Amnesty warns African Union on human rights as Egypt prepares to chair 55-member body

Amnesty warns African Union on human rights as Egypt prepares to chair 55-member body
Amnesty International have warned the African Union against slackening its mechanisms on human rights as Egypt prepares to head the continental body.
2 min read
09 February, 2019
President Sisi will take the role as AU chair in Ethiopia this weekend [Getty]

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is set to chair the African Union, nearly six years after the North African Country was shunned by the continental body following its military coup.

Sisi, who will take over as AU chair from Rwandan leader Paul Kagame, led a military coup in 2013 which overthrew Egypt's first democratically-elected president which triggered to the country's AU suspension.

Cairo's tenure "will probably concentrate on security and peacekeeping", Ashraf Swelam, who heads a think tank linked to the country's foreign ministry, told AFP.

Incoming AU chair Sisi will likely focus less on "financial and administrative reform" than his predecessor, Swelam added. 

Such reform was the cornerstone of outgoing AU chairman Paul Kagame's year in the role. 

An African diplomat told AFP that Egypt - along with fellow heavyweights South Africa and Nigeria - does not want a powerful AU. 

This diplomat, who has been tracking AU affairs for over a decade, said Cairo has "never forgotten" its suspension in 2013.

Nearly six years on from Egypt's coup, Sisi is serving his second term as president while his supporters in parliament are attempting introduce constitutional amendments to allow him to rule until 2034.

Human rights groups have consistently blasted the general-turned-president's human rights record, with Amnesty International warning that the AU "must ensure that Egypt’s upcoming chairmanship does not undermine the continental body’s human rights mechanisms".

"During his time in power President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has demonstrated a shocking contempt for human rights. Under his leadership the country has undergone a catastrophic decline in rights and freedoms," said Najia Bounaim, Amnesty's North Africa Campaigns Director, in a statement on Friday.

"There are real fears about the potential impact his chairmanship could have on the independence of regional human rights mechanisms and their future engagement with civil society."

Sisi is due to take the helm at the AU's biannual heads of state assembly, which takes place on 10 and 11 February at the AU's headquarters in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa. 

As usual, the continent's multiple security crises will be high on the VIPs' agenda. 

Rwanda's ambitious funding proposal will also likely be on the table. 

But it has met resistance not only from Egypt, but other member states, so may fail to pass. 

Reform of the AU Commission is an even more sensitive topic. In November 2018, most states rejected a proposal to give the head of the AU's executive organ the power to name deputies and commissioners.