(TELESUR) – An international conference organized by the United Nations on torture will be held on Sept. 4 and 5 in the Egyptian capital, Cairo, while the country has been accused to be responsible for “a torture epidemic,” as it has one of the worst records worldwide on abuse.
Organized by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights for the Middle East and North Africa (Romena) and the Egyptian government’s own human rights body, the conference will be about ‘Defining and Criminalising Torture in Legislation in the Arab Region’.
Government officials from around the Arab world, journalists and non-governmental organizations will be among the participants, according to Romena. However, independent human rights groups who reported on and denounced torture practices in Egypt will not be attending the event.
“The conference will only contribute to Egypt’s PR efforts to whitewash its image,” said Mohamed Zaree, a researcher at the Cairo Institute for Human Rights, an organization that as well as all the independent human rights organizations in the country, has been banned from participating and assisting the conference.
Zaree, who said that his organization’s members have not been invited out of fears they would speak against the government’s torture practices and harm its image, wonder why the U.N. did not choose another country to hold the conference, a nation where all right groups would have been able to participate.
“It would have made sense to hold the conference in Tunisia, a country with minimum human rights commitments and a democratic path,” he said.
The conference will come some weeks before the U.N.’s Universal Periodic Review in November, a mechanism in which states declare actions they took to improve their human rights record.
The timing is not an accident according to Zaree who suggested that the Egyptian government led by former Director of Military Intelligence Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, is seeking to upgrade its image before the review in Geneva.
Bahey eldin Hassan, the director of the Cairo Institute, said that one of the main reasons behind the repression of local rights groups was their work with the U.N.
“I am quite shocked that the Office of the High Commissioner is sponsoring such an obvious attempt to whitewash the crimes of the military dictatorship in Egypt,” said Hassan.
Since Sissi took in power after a coup against late President Mohammed Morsi, the country has seen unprecedented repression and a surge in torture practices against rights groups, civil society organizations, journalists and opponents.