Rights groups condemn EU move to jointly chair counterterrorism body with Egypt

Rights groups condemn EU move to jointly chair counterterrorism body with Egypt
Fifteen civil society organisations have condemned an EU bid to jointly chair the Global Counterterrorism Task Force with Egypt, saying that Egypt was abusing counterterrorism laws to punish human rights defenders.
2 min read
11 February, 2022
The groups said Egypt had been abusing counterterrorism laws to jail human rights defenders such as Alaa Abdel Fattah (pictured) [Getty]

A group of civil society and human rights organisations, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have jointly signed a statement calling on the European Union to withdraw its bid to co-chair the Global Counterterrorism Task Force (GCTF) with Egypt.

In a statement released on Thursday, the fifteen civil society groups said that the Egyptian government had engaged in an "escalating, systematic crackdown on the rule of law and human rights" and had specifically targeted human rights defenders, arresting them on "baseless terrorism charges".

They cited a previous warning by the United Nations Special Procedures saying that Egypt's "continued misuse of counter-terrorism powers is not consistent with the State’s international law obligations and undermines broader international efforts to prevent terrorism by misusing such powers domestically".

The civil society groups said they were "appalled" that the European Union was continuing its bid to co-chair the GCTF with Egypt.

The GCTF is an international platform aiming to counter incitement and recruitment to terrorist organisations and prosecute terrorist activity. It is currently co-chaired by Morocco and Canada.

UN experts have previously said that Egypt has "a systemic problem with human rights protections… as well as a systemic problem in the abuse and misuse of counter-terrorism laws and practices."

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The civil society groups pointed out that human rights defenders Alaa Abdel Fattah and Ziad Elaimy had been sentenced to five years imprisonment by Egyptian state security courts on "terrorism" offences, while Mohammed Al-Bager had been sentenced to four years.

They said that Egypt's counterterrorism laws had "criminalized the lawful and legitimate exercise of fundamental rights and freedoms" domestically, while accusing Egypt of using its influence internationally to "shift the emphasis of the UN’s global counterterrorism efforts away from human rights, including at the UN Human Rights Council and the UN General Assembly".

"All this therefore begs the question of how giving the Egyptian authorities a leading role in shaping global counter-terrorism policies, would support the EU in its commitment to promote human rights and the rule of law as core principles in such efforts," the civil society groups' statement said.

The statement noted that the European Parliament had also opposed the EU's move to co-chair the GCTF with Egypt, while EU member states had condemned the human rights situation, "including the use of counterterrorism laws to punish peaceful critics" at the UN Human Rights Council.

In addition to Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, the statement's signatories included the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies and the World Organisation Against Torture.