protests. “There must be an investigation into whether this violence was planned, and if so by whom”, she said.
A five-member delegation was sent to Egypt in late March to meet with the Government, UN Representatives, the National Council for Human Rights, civil society organizations and other actors to discuss the current situation in the country. They also explored how OHCHR can support Egypt’s transition to a democratic State governed by the Rule of Law.

The team welcomed a number of achievements since the end of Mubarak’s rule on 11 February, including the registration of political parties and new independent trade unions, and the ongoing investigations of human rights violations. The OHCHR team also welcomed the commitment to hold parliamentary and presidential elections.

“If Egyptians are to trust the State and its institutions, authorities must remain vigilant and ensure full respect for human rights”, the delegation said. It also emphasized “the importance of showing tangible results in the effort to combat past abuses and impunity and to ensure accountability at all levels, so that justice is both done and perceived to be done across the board.”

"Everyone we met asserted that Egypt will never go back to how it was before 25 January. It is crucial to ensure inclusion and participation of all parts of society, without discrimination, in the development of a new social contract.”

The delegation added that the people’s expectations for a more equitable system promoting economic, social and cultural rights should be addressed.

“To succeed in achieving these goals, all Egyptians should have the right to participate freely and effectively in the conduct of public affairs, which should be managed with full transparency”, the delegation said.

During the visit, both the government and civil society made a number of requests for support, including training and capacity building programmes, technical assistance and the opening of a UN human rights office in Egypt.

Based on the mission’s recommendations, OHCHR will develop a set of concrete measures to support Egypt’s efforts in meeting the demands of its people for laws, policies and practices which conform to international human rights standards.

29 April 2011