HRC43 | The Council must address violations against defenders in Egypt and Saudi Arabia


ISHR urges States to initiate swift and effective Council action to address the deteriorating human rights situation in Egypt and to establish a monitoring and reporting mechanism to address the ongoing violations in Saudi Arabia.

In the Item 4 General Debate, ISHR called out the failure of the Human Rights Council to hold the government of Egypt accountable for contributing to the ongoing systematic and grave human rights violations in Egypt, including against human rights defenders.

ISHR called particular attention to Egypt’s “recycling” of cases against activists, charging activists with charges already dismissed by the courts, and systematic use of arbitrary detention. It also highlighted the joint letter from seven UN experts about the collective and corrosive effects of Egypt’s counter-terrorism laws and practices on the promotion and protection of human rights. ISHR called for swift and effective Council action to address the deteriorating human rights situation in Egypt.

ISHR also urged States to jointly reiterate calls on the Saudi government to implement the benchmarks laid out in the joint statements delivered by Iceland and Australia in 2019 and to ensure the sustained attention of the Council. ISHR retiriated the joint concerns made by 27 NGOs that Saudi Arabia continues to imprison women human rights defenders for their activism and has failed to hold the perpetrators of their torture and arbitrary detention accountable, and called on the Council to establish a monitoring and reporting mechanism to address the grave, systematic, and widespread human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia.

Several States shared ISHR’s concerns about the situation of human rights defenders in Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

Norway called on Egypt and Saudi Arabia to allow freedom of expression and assembly without the risk of reprisals. The UK similarly called upon Egypt to lift restrictions against civil society, including by releasing all those detained for exercising their constitutional right to freedom of expression. Iceland called for Saudi Arabia to release human rights defenders who have been detained and prosecuted only for fighting for their basic rights. 

The EU made a statement emphasising its concerns about the restrictions on civil society and calling upon Egypt to release all human rights defenders detained after the September 2019 protests. It also expressed its concern for the prolonged detention of women activists, human rights defenders, and religious scholars in Saudi Arabia.

Germany, France, Sweden, Denmark, and Finland aligned themselves with the statement of the EU and continued to make their own statements, in addition.

Germany called upon Egypt to release detained human rights defenders and adhere to universal human rights standards. It expressed deep concern about the use of pretrial detention, the conditions in detention centers, and the increasing use of the death penalty. Germany also called for Egypt to guarantee freedom of expression, freedom of the media, and the rights to peaceful assembly and association.

France called upon Egypt to respect human rights in order to ensure stability and called for an end to arbitrary detention in Saudi Arabia.

Sweden expressed concern about the restrictions on civil society and reports of the use counter-terrorism legislation to target human rights defenders in Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

Denmark expressed concern about Saudi Arabia’s continued use of torture and the death penalty, in particular against juvenile offenders.

Concerned about the further deterioration of civil and political rights in Saudi Arabia, Finland called for the protection of human rights defenders and for full accountability for all involved in the killing of Jamal Khashoggi.

Watch the statement:

Read ISHR's full statement here.

Photo: UN Web TV


  • Middle East and North Africa
  • United Nations
  • UN Human Rights Council
  • Egypt
  • Saudi Arabia