GENEVA An Egyptian bill that would tighten control over non-governmental organizations could deal a serious blow to human rights and freedoms in the country, the U.N. human rights chief said on Wednesday.
The draft legislation could undermine the spirit of last year's uprising that ousted long-ruling president Hosni Mubarak, said Navi Pillay, U.N. high commissioner for human rights.
Pillay said the move against NGOs had been accompanied by personal attacks, threats and intimidation of activists, particularly women.
"Women activists in a number of countries are particularly vulnerable to vicious smear campaigns which are often designed to put them out of action," said Pillay.
"Verbal and physical assaults on female members of civil society are one of the first signs that the process of reform is starting to go sour," the former South African judge declared.
The draft legislation, strongly criticized by many Western countries, is expected to prevent NGOs from getting foreign funds or working on projects considered a threat to state sovereignty.
If implemented, it would be "a potentially serious blow to the human rights aspirations of fundamental freedoms for which so many Egyptians have struggled for so long and at such cost," Pillay said.
Efforts to tighten controls over NGOs were not limited to Egypt, she said.
Governments engaged in this included Israel, Belarus and Ethiopia, she said, while Zimbabwe simply suspended NGOs and Venezuela had a new law, not yet in force, putting them under permanent surveillance by a state body.
(Reported by Robert Evans; Edited by Alessandra Rizzo)