This update was sent to Coptic Solidarity’s supporters on March 16, 2020.
I’m writing to you from Geneva, where I arrived last Wednesday and headed to the UN as planned. Most of you have probably been impacted by COVID – 19 at this point and understand the related challenges, but let me update you on the situation of the planned UN meetings.
The UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) has a fluid schedule so one has to be present for several days in case they are running ahead or behind schedule. I got my UN badge, signed-in to give the oral response, and began my vigil which included the opportunity to observe the outcomes session of Egypt’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR). Each member state of the UN undergoes the UPR process every four years, and it is an opportunity for other member states and civil society to provide reporting on human rights issues in that country and to recommend changes.
The process allows a delegate from the country under review to present which recommendations they have accepted, those they have rejected, and to make any points of clarification. Egypt’s delegate, H.E. Mr. Alaa Youssef, adamantly denied imprisonment of innocent citizens, closure of NGOs, and many other rights violations. He then claimed that some NGO’s have falsely reported about abuses taking place.
More than 50 NGO’s signed up to give oral responses to Egypt, but the schedule only allows time for ten organizations to give two- minute responses. The ten NGOs who spoke strongly refuted Mr. Youssef’s claims and I was grateful for those who called for the release of prisoners of conscience such as Ramy Kamel, Patrick, Zaki, and Alaa Abdel Fattah.
I was signed up to speak in a general debate session on Egypt to take place that day or the next with only six NGOs registered. Towards the end of the day, the UNHRC president announced that they had decided to suspend the remaining portion of this 43rd HRC session and to wrap up on Friday. The HRC ended early on Friday and cancelled the agenda item for which I was registered to speak. This was deeply disappointing as Coptic Solidarity had expended great effort to prepare for this opportunity and our supporters sacrificially donated to make the advocacy trip possible.
You can read my prepared speech, which has already been filed with the UNHRC. The focus was on Ramy Kamel, and called for the release of prisoners of conscience, and one who has disappeared since imprisonment.
The remainder of our advocacy plans were obviously hampered by measures of social distancing. With good reason, the country missions I planned to meet with initiated policies to work from home or only meet with essential staff. The organizers of the Summit on Apostasy and Blasphemy Laws at which I was also scheduled to speak, canceled the event and decided to reschedule.
Amidst the small inconveniences and adversities we may be facing due to containment of COVID – 19, I think about the many innocent prisoners in Egypt who are already being denied healthcare, are suffering torture and abuse, some in horrifically overcrowded conditions, and believe we need to advocate even more urgently for their release. We cannot allow world events to distract us. We MUST keep pressure on the Egyptian government to drop false charges and to release these innocents.
What can you do to help?
Many of you are working at home, had your classes and church services cancelled, and are spending more time indoors. What better time to take action on our online advocacy campaign for Ramy Kamel and to take a few minutes to share it with your communities? Please take action today!
Thanks for your continued action and support as we work towards Coptic equality.
Director of Development & Advocacy