Elected parliament must take urgent measures to enforce constitutional rights

10/12/2015
Press release
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KHALED DESOUKI / AFP

(Paris) As the newly elected parliament convenes this month, FIDH urges the parliament to abstain from ratifying the repressive laws adopted during its absence, [1] as well as adopt and amend the necessary laws to enforce the rights and freedoms enshrined in the 2014 constitution. [2] The previously-elected parliament was dissolved in June 2012 when the the High Constitution Court (HCC) declared Egypt’s Parliamentary Elections Law unconstitutional. The parliament should ensure that national legislations are in line with international human rights standards and should effectively consult with independent human rights organizations in the process.

The parliament will convene amidst an increasingly deteriorating human rights situation in the country. Thousands are sentenced in unfair trials due to their exercise of legitimate rights of freedom of expression, association and assembly. Mass deaths sentences are upheld in kangaroo-courts that lack any judicial independence and respect for due process. Incidents of torture, including sexual violence, in detention by state agents continue to be reported, amidst a climate of widespread impunity where perpetrators of human rights violations are not held to account. Cases of enforced disappearances have increased where individuals are detained incommunicado and faced with high risk of torture. Freedom of expression and information is increasingly restricted where journalists are arrested for doing their job and face jail-time for reporting on issues relating to the military and the “war on terrorism” particularly in North Sinai.

The low-turn out in the first round of the parliament elections sends an alarming signal about the desertification of the political life in Egypt over the past two years, where the political and public space continues to shrink. Indeed, the parliament elections were held in conditions that do not meet international standards for political freedom. The repressive state policies and the commission of gross human rights violations will only lead to the further deterioration of Egypt’s political, social and economic stability.

“It is the duty of the parliament to effectively contribute to improving the deteriorating human rights situation in Egypt, by making it their priority to harmonize the 2014 constitution with national legislations, guaranteeing that the constitutional rights are not only ink on paper»

declared Karim Lahidji, FIDH President.

On top of the parliament’s priority should be abstaining from ratifying the “assembly law » [3] that was adopted in November 2013 and has provided the legal pretence to imprison thousands of persons for their exercise of legitimate rights such as the right to peaceful assembly and expression. FIDH recalls that the National Council for Human Rights has repeatedly called for the amendment of the « assembly law ». Furthermore, Egypt accepted UPR recommendations on amending the assembly law in accordance with article 73 of the Constitution. Civil society organizations consider the current law as unconstitutional and in violation of Egypt’s international obligations arising from the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

The counter-terrorism law [4] adopted in August 2015 has been described by FIDH member organizations as « another blow to the constitution that erodes the rule of law and establishes an undeclared state of emergency on the pretext of protecting society and national unity ». The law further entrenches impunity as it exempts law enforcement personnel from any punishment for use of lethal force.

The terrorist-entities law [5] adopted in February 2015 contains vague definitions of the basis in which individuals or organizations can be delegated as terrorists; it also penalizes entities and individuals who “advocate by any means the obstruction of laws”. The law can thus be used to target non-governmental organizations, human rights defenders, individuals and political opponents regardless of the peaceful methods of dissent.

Prolonged pre-trial detention has been used excessively since the July 2013 amendments to the Criminal Proceedings Code. [6] The amendments turned pre-trial detention to indefinite detention by scrapping off the limits set forth in the law for crimes whose penalty is life imprisonment or death. Effectively, pre-trial detention has become a punishment of its own. The National Council for Human Rights demanded the limited use of pre-trial detention.

Military trials for civilians has also increased since the adoption of the October 2014 presidential decree [7] which effectively expanded the scope of military jurisdiction, by expanding the scope of the military’s protection of public buildings, including universities, public transport,...etc. This decree violates article 204 of the constitution which states that military trials are only permitted when there is a direct attack against a military camp or building. FIDH recalls that military trials for civilians are prohibited under international law, and reminds the Egyptian authorities of their obligations arising from the ICCPR to guarantee the right to fair trial before a natural judge under all circumstances.

Human rights defenders continue to be targeted with judicial harassment, arbitrary detention as well as smear campaigns in the media, for their legitimate human rights work. Raids of NGOs, travel bans and ongoing investigations for receiving foreign funding remain a serious concern. The upcoming parliament should adopt a new law on associations, after effective consultations with independent human rights groups, which guarantees that NGOs can work freely without any hindering of their activities.

Furthermore, the members of parliament should publicly call on the relevant Egyptian authorities to:
- Immediately release all those detained for exercising their legitimate right to freedom of expression, assembly, information and association, including journalists and human rights defenders, and guarantee the respect of these rights;
- Immediately disclose the whereabouts of all detainees held incommunicado and immediately grant them access to their lawyers and families;
- Take urgent measures to restore the independence of the judiciary and ensure that the right to fair trial and due process according to international standards are upheld;
- Conduct independent, impartial and effective investigations into all human rights violations committed since 2011 including use of lethal force, torture and sexual violence, hold those responsible to account, and provide victims with reparation;
- Immediately end all military trials for civilians and retry those convicted before civilian courts that guarantee the right to fair trial;
- Immediately cancel all death sentences, and order retrials that guarantee the right to fair trial and due process; abolish the death penalty for all crimes’ and impose an immediate moratorium on death sentences and executions.

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