UN postpones anti-torture conference in Cairo after outcry

Spokesman says the body will consult NGOs and national rights groups before deciding where and when event will be held.

Egypt police
Egyptian authorities have repeatedly denied allegations that its security forces engage in torture [File: Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Reuters]

The United Nations has postponed an anti-torture conference scheduled to be held next month in Cairo, a decision taken after backlash from rights groups and activists decrying the Egyptian government’s human rights record.

The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights had faced criticism after announcing last month that it would co-host the regional event along with Egypt’s National Council for Human Rights on September 4-5.

“It’s illogical for a country where torture is systematic to host a conference on torture,” Mohamed Zaree, of the non-government Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, said earlier this week. 

“Egypt must be excluded as a place, or as the Egyptian regime, from hosting any forum or event related to human rights,” he added. 

Speaking to Al Jazeera on Tuesday, UN human rights spokesman Rupert Colville confirmed the body’s decision to postpone the Conference on Defining and Criminalising Torture in Legislation in the Arab Region.

“We still plan to hold it in the Middle East/North Africa region, as for obvious reasons it is likely to have more impact within the region itself than if it is held in some more distant venue in Europe or elsewhere,” Colville said.

He added that the UN “will consult widely with NGOs and national human rights institutions before deciding where and when it will now be held”.

‘Widespread torture’

A Reuters News Agency 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, Human Rights Watch released a 63-page report which documented “widespread and systematic torture by [Egypt’s] security forces” which could amount to a crime against humanity. 

“President [Abdel Fattah] el-Sisi has effectively given police and National Security officers a green light to use torture whenever they please,” Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, said at the time. “Impunity for the systematic use of torture has left citizens with no hope for justice.”

In February this year, HRW called for an independent torture inquiry, following what the group said was the failure of Egyptian authorities to end or partially investigate torture and mistreatment in detention facilities. 

More recently, Amnesty International called on Egyptian authorities to investigate allegations of torture and other abuses against political prisoners at al-Aqrab (Scorpion) prison in Tora, just south of the Egyptian capital. 

Egyptian authorities have repeatedly denied allegations that its security forces engage in torture, dismissing reports by human rights organisations on the subject as lacking credibility and being politically motivated.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies