Greenpeace has been accused by human rights campaigners of ‘whitewashing’ the image of the Egyptian government and discouraging other activists from forcefully raising the country’s abysmal human rights record ahead of COP27. , the UN climate summit to be held in the Egyptian resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh next week.
The criticism from the global conservation group comes as rights campaigners have warned that conservationists should not downplay concerns about Egypt’s human rights record for fear it could curtail their access to the world summit or distracts attention from achieving climate goals. Proponents argue that meaningful climate action can only be achieved if scientists, activists and journalists are free to pressure governments to ditch fossil fuels.
The government of Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, who took office in 2014, holds around 60,000 political prisoners and has independent environmentalists silenced and climate activists. The US State Department has listed “significant” human rights issues in the country, including unlawful or arbitrary killings, extrajudicial executions by the government, enforced disappearances by security State, torture and life-threatening conditions in Egyptian prisons.
The human rights defenders – some of whom spoke to the Guardian on condition of anonymity, in part due to safety concerns – say Greenpeace has stood out for its reluctance to criticize human rights abuses by the Sisi government before the top.
In one case, activists with direct knowledge of the case said that a demand for the release of all political prisoners put forward by Egyptian human rights activists in the Cop27 The coalition faced opposition from Greenpeace and Egyptian environmental groups that were part of the coalition.
The position of green groups, campaigners said, compelled international groups to enter the fray and mediate. In the end, a compromise wording was agreed in which political prisoners were referenced in the preambular text before a comprehensive list of climate-related demands. Greenpeace eventually withdrew from the coalition, as did some Egyptian groups, including at least one sponsored by Egypt’s environment ministry.
“My concern is that if you normalize that environmental groups, or international organizations in general, should be allowed to not take a principled position and undermine calls for the rights of local groups, for the sake of their own access, or for the sake of their own operations, I think this is a very dangerous precedent,” one activist said.
Others with direct knowledge of the matter said Egyptian environmental groups felt they had no choice but to pull out of the Cop27 coalition due to fears the regime would further limit their work. A local Egyptian environmental activist said, “We all agree on the intersection between human rights and climate justice and we should fight authoritarian rule together, not bicker among ourselves… Concerns regarding our safety are real.
The controversy surrounding the Coalition is not the only dispute.
In July, a group of environmentalists and activists write an open letter expressing concern about Egypt’s ability to successfully host the event due to its poor human rights record, especially as thousands of prisoners of conscience remain imprisoned. The signatories included John Sauven, former executive director of Greenpeace UK, but Greenpeace UK refused to sign.
“It was Greenpeace who opposed the signing of a petition for the release of Alaa Abd El-Fattah“said the person, referring to the imprisoned British Egyptian blogger who is one of the most famous activists for his role in the 2011 Egyptian uprising, and has spent most of the past decade behind bars. He has also been on a hunger strike for about 200 days and recently told his family he thought he might die in prison.
Mike Townsley of Greenpeace International said: “We are very concerned about the dire human rights situation in Egypt and believe that it is impossible to have climate justice without social justice.
He added: “Our work in Egypt carries a significant risk to the safety of staff who will continue to work there long after COP27 ends. It is our duty not only to consider their safety, but also to avoid increasing the risks facing the growing environmental movement in Egypt. Balancing the safety of our staff and partners with the need to speak up is not easy. Around the world, human rights and environmental defenders face growing threats. It is crucial to find ways to continue to fight against the rising tide of oppression and destruction and the broken global system that fuels it.
Abd el-Fattah’s sister, Sanaa Seif, who is also a human rights defender, was among those who criticized Greenpeace.
“Greenpeace’s position is really disappointing, and they should know better. Many of us fear putting African and Egyptian activists at risk, but larger Western organizations have much more room and power to speak out and make human rights a priority at Cop. If entities like Greenpeace were vocal, there would have been a lot of pressure on John Kerry to engage with Sisi on human rights and climate at the same time,” Sanaa Seif said.
Last week, the new executive directors of Greenpeace UK, Areeba Hamid and Will McCallum, issued a statement calling for the safe release of Abd el-Fattah and his return to the UK to be a priority in all British diplomatic channels.
“Alaa’s life is seriously threatened. He is hopeless and has been on a hunger strike since April 2, 2022. Since May 26, he has been consuming 100 calories a day – a teaspoon of honey and a little milk is all that keeps him going. life,” the band said. . “It is vital that the UK goes beyond lip service and uses its significant leverage to free Alaa and other prisoners or risk tacitly endorsing this model.”
The statement was released on Thursday, a day after the Guardian sent an email to Greenpeace seeking comment on its stance on human rights in Egypt. The group said its release of the statement was unrelated to the Guardian’s request.
In response, Seif said she welcomed Greenpeace’s decision to highlight her brother’s plight and urged other international organizations present at COP27 to speak out against human rights abuses.
Greenpeace has also not signed a petition by human rights coalition calling on the Egyptian authorities to open civic space and release political prisoners.
The petition, which has nearly a thousand individual and organizational signatories, including 350.org, Amnesty International, Greta Thunberg and Climate Action Network, the the world’s largest climate network of more than 1,500 civil society organizations, has also not been signed up to by the World Wildlife Fund, or Oxfam among other international groups.