Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Egypt: Constitution draft – Improved text amid ongoing violations

Source: Amnesty

Egypt’s draft constitution approved by the Constituent Assembly mends some shortcomings of the 2012 Constitution, but still falls short of Egypt’s international human rights obligations.
The draft allows for the military trial of civilians, discriminates against foreign nationals, and leaves the door open for undue restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly.

In a welcome step, the draft constitution would give Egypt’s international obligations, including human rights treaties to which it is a state party, the force of law. However, it fails to provide for the supremacy of international law over national legislation.

The constitution draft not only prohibits torture similarly to the 2012 Constitution, but also makes it a crime with no statute of limitations.

In another potentially welcome move, the constitution draft stipulates the adoption of a transitional justice law to establish truth and accountability.

If carried out in line with international law and standards, a transitional justice mechanism could help address the entrenched legacy of impunity left by decades of human rights violations and ensure their non-repetition. However, the fact that the draft would give the military a great deal of autonomy raises concerns about whether this institution will be held accountable for violations. It also casts doubt over whether the government will be able to institute desperately needed reforms to ensure that the military, police and security agencies respect human rights and are subject to independent oversight.

In this regard, it is particularly worrying that activists’ demands to end military trials of civilians have been ignored. Despite, the abysmal human rights record of the military and the unfair trials of thousands of Egyptians before military courts under the rule of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, the constitution draft continues to allow for the unfair trials of civilians by military courts. It also gives the military jurisdiction over the conduct of members of the General Intelligence.

The finalization of the draft constitution was marred by the dispersal of a peaceful protest called by the No to Military Trials group and the arrests and beating of activists on the doorsteps of the Constituent Assembly on 26 November.

This incident comes against the backdrop of the authorities’ crackdown on dissent, including the enactment of legislation restricting freedom of assembly, the imprisonment of protesters and activists solely for peacefully expressing views critical of the authorities, and the continued use of excessive and unwarranted lethal force by security forces.

The draft constitution’s promise to enshrine the right to freedom of assembly rings hollow when the government passed a law on 24 November essentially allowing the security forces to ban and forcibly disperse peaceful protests at their whim. Guaranteeing rights while adding that their enjoyment is regulated by the law risks undermining their essence given the Egyptian authorities continued reliance on repressive legislation as a tool to repress or punish dissent.