Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Just Published: US State Department Annual Report on Human Rights

Attention! See Egyptian newspaper update below

The annual report of the US Department of State on Human Rights Practices around the world was just published on 6 March 2007. The lengthy section on Egypt (which deserves careful reading) includes an extensive report on the vilolations of human rights of the Baha'is in Egypt (Arabic translation of the report).

Below are some of the paragraphs found in this report concerning the Baha'i struggle:


Country Reports on Human Rights Practices - 2006

Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
March 6, 2007

c. Freedom of Religion

The constitution provides for freedom of belief and the practice of religious rites; however, the government placed restrictions on the exercise of these rights. According to the constitution, Islam is the official state religion and Shari'a (Islamic law) the primary source of legislation. Religious practices that conflict with the government's interpretation of Shari'a are prohibited. Members of non-Muslim religious minorities officially recognized by the government generally worshiped without harassment and maintained links with coreligionists in other countries. Members of religions not recognized by the government, particularly the Baha'i Faith, experienced personal and collective hardship. Approximately 90 percent of citizens are Sunni Muslims; less than 1 percent are Shi'a Muslims. The percentage of Christians in the population ranged from 8 percent to 15 percent, or between 6 to 11 million, the majority of whom belonged to the Coptic Orthodox Church. There were small numbers of other Christian denominations, including Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses, a Baha'i community of approximately 2,000 persons, and a small Jewish community of less than 200 persons.

The law bans Baha'i institutions and community activities, and stripped Baha'is of legal recognition. The government continued to deny civil documents, including ID cards, birth certificates, and marriage licenses, to members of the Baha'i community. The Ministry of Interior requires identity card applicants to self-identify as Jew, Christian, or Muslim. As a result, Baha'is face great difficulties in conducting civil transactions, including registering births, marriages and deaths, obtaining passports, enrolling children in school, opening bank accounts, and obtaining driver's licenses. During the year, Baha'is and members of other religious groups were compelled either to misrepresent themselves as Muslim, Christian or Jewish, or go without valid identity documents. Many Baha'is have chosen the latter course.

On December 16, the Supreme Administrative Court overturning a lower court ruling, decided that Baha'is may not list their religion in the mandatory religion "field" on obligatory government identity cards. In May, the Ministry of Interior had appealed an administrative court ruling issued in April, which supported the right of Baha'i citizens to receive ID cards and birth certificates with the Baha'i religion noted on the documents. The government had indicated that all citizens must be in possession of new computerized ID cards by January 1, 2007, and that old, hand-written cards will no longer be valid. (Egyptian citizens not in possession of valid identity documents may be subject to detention.)

Egyptian newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm's article regarding the report, entitled "American Extrenal [Affairs]: Egyptian Government Commits Severe Violations of Human Rights"
Published 8 March 2007

US State Dept. Report Continues:
Some elements of the press published articles critical of the Baha'is. For example, on October 16, Roz Al-Youssef, a pro-government newspaper, published excerpts of a government's Advisory Report, which supported the Ministry of Interior's claim to overturn the April 4 ruling. The report argued that because the Baha'i Faith was not recognized in Egypt as a "divine religion," its followers were not entitled to citizenship rights. The report argued that constitutional guarantees of freedom of belief and religion do not apply to the Baha'is, and that Egypt is not bound under its commitment as a cosignatory to the UN Universal Declaration on Human Rights. The report also asserted that Baha'is are apostates, a threat to public order, and recommended that
"methods must be defined that would insure that Baha'is are identified, confronted, and singled out so that they could be watched carefully, isolated and monitored in order to protect the rest of the population as well as Islam from their danger, influence and their teachings."

The National Council for Human Rights gave more attention to religious freedom in its second annual report released in March, calling for a solution for official recognition of Baha'is; addressing the problem of Jehovah's Witnesses; and criticizing religious textbooks for failing to address human rights. The report also recommended that Parliament pass a law to facilitate construction of new places of worship for all religious groups. Finally, the report noted that the council had not received any response from the Ministry of Interior or several governorates to its nine inquiries regarding alleged violations of religious freedom that it had received.

Societal Abuses and Discrimination

There generally continued to be religious discrimination and sectarian tension in society during the year. Tradition and some aspects of the law discriminated against religious minorities, including Christians and particularly Baha'is.


  1. While it is highly commendable and an indication of leadership and initiative that the US Department of State (and other official bodies) issue reports on human rights, it is apparent that the meticulous efforts in exposing violations have not met with any significant degree of enforcement of even the most basic principles of internationally accepted covenants. Numerous reports spanning several decades have highlighted the abuses against the Baha'is in Egypt and Iran, and although one is content at the knowledge that there are qualified and objective parties that detail such matters to the international community, such noble and well-intentioned efforts are futile when left unsupported by absolute and timely strategies for their achievement.

    One even hesitates to make mention of such things; perhaps there is some strategy or preparation that is better kept undisclosed for the time, or there are probable factors that may cause even more severe consequences, but whatever the justification may be, it is still unacceptable and indeed an insult to an intelligent person to accept that years - even decades - can go by while the violator only intensifies his program of abuse. How is it that a country such as Egypt, long recognized as one of the worst of human rights violators, be left free to continue its criminal behavior without even slight reprimand? It is the recipient of numerous financial aid projects (although it is a country wealthy beyond measure and is in no need of assistance), receives contributions of all descriptions from educational and industrial sectors, yet its orientation is increasingly and willingly abusive.

    What is the program of action? Until that can be answered, there is little purpose for the next report.

  2. R.A.,
    Your frustration is quite understandable. What you are really after is accountability. I have no doubt that even with this history of abuse, the perpetrators will have to answer for all the wrongs committed against innocent is only a matter of time--sooner or later justice will prevail. I have been around long enough to have witnessed this over and over again. Meanwhile, these atrocities need to be brought to light regularly and methodically.

  3. I agree with r.a., the report has to have a purpose. Shedding light on these violations of human rights is commendable, but the U.S. is in a perfect position to promote a change of heart at the Egyptian government's level because it holds the strings to the sizeable purse earmarked for Egypt. In this case, one of the violations would be simple enough to correct: allow ID cards with no religion mentioned. Just as the Egyptian citizens need to hold their public officials accountable, so should the Americans expect no less from their government. I hope some steps are taken in that direction as the American public will not like to learn from some savvy journalist that the tax dollars it so generously gives are spent aiding and abetting a foreign nation showing such a disregard for human rights.

  4. Anonymous,
    Exactly! This what is meant by accountability. American taxpayers are beginning to ask questions—it is only natural to do so.

  5. And, by the way, you can't have your cake and eat it too! You can't say "this is an internal matter" while receiving two billion dollars/year with the other hand. The rules of the game cannot be only for one team and not the other...they must be uniformly applied.


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