Egypt: Screening of the draft Constitution under a human rights perspective

Press release
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On 14 January 2014, the Egyptian people will be called to adopt by referendum a new constitution drafted by a committee of 50 public personalities established by the interim President after Mohamed Morsi was deposed by the army in July 2013.

FIDH welcomes any initiative in the direction of a democratic transition, three years after the popular uprising driven by demands for freedom, dignity and social justice. FIDH is pleased that the new draft constitution dedicates its longest chapter to human rights and fundamental freedoms, including economic and social rights to housing and education, and the need to combat the corruption that had poisoned the system established under the previous regime.

The Constitution refers to Egypt’s international obligations arising from human rights treaties and conventions that it has ratified. Accordingly, national legislation should be amended to be in line with international human rights standards.

The Constitution also enshrines the prohibition of torture in all its forms, though it fails to give a comprehensive definition: an explicit reference to the Convention against Torture would have given a strong signal of genuine willingness to reform the Egyptian Penal Code so as to put an end to all acts of torture, which is still systematically practised by the security services.

Furthermore, the text overcomes some of the setbacks of the 2012 constitution and clearly affirms the principle of equality between men and women, as well as the principle of non-discrimination between citizens (according to race, religion, social class).

However, although this constitution refers to the transfer of power to representatives of the people, a continuing lack of clarity regarding transition to “civilian government” may result in too many prerogatives remaining in the hands of the President and the army, ending up with the election of a “non-civilian” president.

Moreover, the enumeration of rights and freedoms in the constitution does not suffice to ensure the democratic functioning of the state. In this regard, FIDH is concerned by the fact that the effective implementation of most of the rights and freedoms in the text will be affected by law, when it is known for a fact that current Egyptian legislation is predominantly restrictive and may eventually limit the rights that the constitution is supposed to guarantee, unless major legislative reform is undertaken without delay.

 " Some of these rights were already enshrined in previous constitutions, and yet they were systematically violated. As such, the constitution alone is insufficient to guarantee their protection” , stated Karim Lahidji, FIDH President. “ In the absence of a comprehensive reform plan, these rights will remain words on paper, as there are no mechanisms for the protection of fundamental freedoms, security sector reform, or reform of the judiciary .

FIDH recalls the indispensable “watchdog” and monitoring role that civil society, particularly human rights NGOs, must continue to play in this sensitive period. FIDH renews its support of these organisations, and encourages them to set up a working group composed of representatives of national authorities and independent civil society organisations as well as international experts on the harmonisation of national laws with the human rights provisions of the Constitution and the international conventions ratified by Egypt.

Finally, FIDH deeply regrets that the constitutional committee has maintained unacceptable provisions on the possibility of referring civilians to military courts and has failed to include any reference to the right to life, enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and thus the necessity of the eventual abolition of the death penalty.

Read the full FIDH analysis of the draft Constitution under a human rights perspective below:

Screening of the draft Constitution under a human rights perspective

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