International Board Declaration: International pressure works and has to be exerted over dictators repressing the rights of their people

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The recent example of rapid release of three renowned human rights defenders from our member organisation EIPR in Egypt, after an impressive campaign of mobilisation for their release and international pressure coming from various actors around the globe, demonstrates that international pressure, when exerted in a unified, coordinated, and strong way, works to defend human rights.

The International Bureau of FIDH, meeting in Paris a few days ahead of a planned visit of Egyptian President Al-Sisi in France, and a few weeks after Saudi Arabia hosted a G20 meeting, obliges us to recall Western countries that they cannot simply sit at the same table or welcome dictators to their countries without consequences.

The consequences of this lack of commitment from partners of a regime such as Saudi Arabia are that women’s rights defenders Loujain Al Hathloul, Nassima al-Saddah, Samar Badawi, Nouf Abdelaziz, and Miyaa al-Zahrani are still being held as prisoners since 2018.

Several of them were subjected to torture, sexual violence and other ill-treatment, with no access to effective remedy. These WHRDs have been at the forefront to the defence of human rights in their country. In November 2020, Loujain Al Hathloul’s case has been transferred to a terrorism tribunal, the Specialised Criminal Court that it is notorious for violations of fair trial standards and has been used to prosecute peaceful dissent. With their imprisonment and the rest of human rights defenders in exile, such as our member organisation ALQST, no human rights movement can exist in the country, while violations of basic rights of women, migrant workers, but also on the economic and social rights of people keep happening on a massive scale.

In Egypt, recent events following the arrests of EIPR members on terrorism charges as well as prominentdefenders like Mohamed al-Baqer or Alaa Abdel Fattah being put on a terrorist list are the latest chapters of Al-Sisi’s repressive playbook against his own population. Earlier this year, two other prominent activists, Ramy Shaath and Zyad al-Elaimy, were also added to the list. Mass executions, enforced disappearances, and rampant torture are the only tools the regime uses to interact with Egyptian citizens. Egypt’s politicized judiciary, characterized in UN statements as a ‘mockery to justice’, has been serving the military’s interest in undermining the demands of the January 25th uprising, which called for a modern welfare state governed by the rule of law and principles of democracy, social justice, and respect for human rights. A deeply criticized constitutional amendments have provided President Al-Sisi and his army an unprecedented power of control, followed by a presidential elections where all the opposing candidates were either arrested, put under house arrest or threatened to withdraw from the elections.

Never in the history of modern Egypt have we had this number of lawyers, human rights activists, and trade unionists arrested for exercising their fundamental rights, whether it be for expressing an opinion, participating in a meeting, peaceful demonstration, or carrying out their professional duties as lawyers, journalists, doctors. Scores of Egyptian detainees have died due to intentional medical negligence, as was the case with former president Mohamed Morsi and other activists with sensitive medical situations.

Despite the dreadful human rights records of these two countries and their documented use of terrorism legislation to silence dissent, Western countries such as France continue to maintain their strategic partnership in the fight against terrorism with those countries. We as the International Bureau of FIDH, meeting in Paris on December 4, 2020, demand that France establish itself as a champion of rights and not as an accomplice of crimes. The economic and military cooperation must be put on hold until the human rights situation improves in those countries. If there is no sustained pushback from the international community, then Egyptian and Saudi people, and more largely the people of the MENA region, will continue to pay the price for their courage and integrity with their freedom, and quite possibly, with their life.

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