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Egypt/US: Obama Should Press Mubarak on Rights

President Should Make Clear During His Visit That Rights Are a Priority

CAIRO, Egypt

President Obama should signal clearly to Egyptians that human rights
in their country are one of his administration's central concerns when
he visits Cairo on June 4, 2009, Human Rights Watch said today.

Many Egyptians worry that Obama's selection of Egypt for his speech
on the Muslim world will send a message that the US will subordinate
concerns about President Hosni Mubarak's poor human rights record to
other priorities, such as help in promoting Israeli-Palestinian peace

"President Obama needs to convey a clear message that human rights
in the region, including Egypt, are a central concern of his
administration," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human
Rights Watch. "He should be sure that what he says in his speech and in
his private meeting with President Mubarak and his choice of other
people to meet will combat the growing perception here that human
rights are a second-rank concern."

US officials have said that Obama's speech will not focus on Egypt
but instead on broad policy issues affecting US relations with
Muslim-majority countries in the Middle East and elsewhere. The
president is likely to highlight the administration's message to Israel
to halt any further settlement construction in the occupied West Bank
as evidence that it is serious about productive negotiations with the
Palestinian Authority.

"Whether he likes it or not, what President Obama does and says in
Cairo will demonstrate his administration's human rights approach
toward the entrenched authoritarian government of President Mubarak,"
Whitson said. "One way he could do this is to criticize the past US
practice of 'rendering' persons to Egypt for torture, addressing the
issue in a way that also acknowledges US complicity."

President Mubarak in 2008 renewed the Emergency Law, in force since
1981, which allows authorities to detain persons arbitrarily and try
them in special security courts that do not meet international fair
trial standards. Security forces have violently suppressed strikes and
peaceful demonstrations, arresting and sometimes torturing bloggers and
other activists involved in promoting such activities.

Egyptian law also provides criminal penalties that stifle legitimate NGO activities,
including "engaging in political or union activities." The government
has also used lethal force against migrants and refugees seeking to
cross into Israel, and forcibly returned asylum seekers and refugees to
Eritrea and other countries where they could face torture.

Egypt has taken some positive steps in minority rights and women's
rights, Human Rights Watch said. In 2008, the government passed
legislation banning female genital mutilation, and in 2009 new
legislation provided more rights to people suffering mental illness. On
March 9, the Ministry of Interior issued a decree allowing Baha'is and
other adherents of "non-recognized" religions to obtain essential identification documents without having to misidentify themselves as Muslims or Christians.

Human Rights Watch commended Egypt for facilitating the independent fact-finding
mission of the UN Human Rights Council, headed by Justice Richard
Goldstone, into violations of international human rights and
humanitarian law in connection with Israel's military operations in
Gaza in December and January.

"When President Mubarak meets with President Obama, he should
strongly urge the US administration to support the Goldstone mission as
well," Whitson said.

Human Rights Watch is one of the world's leading independent organizations dedicated to defending and protecting human rights. By focusing international attention where human rights are violated, we give voice to the oppressed and hold oppressors accountable for their crimes. Our rigorous, objective investigations and strategic, targeted advocacy build intense pressure for action and raise the cost of human rights abuse. For 30 years, Human Rights Watch has worked tenaciously to lay the legal and moral groundwork for deep-rooted change and has fought to bring greater justice and security to people around the world.