The choice of Egypt to host the next UN climate summit severely imperils Egyptian and international civil society participation, a crucial feature of the global efforts to address the climate crisis, Human Rights Watch said on Monday.
Under the regional rotation system established for hosting COPs, the African Union Peace and Security Council in April 2021 nominated Egypt to host COP27 despite the country’s profound human rights crisis, including widespread jailing of civil society activists and human rights defenders, and laws that criminalize peaceful assembly. The selection was adopted in the final COP26 agreement on November 13.
“Egypt is a glaringly poor choice to host COP27 and rewards the repressive rule of President al-Sisi despite his government’s appalling abuses,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Countries participating in the COP27 should press Egypt to release the thousands of people jailed solely for exercising their right to free speech and peaceful assembly, and halt criminal proceedings against civil society activists before committing to attend COP27.”
COP27 is set to take place in the remote resort town Sharm al-Sheikh, precluding the possibility of grassroots street demonstrations like those seen in Glasgow. Moreover, the government tightly controls protests, using the 2013 anti-protest law, which bans any public assembly without Interior Ministry approval. Security forces routinely disperse demonstrations using excessive force and have arrested thousands of people for protesting without a permit.
President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s government has ruthlessly suppressed civil society, placing severe restrictions on the work of nongovernmental organizations, arbitrarily jailing human rights activists, and blocking hundreds of websites; acts incompatible with the principles of transparency, openness and inclusiveness required to host United Nations Climate Change Conferences. Egypt’s relentless repression of Egyptian civil society makes it highly unlikely that climate activists will be able to operate safely during the conference. Ahmed Amasha, an environmental activist and head of the Arab Association for Environment and Sustainable Development, has been detained since July 2020, Front Line Defenders has reported.
Egyptian authorities are certain to use a high-profile international conference like this to counter negative criticism of human rights violations, highlighting the need to consider the human rights record of hosting countries prior to nomination, Human Rights Watch said.
Egypt’s COP27 nomination also rewards President al-Sisi’s government with the United Kingdom’s first royal international trip abroad since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. Prince Charles is scheduled to visit Egypt on November 18 to “highlight the country’s close relationship with the UK and will provide an opportunity to demonstrate Egypt’s growing commitment to protecting the environment,” according to the prince’s office.
COP27 participating countries should prepare to counter Egypt using its role as COP27 host to whitewash its appalling record of human rights abuses by pressing the Egyptian government to free thousands of unjustly detained political prisoners, stop judicial harassment of human rights activists, and take specific steps to protect freedom of speech and assembly in advance of next year’s climate change conference.
“The climate change movement’s principles of grassroots civic engagement are in stark contrast to Egypt’s record of shutting down public spaces,” Stork said. “Countries participating in next year’s climate conference should demand that Egypt take concrete steps to protect peaceful assembly and freedom of expression in the lead-up to COP27.”