Nineteen human rights organisations, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, have expressed serious concern about the existential threat that the current Law of Associations and its implementing regulations pose to independent civil society organisations in Egypt. In a joint statement, the organisations demanded that parliament repeal the law and work with independent human rights organisations to formulate a new legislative framework in line with international standards.
According to the statement, independent civil society organisations face the risk of closure if they do not comply with the registration according to new criteria within the deadline set by the government before the 11th of this month to avoid the risk of dissolution. The statement said that since 2019, Egyptian and international human rights organisations have repeatedly and widely denounced the law as it violates the constitution and international law obligations regarding respect for the right to form associations. The law allows the government to refuse to register independent human rights organisations on vague and flimsy grounds, according to the statement.
At the same time, the government has banned all activities of civil associations that it has classified as “political” or violating “public order” or “moral codes,” while only allowing actions in line with the government’s own plans. The law allows the Ministry of Social Solidarity to interfere in the work of registered civil society organisations, the type of activities they practice, and even their financing. The law also allows authorities to storm the offices of civil society organisations without prior notice, inspect their documents, challenge their organisational decisions, and dismiss members of their boards, in addition to many other restrictive measures.
The law strips civil society organisations of their independence and prevents them from monitoring human rights violations and holding those responsible to account. In addition, it restricts organisations’ abilities to cooperate with international NGOs. The law also considers the financial assets of organisations to be public funds, and imposes heavy fines on any organisation that violates this law. UN experts have expressed deep concern that the law violates basic human rights standards and undermines the ability of civil society to operate independently.
The statement said that this law represents a new episode in the widespread campaign launched by the Egyptian authorities against the human rights movement. It added that the authorities continue to arbitrarily detain human rights defenders and civil society workers in appalling detention conditions, subject others to unfair trials, prevent others from travelling and freeze their financial assets.
The organisations pointed out that the situation in Egypt requires urgent measures to be taken to avoid the government’s attempts to eradicate the human rights movement in the country, especially in light of these worrying developments and the pattern of documented reprisals against human rights defenders. The organisations called on the international community, the United States, and the European Union to issue private and public statements urging the Egyptian authorities to withdraw the registration requirement for civil society organisations, harmonise the law on NGOs and its internal regulations with Egypt’s international obligations, and release all human rights defenders and NGO workers. The organisations also stressed the need to form a mechanism to monitor the human rights situation in the country during the next session of the United Nations Human Rights Council, to be held in March.