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Today: UNHRC to confirm nominees of Egyptian-led panel
GENEVA, July 8, 2016 — A representative of the Egyptian regime of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has replaced the delegate of Saudi Arabia as chair of the UN Human Rights Council panel which nominates global investigators, which this week will include the new UN expert on summary executions—even though Egyptian forces summarily killed an estimated 1,000 protesters in a single day less than three years ago.
Egypt’s ambassador in Geneva, Amr Ramadan, is one of five diplomats on the UNHRC Consultative Group, which is responsible for interviewing, shortlisting and recommending UN human rights experts who report on specific countries or global themes. The Egyptian-led committee performs a key role in the selection of what are now 77 top human rights investigators and advisers serving the Human Rights Council.
Egypt chaired the panel which recently nominated Agnes Callamard, director of Columbia University’s Global Freedom of Expression initiative, as the new monitor on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions. Egyptian forces committed the infamous Rabaa massacre on August 14, 2013 by slaughtering 1,000 protesters loyal to then recently-deposed President Mohamed Morsi. An Egyptian judge also ordered an estimated 720 executions against protesters on one day in 2014, following legal proceedings which were condemned as “a mockery of justice” by eight UN experts, including Christof Heyns, the UN expert on extrajudicial executions soon to be replaced.
Egypt’s Nominee Agnes Callamard Defended Saudi Chairmanship
Ms. Callamard is known to the committee in part because she defended its reputation in response to outrage over Saudi Arabia chairing the panel for much of 2015. Echoing the UN’s false and misleading statement, Callamard said the “UN is not responsible for the appointment in any way.” However, contrary to what both Callamard and the UN maintained, Saudi Arabia held the position for most of last year and was twice selected, while three other members of the committee—Greece, Algeria and Poland—never held the chairmanship. Greece was supposed to have the UNHRC position after Saudi Arabia in the end of 2015, but the Saudis were chosen again.
It was only in response to worldwide outrage last year that this year’s chairmanship rotates on a clear basis. Egypt is responsible for three of the appointments in 2016.
Egypt’s role at the head of the Consultative Group is problematic not only for symbolic reasons. It is likely to have material implications for the quality of experts chosen. Speaking anonymously to the Times of London, one candidate for a UN human rights expert position—interviewed last year by Saudi Arabian ambassador Faisal bin Hassan Trad—made the following remarks:
“Being interviewed and judged by specific people [representing countries] with a bad human rights record is annoying. It also makes a difference to the way you answer questions. You ask yourself, what does this diplomat want to hear? They want to hear that you’re going to be nice to them. I found it difficult to answer some questions because, actually, the answer was, ‘I’m going to criticize you’.”