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Human rights groups had denounced intentions to “whitewash” the Egyptian government from its abuses.
The United Nations says it's delaying a conference set to be held in Cairo, Egypt next month after human rights groups say the government is trying to use the conference to white-wash its own practices of torture and abuses.
Spokesperson for the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Rupert Colville, said the office decided to postpone the conference until discussions can be had regarding a new location and time because of "the growing unease in some parts of the NGO community with the choice of location."
His announcement came after he tried to justify the initial venue saying that “there is, of course, quite a lot of value in holding a conference that aims to try and reduce torture in a country (and a wider region) where torture is taking place.”
“There’s rather less point in preaching to the converted in countries where torture never happens – for example, Vienna or Oslo or somewhere like that,” added the U.N. spokesperson.
The conference was expected to be held Sept. 4 and 5, led by the U.N. special rapporteur on torture, Nils Melzer, along with Egyptian officials.
The news had sparked outrage among Egyptian right groups who said the choice was a strategy to cover up the Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi government's poor record on torture. The country has indeed been accused of creating “a torture epidemic,” and has one of the worst records on human rights abuses, worldwide.
“It’s a farce,” said Aida Seif el-Dawla of the Cairo-based El Nadeem Center for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence and Torture, citing the regular use of torture by the nation's police and security forces, poor detention conditions, deaths due to torture and medical neglect in prison, and prisoners held in long-term solitary confinement as examples to illustrate the “absurdity” of holding such a conference in Egypt.
Various organizations had refused to participate in the two-day meeting because of its location, including the Copenhagen-based EuroMed Rights and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), while many others were not invited in the first place.
Since Sissi took in power after a coup against late President Mohammed Morsi in 2013, the country has seen unprecedented repression and a surge in torture practices against rights groups, civil society organizations, journalists and opponents.