Egypt stifles environmental work ahead of COP

BEIRUT, Lebanon (AP) — An international human rights group called on the United Nations on Monday to ensure that countries hosting its climate conference commit to human rights standards after documenting a crackdown on environmental groups in host Egypt the COP27 later that. year.

Human Rights Watch said in a report based on interviews with more than a dozen academics, scientists and activists that the government restrictions amount to a violation of basic human rights and call into question the Egyptian government’s ability to meet key climate commitments.

Egypt’s government has engaged in a widespread crackdown on dissent in recent years that has arrested thousands, many without trial, according to rights groups. Under President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, Egypt has also cracked down on activists, and new laws have effectively banned many civil society organizations from operating.

“The world needs more climate activism, not less, and there can be no such effective activism when the government treats citizen groups as a threat, not an asset,” Richard Pearshouse, environment director at Human Rights Watch, said in the report. . “UNFCCC member states and the Secretariat should press the Egyptian government to make sure that environmental groups feel it is safe to participate in the COP and beyond.”

Egypt’s human rights record is under scrutiny as the country prepares to host the international conference aimed at slowing climate change through coordinated global action.

In July, several dozen organizations called on Egypt to end its crackdown and allow people to exercise freedom of expression ahead of the summit.

In a joint statement signed by 36 groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, they expressed concern that Egypt will largely maintain its ban on demonstrations during the November conference.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, who is also the president-designate of next year’s Conference of the Parties, told The Associated Press in an interview in May that a facility was being developed next to the conference site where protests could take place. He also said activists would have access, as usual, to negotiations in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh. He did not specify whether protests would be allowed elsewhere.

An Egyptian government media official did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Monday’s report by Human Rights Watch. The UN office responsible for overseeing the climate conference, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, also did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the right-wing group’s call.

All those interviewed for the report spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation, the group said, and six declined to speak at all. Those who spoke described harassment by authorities, obstruction and a “general atmosphere of fear” in the country and said they were wary of expressing views that could be seen as critical even during the UN-led conference.

Some described a partial opening in government policy for environmental campaigns in the run-up to the summit, but only for initiatives deemed compatible with the authorities’ goals, such as garbage collection. They said talking about the country’s coal use and major infrastructure projects, such as building a new administrative capital, were considered too dangerous issues to tackle.

Some expressed hope that this year’s conference could be an opportunity to try to raise awareness of the free speech environment that has existed in Egypt for years.

“There can be no improvement in the environmental situation without an improvement in freedom of expression and the overall human rights situation,” one person was quoted as saying in the HRW report.

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