CAIRO (Reuters) - Human rights activists on Thursday criticized a United Nations decision to hold a conference in Cairo on torture with an Egyptian state organization.
“It’s illogical for a country where torture is systematic to host a conference on torture,” said Mohamed Zaree of the non-government Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies.
Egyptian authorities have repeatedly denied allegations that its security forces engage in torture.
The U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights will co-host the regional conference on defining and criminalizing torture with the government’s National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) on Sept. 4 and 5.
Some 80 participants, both government and non-governmental, from 19 Arab countries are expected to attend.
U.N. human rights spokesman Rupert Colville, who in February had said torture was endemic in Egypt, told Reuters: “It is a fairly standard type of event.”
The NCHR could not be reached for comment and officials at the State Information Service were not available.
Rights activists say President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has overseen a crackdown on freedoms in Egypt since he took power in 2014.
Sisi’s supporters say tough measures are needed to keep the country stable as it recovers from political chaos and tackles economic challenges and an Islamist insurgency in North Sinai.
Authorities say Egypt is a law-abiding state and that any rights violations are merely individual cases whose perpetrators are held accountable. Cairo has frequently dismissed reports by human rights organizations on torture and said they lack credibility and are politically motivated.
Gamal Eid, director of the Arab Network for Human Rights Information, said the idea of Egypt hosting such an event was a joke.
“More ironic is that this is through the National Council (for Human Rights), the role of which is to always polish the government’s image and complicity in the human rights situation,” he said.
NHCR president Mohamed Fayek will give a welcome address at the conference’s opening ceremony, according to an agenda seen by Reuters.
In February, the U.N. human rights office voiced concern over trials that led to the executions of 15 people in Egypt that month may have been unfair. It said torture may have been used to obtain confessions.
A Reuters report last month found that at least 179 people were executed in Egypt from 2014 to May 2019, up from only 10 people in the previous six years.
In 2017, Egypt raided and shut down the Nadeem Center, which documented alleged human rights abuses and treated torture victims.
“Egypt must be excluded as a place, or as the Egyptian regime, from hosting any forum or event related to human rights,” Zaree said.
Reporting by Yousef Saba and Stephanie Ulmer-Nebehay; Editing by Angus MacSwan