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Human rights groups slam Egypt-EU joint bid to head counter-terrorism agency

Human Rights Watch calls on EU to 'reconsider' cooperating with Egypt over concerns about human rights abuses
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi (R) meeting with President of the European Council Charles Michel at the presidential palace in Cairo, on 12 January 2020 (AFP)

Human rights campaigners have reacted with alarm to reports that the European Union is planning a joint bid with Egypt to chair an international counterterrorism body, citing widespread abuses and the crackdown on opposition activists and politicians in the North African country.

Last week, officials in Brussels approved the EU-Egypt bid to co-chair the Global Counterterrorism Forum (GCTF), an organisation that comprises 30 member countries and closely cooperates with the United Nations "to diminish terrorist recruitment and increase countries' civilian capabilities for dealing with terrorist threats", according to its website. 

EU plans joint bid with Egypt to lead global counter-terrorism body
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According to an EU Council memo dated 11 January and published by Statewatch, the proposed joint bid was first raised by members of the EU's diplomatic service, the European External Action Service (EEAS), at meetings of an EU working party on terrorism in October and November.

"As co-chair of the GCTF, the EU can help shape the agenda of international counter-terrorism policy and practice and promote EU values ​​in the field of counter-terrorism," the memo said.

It said Egypt had expressed interest in a joint bid and was "a long-time partner of the EU and co-chair of the GCTF working group on capacity building in East Africa".

On Tuesday, Human Rights Watch said that the EU should "seriously reconsider" the proposed partnership.

The organisation warned that Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi had, since coming to power in a 2013 coup, routinely imprisoned, tortured and executed activists and opposition politicians in the country while groundlessly branding their activities "terrorism".

"Rather than shamefully considering a joint bid with Egypt overlooking its miserable rights record, the EU should start taking meaningful action to address it, as Human Rights Watch and other NGOs, as well as the European Parliament, have urged," said HRW's EU advocate Claudio Francavilla in a statement on Tuesday.

"With a new UN Human Rights Council session approaching, intensifying efforts to create a long-overdue human rights monitoring and reporting mechanism on Egypt would be a good place to start."

Peter Stano, an EU spokesperson, on Friday confirmed to MEE that the EU and Egypt had presented a joint bid to co-chair the GCTF. Potential candidates for the role are due to register their interest by the end of this week.

GCTF members will choose the next co-chairs at a meeting in March, with the selected candidates beginning their term in September. The current co-chairs are Canada and Morocco.

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.