The Obama Administration Needs a Stronger Message on Human Rights and Democracy in Egypt

For Immediate Release

Contact: 

Brenda Bowser Soder
bowsersoderb@humanrightsfirst.org
O -202/370-3323, C – 301/906-4460

The Obama Administration Needs a Stronger Message on Human Rights and Democracy in Egypt

NEW YORK - Events have escalated in Egypt to the point that the government has
imposed a nationwide curfew and called the army on to the streets. In
response, the Obama Administration has settled on a somewhat simple
message in its statements about the mounting crisis – a set of talking
points that Human Rights First believes should be strengthened to
specifically condemn this excessive use of force by the Egyptian
security forces and make clear that it views such tactics as
counterproductive.

 “The State Department and White House have urged the Egyptian
government to respect the basic rights to freedom of expression and
assembly of the protesters, to turn on the Internet and restore access
to social networking sites.  President Obama and other officials have
also called for restraint and non-violence from government forces and
protesters, but that does not go far enough,” said Human Rights First’s
Neil Hicks. “The situation in Egypt is serious and it demands a serious
response – one that makes clear that the United States will not tolerate
government use of force and unwarranted censorship to silence
dissidents.”

According to Human Rights First, the Obama Administration must
recognize that almost all of the violence occurring in Egypt is coming
from the side of the government.  Riot police have repeatedly used tear
gas, rubber bullets, batons and water cannon against peaceful
demonstrators throughout the week.  Moreover, uniformed riot police are
supplemented by plain clothed thugs armed with truncheons and iron bars
who randomly assault protesters.  Journalists have been among the
victims of police violence.

“We are equally concerned about reports that opposition figures are
being subjected to arbitrary detention, among them opposition leader
Mohamed El-Baradei, who is under house arrest,” Hicks continued.  “The
administration should call for the immediate release of all political
prisoners, and should urge the Egyptian government to announce its
readiness to engage in dialogue with the opposition and to respond to
the protesters’ legitimate grievances.”

Hicks noted that the lack of democracy in Egypt, exemplified by the
brazenly rigged parliamentary elections held at the end of 2010, is one
of the root causes of the unrest in Egypt. 

In response, Human Rights First notes that the U.S. government should
now call on the Egyptian authorities to commit to implementing reforms
necessary to permit free and fair elections well in advance of
presidential elections scheduled for the fall of this year, and to
holding new parliamentary elections in an atmosphere of transparency and
basic fairness that was absent from last year’s vote.  These include:
granting access to independent international election monitors; allowing
independent Egyptian election monitors to carry out their activities
free from obstruction and interference; restoring the role of the
Egyptian judiciary in supervising the elections and amending the law to
remove restrictions on opposition candidates standing as candidates. 

Hicks concluded, “The Obama administration must signal that it has
turned the page from the old policy of toleration of oppression by its
Egyptian ally in the name of stability.  As well as being contrary to
principles of universal human rights and democracy which the
administration has pledged to uphold everywhere, recent events in
Tunisia and now in Egypt have shown that repression does not bring
stability.”

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Human Rights First is a non-profit, nonpartisan international human rights organization based in New York and Washington D.C. Human Rights First believes that building respect for human rights and the rule of law will help ensure the dignity to which every individual is entitled and will stem tyranny, extremism, intolerance, and violence.

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