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December 15, 2014

Renewed Waiver Weakens Human Rights Conditions Attached to Egypt Foreign Aid Bill

New York City – Human Rights First today said that the national security waiver attached to  Egyptian aid provisions for FY 2015 in the new omnibus spending package is a setback for the advancement of human rights and basic freedoms in Egypt. Congress passed the FY 2015 omnibus spending package this week, which includes new guidelines for civilian and military assistance to Egypt that allow the administration to waive human rights conditions on national security grounds.

“These new provisions will allow the administration to sidestep the human rights conditions that Congress has attached to foreign assistance,” said Human Rights First’s Neil Hicks. “Congress should not send the message to the Egyptian government that human rights concerns are not a priority in the bilateral relationship. If Egypt is to find a way out of the economic, political, and human rights crises that it currently confronts, the government of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi must be turn away from its current path of repression.  By failing to send a clear message on this, the Congress is not acting in the best interests of the United States or of the Egyptian people.”

For the first time, last year’s Egypt foreign aid law did not include a waiver to the included human rights conditions.  Restoring the waiver sends a confusing message at a time when violations of human rights have stoked instability and polarization in Egypt and continue to weaken Egypt as a strategic partner for the United States.  Ending such violations is a national security interest of the United States.

The new bill also includes provisions relating to the existing FY 2014 aid package.  A little more than half of the FY 2014 military assistance package has been held up by the administration because of concerns over human rights violations in Egypt.  That aid may now be delivered, but only for four specific purposes and only after the secretary of state has certified to Congress that the delivery of such aid is “important to the national security interests of the United States.”  The four purposes are: counterterrorism; border security; non-proliferation programs in Egypt; and to promote development in Sinai.

This new language removes the requirement that the secretary should certify that Egypt is “taking steps to govern democratically,” something that would have been impossible in view of the widespread violations of human rights taking place in Egypt.

Though the FY 2015 omnibus reinstates the aid waver, Human Rights First welcomes the strong, specific human rights conditions that are attached to the FY 2015 $1.3 billion military assistance package.  These include: carrying out free and fair parliamentary elections; implementing laws and policies to govern democratically and to protect the rights of individuals; uphold the rights of freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly; enable independent civil society organizations and independent media to function; protect the rights of women and religious minorities; ensure the provision of due process of law for detainees; carry out investigations and prosecutions into incidents of excessive use of force by the security forces; and, release and dismiss charges against American citizens determined by the Secretary to be political prisoners. Human Rights First urges the United States government to pursue the implementation of each one of these human rights recommendations vigorously and unwaveringly.

The organization also urges Secretary Kerry and Congress to use the review of military assistance to Egypt required by the bill to ensure that aid is used to better advance the strategic interests of the United States and Egypt, and to ensure that human rights promotion remains an integral part of the bilateral security relationship. Human Rights First’s new blueprint, “How to Prevent Egypt from Slipping into a Deepening Crisis” details specific recommendations for how the U.S. government should use its influence to persuade the Egyptian government of President Sisi to turn away from the authoritarian path.

For more information or to speak with Hicks, contact Mary Elizabeth Margolis at 212-845-5269 or margolisme@humanrightsfirst.org.