November 29, 2018 / 7:58 PM / 15 days ago

Egypt launches human rights committee, critics forecast no change

CAIRO (Reuters) - Egypt is forming a committee tasked with responding to censure of its human rights record - but critics say it will do nothing to improve human rights in the country.

FILE PHOTO: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi speaks during a news conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel (not pictured) at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany, October 30, 2018. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke/File Photo

International human rights organisations have frequently condemned Egypt’s record under President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, saying political repression is at its worst for decades.

The new High Permanent Committee on Human Rights set up by Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly, will be headed by the foreign minister and formed of representatives of various government agencies including the defence and justice ministries and the general intelligence service.

No non-governmental organisations or independent actors will be part of the committee, however, casting doubt over how effective it will be and drawing condemnation from some critics.

“The only way to improve Egypt’s human rights image is to improve the human rights situation, not to create more committees,” Gamal Eid, founder and director of the Arab Network for Human Rights Information, told Reuters.

“Attempting to build a fence around a rubbish dump does not negate the presence of garbage and the smell of it,” he said.

Jamal Fahmi, a member of the state-funded National Council for Human Rights said members of the new agency were “not even qualified to listen to any observations on human rights”.

Tarek Zaghloul, executive director of the Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights, voiced dismay at the make-up of the committee.

“I had hoped that some rights activists would have been part of the agency to enrich the work of the committee with their opinions and expertise,” he said.

Activists should also be able to vote on decisions made by the committee, Zaghloul said.

Cabinet spokesman Nader Saad said the committee will be “the voice of the government in international forums”. Among its goals will be to respond to human rights allegations against Egypt and to monitor and address human rights problems raised at the international level.

Since winning election in 2014, Sisi has presided over a crackdown that has swept up both Islamist opponents and liberal activists. Supporters say he is working to keep Egypt stable as it recovers from political chaos after a 2011 uprising and faces deep economic challenges.

According to New York-based Human Rights Watch, Egyptian police and security forces have rounded up at least 40 political activists, lawyers and human rights workers since late October.

Reporting by Mohamed Abdellah; writing by Lena Masri; editing by Aidan Lewis and Hugh Lawson

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