Warning that Egypt's travel bans and other restrictions on the free speech of human rights defenders appear politically motivated to “choke legitimate and democratic debate, both within and outside,” the country, a United Nations rights expert today, strongly advised the Government to repeal the existing travel bans and refrain from imposing further restrictions.
“Restrictions imposed on defenders' freedom of movement have regrettably become routine in what is seen as a broader crackdown against Egyptian civil society that has continued unabated since 2011,” said the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Michel Forst in a news release from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
The restrictions are often based on investigations relating to a controversial foreign funding case, also known as 'Case No. 173,' which reportedly led to the leaders and staff of at least 37 Egyptian rights organizations being charged with receiving 'illegal foreign funding' and 'working without permission.'
“It is seriously concerning to observe that travel bans, along with other restrictions on fundamental freedoms to free speech, association and assembly, seem to have become politically motivated means to stifle civil society movement in the country, and to choke legitimate and democratic debate, both within and outside Egypt,” said the UN expert, adding that the growing use of travel bans as a method of preventing the legitimate exercise of rights has a “chilling effect on human rights defenders and general society.”
Mr. Forst also warned that stopping people participating in rights activities abroad could violate the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and breach the spirit of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, which gives people the right to promote human rights “at the national and international levels.”
Despite reassurances by the Government that the travel bans are in line with the principle of criminal justice, Mr. Forst highlighted a series of procedural concerns. For example, he said, the activists were not being notified of the bans before they attempted to travel, and were often not told the legal basis or how to appeal, resulting in their inability to challenge the decision.
“I strongly advise the Egyptian State to repeal the existing travel bans and refrain from imposing further restrictions against human rights defenders, to ensure that it does not contravene international human rights norms and standards,” said Mr. Forst.
“The Government should consider dedicating its legal, administrative and financial resources to empowering civil society, rather than obstructing its activities and undermining fundamental freedoms, which the State is charged to respect and protect,” he said.
Independent experts and Special Rapporteurs are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a specific human rights theme or a country situation. The positions are honorary and the experts are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work.