Executive Summary- The Women Human Rights Defenders program at Nazra for Feminist Studies is launching its manual on Women Human Rights Defenders (WHRDs). Rather than translate into Arabic manuals that have been produced by other organizations, the WHRD program opted to produce it’s a manual that is especially tailored to the Egyptian context. The manual includes sections on Egyptian legislation and military verdicts that are used to constrain public action; a background of the unique violations committed against WHRDs and why the situation of WHRDs should be paid special attention to; regional and international mechanisms that WHRDs can utilize to report violations committed against them; and, finally, security tips that can be of special use during perilous circumstances.
The manual offers a history of violations against WHRDs committed by the Egyptian state, highlighting the fact that such violations are not a novel invention of the rule of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). Rather, such violations preexisted the rule of the SCAF and were widespread during the rule of former president Hosny Mubarak. The transitional stage Egypt is going through, one characterized by militarization due to the rule of the SCAF, is one of the driving forces behind the concern with the violations committed against WHRDs. This is as the existence of a state of emergency, due to the transitional stage, is used as a justification for the violations committed against WHRDs. When violations against human rights defenders are bought into light, these are usually the violations that take place against male defenders. Although the manual sheds light on violations that took place against WHRDs before and after the January 25 revolution, it does not offer a complete list of violations that against WHRDs. Rather, the manual attempts to emphasize the worrying tendency of targeting WHRDs by Egyptian authorities.
In addition to patriarchal cultural norms and values, the manual also draws attention to the constraints placed by national legislation on the presence of WHRDs in the public sphere. For example, the SCAF issued law number 34/2011, which criminalizes protests or sit-ins that obstruct the freedom of work and sabotage of public facilities with fines and prison terms. The law effectively bans protests, a continuation of a policy practiced by Mubarak’s regime which resorted, for decades, to crush demonstrations. Although the latter laws are not geared against women specifically, such a targeting takes place in the application of the laws. For example, in order to punish female workers who take part of demonstrations, daycare centers are shut down in contravention of labor law 96/2003 that mandates the availability of such centers.
The manual also discusses tools of protection and support that are particularly relevant for WHRDs, such as the availability of a hotline, as it enables the receipt of support swiftly, whether legal, psychological, or in the form of relocation; and documentation of violations against WHRDs, which provides an in-depth view of the nature of violations and provides the opportunity for litigation. The manual also explains the regional and international mechanisms that can be accessed by WHRDs to protect their rights and expose violations committed against them, namely the UN system and the African Union. As to the former, instruments that can be of use to WHRDs include the office of the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders and on Violence against Women. The latter can be utilized through the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which receives communications concerning human rights violations from anyone, whether on their own behalf or on behalf of someone else. Special Rapporteurs can also be accessed in the African context, such as the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders in Africa and Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Women in Africa. Finally, the manual presents a list of the actions that can be taken by the state against WHRDs, such as arrest and detention and the tactics that can be used to protect oneself. The latter include inquiring about the legal bases of actions taken against WHRDs, such as arrests; and insisting on the presence of a lawyer during investigations. The manual also lists the steps to be taken in cases such as the issuing of a subpoena from the public or military prosecution and also a list of suggestions of safety tips that WHRDs should keep in mind during times or places deemed dangerous, such as making sure that the telephone number of the lawyer is saved in the mobile phone and making sure that the mobile phone batteries are fully charged.
The manual thus offers a comprehensive view of the history of violations committed against WHRDs, the cultural and legal bases of these violations, the regional and international mechanisms that can be of use, and a list of tips concerning what to do when faced with violations, and safety tips that can be of use during risky circumstances.