CAIRO (AP) — Egypt, the host of this year’s upcoming U.N.-led climate conference, is rejecting reports by a rights group saying that authorities in the Middle East country are stifling environment activism as part of a broader crackdown on dissent.
According to the report by Human Rights Watch, the Egyptian government's restrictions amount to a violation of basic human rights and throw into question its ability to meet basic climate commitments.
The report was based on interviews with more than a dozen academics, scientists and activists. The global COP27 summit will take place in the Red Sea resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh in November.
Egypt's foreign ministry said late Monday that the report was misleading and that its publishing was “counterproductive."
The statement did not address allegations of intimidation and obstruction faced by environment workers and other activists. Rather, it responded to accounts that some local groups have faced difficulty in registering their non-governmental organizations due to strict laws on how NGOs should be established and registered.
Only groups registered with the government can apply for accreditation to participate in the COP27 summit.
Egypt’s government has engaged in a widespread crackdown on dissent in recent years, detaining thousands, many without trial, according to rights groups. Under President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, authorities have also intimidated activists. New laws have practically barred many civil society organizations from operating.
“It is unfortunate to find such allegations and inaccuracies in the latest HRW report on the participation of environmental groups in COP27. The report is based on the testimonies of unknown sources, and unidentified groups claiming potential impediments to their participation in the conference," said Ahmed Abu Zeid, the ministry's spokesman.
Abu Zeid's statement came in response to request for comment via email and was a rare instance in which Egyptian authorities addressed a critical report from the New York-based watchdog.
“It is deplorable and counterproductive to issue such a misleading report, at a time where all efforts should be consolidated to ensure the convening of a successful COP that guarantees the implementation of global climate commitments,” the spokesman said.
HRW's website, along with dozens of others, is blocked in Egypt.
Egypt’s human rights record is increasingly coming under scrutiny ahead of the international conference on slowing climate change through coordinated global action. In July, several dozen organizations called on Egypt to end its crackdown and allow people to exercise freedom of expression.
A joint statement signed by 36 groups, including Amnesty International and HRW, expressed concern that Egypt will largely keep in place its prohibition on protests during the November climate conference.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry told The Associated Press in a May interview that a designated site is being developed next to the conference venue specifically for demonstrations. He also said activists would be given access, as is customary, to the conference, without elaborating on whether protests would be allowed elsewhere.
The U.N.'s climate change body, which oversees the summit, said Tuesday in response to a request for comment on the report “that the U.N. Climate Change Conference venues will become extraterritorial space where the U.N. is responsible for its management." The body added that it "will maintain the same high standard in the facilitation of conference registration and NGO demonstrations at the COP venue as in any past sessions.”
The body did not directly address Human Rights Watch's call for it to ask that future countries hosting its climate conference commit to meet human rights standards.