The head of the United Nations human rights office is closely following the case of 43 non-governmental organization (NGO) workers in Egypt who were convicted, the majority of them sentenced in absentia, her spokesperson today said.
High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay “is very concerned about this verdict. We understand that the defendants are appealing, and we will continue to follow the case closely,” the spokesperson for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Rupert Colville, told journalists in Geneva.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon yesterday said in a statement that the conviction and sentencing of a number of local and foreign employees of international non-governmental organizations (NGO) is a sign of “an increasingly restrictive environment” for civil society in the country.
The Cairo Criminal Court four 43 NGO workers guilty on 4 June based on an article of the penal Code which dates back to the days of President Hosni Mubarak who stepped down from power two years ago in the wake of mass protests similar to those seen in other parts of the Middle East and North Africa as part of the “Arab Spring.”
OHCHR said the article used to convict the NGO workers is “vaguely worded” and has often been interpreted in ways that have led to the severe limitations of the rights to freedom of association.
“Provisions regulating the right to association should be interpreted and implemented in conformity with the relevant international jurisprudence,” OHCHR spokesperson, Rupert Colville, told journalists in Geneva.
He added that restrictions should only be imposed in line with international human rights obligations, especially Article 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which was ratified by Egypt in 1982.
Article 22 stipulates that “everyone shall have the right to freedom of association with others, including the right to form and join trade unions for the protection of his interests.”
The verdict comes as Egypt’s legislation is discussing a new draft law on associations.
Mr. Ban had said that any new draft law on associations “should conform to international human rights standards, and respond to the aspirations of the people.”
“The Secretary-General reaffirms the commitment of the United Nations to work alongside the Government and the people of Egypt in support of the country’s democratic transition, development and prosperity,” the statement added.