Middle East

U.N. rights team sees Egypt long way from democracy

A police officer looks on in front of the Ministry of Interior building as demonstrators against police brutality from Cairo and Alexandria chant slogans to mark the first anniversary of the death of activist Khaled Said, in Cairo June 6, 2011.

GENEVA: Egypt has a long way to go to achieve real democracy despite the popular uprising that toppled authoritarian president Hosni Mubarak four months ago, a United Nations human rights team said Friday.

The four-member group, which went to Egypt in late March but has followed later events closely from Geneva, also called on the interim military authorities to move quickly to lift the long-standing state of emergency.

"Most legitimate aspirations of the Egyptian people for change remain to be translated into concrete democratic institutional forms," said the four, all experts from the office of U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay.

While there was relief in the country that a huge hurdle had been overcome with the departure of Mubarak after 30 years and the dismantling of his ruling NDP party, "there is still a very long way to achieve democracy and respect for all human rights".

Full freedom of expression and of demonstration should be ensured and all detained protesters and political prisoners released, while those suspected of committing serious rights violations like torture should be investigated and tried.

The authorities should publicly declare that torture would no longer be tolerated, trials of civilians before military courts should be stopped, and all sectors of the population be involved in preparation for free and fair elections, they said.

The long-awaited U.N. report noted what it called "very important achievements" since the uprising -- part of an "Arab Spring" that has swept from Tunisia across North Africa and the Middle East.

Among these were the registration of political parties and independent trade unions, moves to bring human rights violators to justice and preparations for elections for a new parliament and president later this year.

But, the report said, "the reversal of decades of abusive policies cannot easily be achieved and if Egyptians are to trust the state and its institutions, authorities must remain vigilant and ensure full respect for human rights.

"It will be important for the authorities to ensure that tangible results are attained in the effort to combat past abuses and impunity and to ensure accountability at all levels, so that justice is both done and perceived to be done."      The report, in terms similar to one issued by another Pillay team that went to Tunisia after the ouster of its long-ruling president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, was in tune with comments this week by Egyptian democracy campaigners.

At demonstrations in Cairo and Alexandria on Monday to mark the first anniversary of the police killing of an activist, campaigners said they were reminding the authorities they would not allow a return to the old system.

At least 846 people died in the January and February events and more than 6,000 were injured, mainly at the hands of security forces and thugs believed to have been hired by Mubarak officials. Many others disappeared into jail.

 

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