HUMAN RIGHTS MUST BE AT THE CORE OF THE AGENDA IN ITALY-EGYPT RELATIONS

Monday, 10th October 2022, ahead of the settlement of the Parliament Chambers on October 13th, which marks the beginning of the new legislature, 13 Italian and Egyptian civil society organisations call on all political forces elected to represent the Italian people to concretely commit to promoting the principles of human rights, peace and international solidarity, already enshrined in the Italian Constitution, and fully in line with Italy’s international commitments, in the context of the relations between Italy and Egypt.

Strategic partnerships with Egypt – including deals on energy and defence – must not overshadow Italy’s commitments to respect human rights and “reject war as a means of offending the freedom of other peoples” (Art. No. 11 of the Italian Constitution). The severe deterioration of the rule of law in Egypt has seen the concentration of arbitrary and unlimited power in the hands of the army and security forces, fostering corruption and impunity among state actors, and triggering what has been described as the worst human rights crisis in the country in the last one hundred years. 

The strategic sectors of bilateral cooperation between Italy and Egypt actively contribute to the legitimisation and empowerment of the Egyptian Ministry of Interior and security apparatuses, which the UN Special Procedures themselves have repeatedly acknowledged to be involved in gross and systematic human rights abuses.

Among the most problematic areas are police cooperation, border control agreements, and the arms trade (including the sale or supply of AI surveillance technologies, which have frequently been used in human rights violations).

In parallel with the deterioration of civil rights and freedoms in Egypt, the decade 2010-2020 has witnessed a significant increase in the intensity of police cooperation activities, including training programmes and the supply of discharged paramilitary equipment by the Italian Department of State Police. All of these initiatives were financed through public funds and state resources. 

We recall that any supply or sale of armament materials to countries involved in gross human rights violations or armed conflicts is prohibited under current Italian law. In light of the deterioration of human rights in the country, i.e. the serious and systematic abuses carried out by state actors such as the police and security forces, and its involvement in domestic and regional armed conflicts (such as in the Sinai peninsula, Yemen and Libya), widely documented by independent human rights organisations and the United Nations human rights bodies, any supply or trade in arms that has Egypt as its beneficiary violates Law 1990, No. 185. Furthermore, the supply of arms to Egypt also appears incompatible with the international commitments undertaken by Italy with the signing of the Arms Trade Treaty (entered into force on 24 December 2014).

Another area where vast human rights violations have been registered is that of cooperation on migration control, and repatriations of migrants. The rejection at the borders of migrant persons violates the inalienable right to seek asylum from persecution enshrined in the Italian Constitution, Article 10, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the Convention Related to the Status of Refugees, which commit Italy in this regard. 

Moreover, the refoulement or forced repatriation of migrant people to Egypt violates the principle of non-refoulement enshrined in the Geneva Convention. Egypt cannot be considered a safe third country due to the serious deterioration of human rights, which in recent years has paved the way for – among other things – the repatriation of civilians to conflict zones, the excessive use of force against migrants, arbitrary arrest and torture against dissidents who are prevented by the current international legal framework from fleeing the country.

Finally, this picture has been further aggravated by the current race of European countries – including Italy – to energy grabbing, in an attempt to replace Russian gas. Europe’s hunger for gas is already accelerating the escalation of conflict and the militarisation of the eastern Mediterranean (a prominent example is represented by the sale of FREMM frigates to Egypt in 2019). Noteworthy, gas extraction in countries such as Egypt is mainly aimed at exporting to the EU, depriving producers of equal access to local resources and fuelling spirals of dependence that impoverish communities and territories and foster instability and insecurity in the region. 

We believe that the current attempt to mitigate European reliance on Russian gas is at risk of simply shifting the axis of that dependence from the Russian Federation to countries such as Egypt and Israel, which have an equally dismal record of human rights violations. Put simply, Egypt’s LNG is unsustainable because it makes Italy complicit with the Egyptian regime and provides it with political legitimacy.

As independent Egyptian and Italian organisations, we express concern over the reckless recourse to hate speech against women, minorities and migrant people during the electoral campaign, and we call on the newly elected state representatives to take concrete measures to uphold human rights for all.

Finally, with regard to the bilateral relations with Egypt, we ask all political forces called upon to represent the Italian people for a tangible and proactive commitment to the following points:

  1. Stop the trade and any supply of arms, military and paramilitary material to Egypt (potentially, by freezing export authorisations), in consideration of the severe deterioration of human rights in the country, as well as its involvement in armed conflicts in the region, consistently with L.185/1990 and Italy’s international commitments under the ATT. 
  2. Immediately suspend all patrolling and border control programmes and activities in cooperation with Egypt, as well as all police and security cooperation initiatives, with particular regard to vocational training programmes, to be suspended given of an appropriate review of all legal acts and bilateral agreements on police and defence cooperation with Egypt, including Law No. 76 of 20 March 2003 and the 2007 readmission agreement. We call on the Italian Parliament to repeal or amend the above-mentioned legal framework on police cooperation so that it may reflect Italy’s international commitments in terms of human rights.
  3. Recur to all the tools of diplomacy to uphold justice regarding the Regeni case, opposing the unacceptable obstructionism of the Egyptian Ministry of the Interior which is undermining the efforts of the Italian judiciary to hold perpetrators accountable through a fair trial.
  4. Review the supply agreements for liquefied natural gas (LNG) with Egypt, potentially reallocating the resources currently deployed for the importing of fossil fuels such as LNG to the development of renewable energy sources. We call for bolder and forward-looking energy policies to achieve an inclusive and just energy transition that will disengage Italy and the EU from dependence on authoritarian regimes.

 

SIGNATORIES:

 

ِARCI

Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)

Centro Studi Sereno Regis

Egyptian Front for Human Rights (EFHR)

Egyptian Human Rights Forum ( EHRF)

Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR)

EgyptWide For Human Rights

El Nadim Center

Rete Italiana Pace e Disarmo

Sinai Foundation For Human Rights (SFHR)

Station to Station 2 Agosto

Un Filo Rosso

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