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UN urged to act on Egypt's reprisals against citizens who met rapporteur

A coalition of rights groups has condemned Egypt for targeting those who met UN housing rapporteur
Egyptians shout slogans against the government during the funeral of Syed Tafshan, who died in clashes with residents of the Nile island of al-Warraq island (Reuters)

Six human rights organisations have condemned emerging reports of Egypt’s reprisals in recent months against individuals who met with a UN expert during her visit to the country.

A statement co-signed by Amnesty International; the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies; Committee for Justice; Human Rights Watch; International Service for Human Rights; and the Global Initiative for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights said: “Restricting the work of a UN team after officially inviting them to visit the country and retaliating against individuals who cooperated with her is a testament to how the Egyptian government deals with human rights: mere decorative actions to cover up unprecedented oppression of civil society."

The joint statement criticised the Egyptian government for restricting the work of UN Special Rapporteur on adequate housing Leilani Farha, who has recently condemned “reprisals” against people she met during her official country visit to Egypt in September and October.

Last week, Farha said that Egyptian authorities, contrary to their previous assurances, have subjected people she met to forced evictions, housing demolitions and arbitrary arrest following her departure from the country on 3 October.

“I am shocked that after my mission a number of families from two communities I visited have suffered forced eviction contrary to international human rights law. Several multi-storey houses have been demolished, furniture was thrown into the street, and residents have been made homeless,” she said.

Farha had said in a previous statement following the visit that she was “warmly greeted” by Egyptian officials and that the visit was “successful”.

But the rights groups said that Egyptian security forces had placed restrictions on Farha’s movement in Egypt.

Her visit to Egypt was the first of any UN expert in nearly a decade.

In response, Egypt's foreign ministry accused Farha of "having ulterior motives" and "deliberately overlooking any positive sides in the country's housing policies". 

The Egyptian parliament speaker urged the UN to take actions against Farha for her "prejudiced" statement. 

Farha’s trip sought to explore the country’s commitment to the right to adequate housing. But the groups said she was barred from visiting al-Warraq island in Giza, whose residents could face forced evictions after a recent government decision to expropriate their land to make way for real estate projects.

Egyptian authorities have demolished houses belonging to people who met with Farha during her visit. Several of the demolitions were reported by a pro-government newspaper.

The organisations urged the office of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to launch an independent UN investigation into the reports of reprisals. 

"It is critical for the UN and its member states to ensure an urgent and robust UN system-wide response to address the dire situation that civil society is facing in Egypt, including attacks by the government in reprisal against those who met with the Special Rapporteur on adequate housing," the groups said.

"Failing to do so will only encourage similar human rights violations in the future and risk undermining the accessibility and credibility of the UN experts and wider human rights system."