The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies rejects in full the draft NGO law prepared by the Ministry of Justice. This draft law was the subject of a discussion in which the CIHRS participated yesterday at the ministry and which was also attended by officials from the Ministry of Justice, Foreign Ministry, and the Ministry of Social Affairs. During this meeting, the CIHRS noted that the proposed law constitutes another step toward establishing legislative means to suppress the work of civil society, as has already been seen in the draft NGO law submitted by the Freedom and Justice Party for discussion by the Committee for Human Resources Development and Local Administration in the Shura Council. The CIHRS points out that the draft law proposed by the Ministry of Justice codifies the repressive security practices used by the state against civil society into law. It further notes that these practices are used to target human rights organizations in particular, as these groups are viewed as adversaries which must be eliminated due their work of exposing systematic violations to human rights.
The Ministry of Justice has at its disposal all manner of technical support that would enable it to issue a law that meets international standards for freedom of association. At one point, the ministry even solicited the opinions of representatives of Egyptian human rights organizations – among them the CIHRS – as well as of a group of international experts from the EU and the UN. However, its draft law utterly disregards all proposals and recommendations offered. Instead, the ministry has adopted a hostile stance toward freedom of association and imposed additional arbitrary restrictions with the goal of suppressing civil society and intimidating human rights defenders.
The Ministry of Justice’s draft law represents an extension of the same philosophy adopted by the Ministry of Insurance and Social Affairs in the era of former President Hosni Mubarak which sought to besiege civil society and human rights groups in particular. Indeed, this draft law resorts to even more extreme measures than those seen under the former president.
The draft law’s most striking infringements of international standards on the right to freedom of association are:
1. The draft law is utterly hostile to any institution engaged in civic action and confiscates the right of such institutions to choose the legal framework governing their operations. It prohibits civil society organizations from constituting themselves in any legal form—such as under the Civil Code or the legal profession law, for example—other than as a civic association or foundation.
2. The draft law establishes two security bodies – the Interior Ministry and the National Security Agency – to monitor the funding of domestic organizations and to grant licenses to international NGOs working in Egypt by including these two bodies on the Steering Committee. As a result, these security bodies will be enabled to interfere in the activities of domestic organizations by rejecting their funding if, for example, they work to defend human rights or expose security abuses such as torture.
3. The draft law requires NGOs to receive any international funding through an account with the Ministry of Insurance and Social Affairs rather than in the NGO’s private account. These funds will not be transferred to the association’s account until the Steering Committee approves them or until 60 days pass without objection. Even if the Committee ultimately approves the funds, this allows the Ministry of Social Affairs to hinder funding by delaying the release of funds. The law also requires NGOs to submit written consent allowing the Steering Committee to review its bank accounts at any time, which infringes on the right to bank privacy as upheld by Egyptian law, which states that bank confidentiality can only be breached by a court order.
4. The draft law is to be commended for abolishing penalties of imprisonment found in Law 84/2002; however, the draft law imposes excessive fines for non-compliant associations—up to LE 5 million, one of the largest fines explicitly stated in Egyptian law. Shockingly, the draft law mandates such fines for volunteer activities, which clearly reflects the underlying philosophy of the law and its hostile view of and adversarial way of dealing with civil society.
5. The law places restrictions on the promulgation of civic associations. Although it upholds the system of notification for the establishment of NGOs, in keeping with Article 51 of the Egyptian Constitution, the draft law requires the administrative body to officially register associations within 30 days of notification, and thus the notification itself has no legal consequence unless it is accompanied by certain documentation detailed by the law. If within this 30-day period the administrative body finds that the association’s purposes violate some aspect of the Penal Code or any other penal law, that any of its members do not meet membership conditions, or that the information in the articles of association is incomplete, the administrative body may refuse to register the association.
6. Stemming from the draft law’s repressive philosophy, its provisions consider the administrative body to be the rightful custodian of civil society. It thus gives the administrative body the right to object to or delay decisions issued by associations’ boards and to object to nominees for the board, placing the burden of appealing these arbitrary decrees on NGOs themselves.
The proposed law serves two basic objectives. The first stems from hostility toward the objectives and gains of the January 25 Revolution, which opened up new spaces for the exercise of political and social liberties, including the freedom of association. These are spaces that the current regime wishes to dominate anew in order to reconstitute them to serve its own interests and narrow partisan objectives. The second is based on treating all citizens involved in civil society as potential criminals or suspects until proven otherwise. This view was made explicit by the Deputy Minister of Justice for Legislative Affairs in the public session of the Shura Council on March 24, when he stated that the primary goal of the amended draft NGO law is to close the loopholes that had permitted the case related to foreign funding and foreign NGOs. It is important to note that he also stated that investigations into Egyptian organizations were still underway, which could mean that human rights organizations will again be targeted and their offices raided as if they were bases for plotting criminal activity.
The CIHRS rejects this draft law in its entirety, emphasizing that the freedom of association, in accordance with international standards, is a principle over which even partial concessions must not be made. The CIHRS also urges the government to reconsider its current strategy of circumscribing public freedoms. The CIHRS affirms that the draft law proposed by the Ministry of Justice contravenes Egypt’s commitment under international conventions it has ratified, particularly the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
For more information on the draft law presented by the Ministry of Justice, see:
1. Morsi’s government must withdraw bill to nationalize civil society, statement by CIHRS and 21 other human rights organizations.
2. Strangling civil society with repressive laws, CIHRS statement.
3. Egypt: the Freedom and Justice Party endorses repressive NGO law, CIHRS statement.
4. CIHRS releases short film on NGO law (Arabic), animated film.
5. Read the NGO law proposed by 39 human rights and development organizations.
This post is also available in: Arabic