The Rafto Prize for 2020 is awarded the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms (ECRF) for their persistence in bravely resisting Egypt´s state of fear.
ECRF documents, reports and raises awareness about the grave human rights violations in Egypt and beyond, and provides legal support to victims of human rights abuses. Almost ten years since the Arab Spring, it is more pressing than ever to focus on the alarming state of basic human rights in the Middle East.
ECRF was founded by Mohamed Lotfy and Ahmed Abdallah in the wake of the coup d'état in 2013. In a relatively short time ECRF has grown to a team of more than 50 lawyers and researchers as well as about 1000 volunteers. The aim of their work is to provide non-partisan support to human rights defenders. Despite working under extremely harsh conditions, the ECRF uses the parts of Egypt’s judiciary, which are still functioning, to defend human rights for political prisoners, prosecuted human rights activists and protestors and victims of disappearances and torture. In this state of fear, the work of ECRF stands out as a beacon of hope for human rights.
If everyone is silenced this would be the ultimate gain to the current regime and the ultimate victory to Egypt’s state of fear.
The ECRF works at ground level across Egypt, using peaceful and legal means. The organization conducts extensive documentation, monitoring and analysis of human rights violations. To do this, ECRF's lawyers and researchers meet with victims, collect testimonies and analyse documents and court verdicts. ECRF has emergency hotlines where relatives and friends can report on arbitrary arrests, and receives on daily basis cases of enforced disappearance. The campaign “Stop Enforced Disappearances” documented 2723 cases over a five-year period. Through the documentation of cases, campaigning and legal aid, the ECRF has contributed to several reappearances. They use the documentation in court defences, as a basis for reports, policy papers, for advocacy, press statements and in social media campaigns to raise awareness around human rights issues.
Egypt’s state of fear
After a political crisis in 2013, the Egyptian army took control again and General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has since ruled as president. Under his leadership, the worrying human rights situation in Egypt has deteriorated to a degree not seen before.
Government security forces frequently conduct mass arrests and enforced disappearances, and critical voices are detained incommunicado for long periods of time. Thousands of political opponents, including children, have been arrested in sweeping campaigns. The prisoners are often held in overcrowded prisons in poor conditions, without access to satisfactory medical care.
The regime has dramatically narrowed the space for civil society and dissent by imposinga number of restrictions on the population such as travel bans, targeting human rights defenders and a range of repressive measures. In August 2019, President el-Sisi approved a law that severely restricts NGOs’ independence. His government uses the “war on terrorism” as a disguise to conceal their abuses. In April 2017, the government declared a state of emergency, which gave the security forces unchecked powers. In 2019 the government passed constitutional amendments that consolidated the authoritarian rule, once again undermining the rule of law.
The rule of law as a primary concern
A decade after the Arab Spring it is more urgent than ever to defend and promote human rights in Egypt and other autocratic regimes in the Middle East. United Nations and its member states should make rule of law a primary concern in the region. We call upon the international community to put pressure on Egyptian authorities to stop enforced disappearances, mass arrests and torture, and to open up for civil society and political dissent. Egypt should ratify and respect the CAT- convention against Torture and Other Cruel Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and the Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. We call on Egypt to respect the rule of law and the integrity and life of its citizens.