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Sisi protest Egypt

A man wearing a mask of Egyptian President Gen. Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and holding a noose stands in front of anti-coup activists with nooses around their necks during a July 3, 2021 London protest against the regime's nearly 100 political executions on the 8th anniversary of the military coup that brought el-Sisi to power. (Photo: Mark Kerrison/In Pictures via Getty Images)

Activist Says Egypt's Pre-COP27 Silencing of Climate Voices Should Be a 'Wake-Up Call'

"It will be a fundamental mistake if diplomats go to COP27 thinking they need to go softly on human rights in order to make progress in the climate talks," warned HRW's Richard Pearshouse.

Brett Wilkins

Echoing concerns voiced by other activists, Human Rights Watch's environment director warned Friday that delegates to next month's United Nations Climate Conference must confront Egypt's repression of environmentalists.

"We will not get the urgent climate action needed without civil society pressure."

In an interview with The Guardian, Richard Pearshouse, director of HRW's Environment and Human Rights division, said that "outspoken, independent, strident voices have by and large been silenced, exiled, or corralled into working in safe, less damaging environmental spaces that match the government's priorities" ahead of the COP27 conference in the upscale Sinai seaside city of Sharm el-Sheikh.

"Topics the government considers sensitive are now environmental red zones or no-go areas in Egypt—and in other repressive regimes," he added.

Last month, HRW published a report detailing how the Egyptian government is undermining green groups ahead of COP27 after interviewing more than a dozen activists, academics, scientists, and journalists working on environmental issues in the country.

Those interviewed described harassment and intimidation tactics, including arrests, difficulties traveling, and a "general atmosphere of fear," all part of "a sharp reduction in the space for independent environment and climate work since President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi's government took office in 2014."

"It will be a fundamental mistake if diplomats go to COP27 thinking they need to go softly on human rights in order to make progress in the climate talks," Pearshouse told The Guardian. "We will not get the urgent climate action needed without civil society pressure, the situation in Egypt shows us that."

Pearshouse's remarks mirror those of other human rights defenders, including author and social activist Naomi Klein, who earlier this month drew attention to "the estimated 60,000 other political prisoners behind bars in Egypt where barbaric forms of torture reportedly take place on an 'assembly line.'"

"Human rights versus climate action is a false debate, it's not either or," Pearshouse insisted. "We need people in the streets, independent environmentalists and human rights activists, strategic litigation, and independent courts to generate change."

"What's happening to the environmental movement in Egypt should be a wake-up call, and delegates must talk about human rights in Sharm," he added. "Having blind faith that the world's authoritarian regimes, many of which have fossil fuel industries, will somehow come round to a just transition is profoundly naive."

On Wednesday, eight Egyptian human rights groups called on COP27 attendees to "take into consideration the suffering of the inhabitants who live on the land where the conference hosted, the Sinai Peninsula, and to recognize their human rights, which include the right to environmental protection."

The groups asserted:

Sinai inhabitants should be protected not only from the expected impacts of climate change but also from the systematic violations of their rights by the Egyptian government. The conference is only tens of kilometers away from areas deliberately marginalized by the state for decades, especially in North Sinai, including through massive violations of residence rights. Sinai has also been the central arena for the state's decadelong "war against terrorism," affecting the environment, the rights of Indigenous people, and infrastructure, with a deliberate decline in the education and health sectors.

"This situation imposes on the countries participating in the climate conference the responsibility to address the suffering of the inhabitants on the land hosting them," the signatories added. "The people of Sinai, like all inhabitants of Earth, have a right to the legitimate defense of their lives and safety, and their right to protect themselves from dangerous changes in the climate must be upheld."

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