Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (Cairo)

Egypt: 8 Months After Dr. Mohamed Morsi Assumed the Presidency, the Rapid Deterioration of the State of Human Rights in Egypt Must Be Halted

press release

A review of the situation in Egypt over the last eight months raises serious concerns about the extent to which the state of human rights has rapidly deteriorated under the leadership of President Mohamed Morsi. Indeed, the rights situation in Egypt currently appears even direr than it did prior to the revolution and the ouster of the former president. The country has merely traded one form of authoritarianism for another, albeit with some new features.

Under the former president, the independence of the judiciary and freedom of the press were never attacked as fiercely as they have been over the last eight months. Similarly, supporters of the National Democratic Party, the ruling party prior to the revolution, never practiced torture themselves, nor did they attack protestors in the way that supporters and members of the current ruling coalition of parties have done. Rather, during the era of the former president, such 'dirty work' was left to the security establishment and its hired thugs.

On 15 October 2012, on the occasion of the 100th day of Mohamed Morsi's presidency, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) issued a report entitled "After President Mohamed Morsi's first 100 days: Worrying indications for future of human rights, major crises remain unresolved" in which it warned that "human rights issues remained neglected and state authorities continued to violate human rights, even though the current president possesses more legislative and executive powers than any president before him. The absence of human rights issues from the president's 100-day plan, as well as their absence from his practices and policies over this period, has made it impossible to end the numerous violations and infringements of these rights and, indeed, has given rise to three major crises(...) The report also shows that the president has no clear policy on human rights questions. He did not address vital human rights issues in his first 100-day plan and did not attempt to benefit from various initiatives posed to confront and address these problems, including the 100-day plan drafted by the Forum of Independent Human Rights Organizations and submitted the day he assumed office." [1]

The report, issued four months ago, asserted that "President Morsy's first 100 days witnessed three major human rights-related crises. The first was related to the independence of the judiciary and court decisions and came when the president disregarded the ruling of the Supreme Constitutional Court dissolving the People's Assembly and then dismissed the public prosecutor in violation of the judiciary law. The second crisis involved journalists and media workers, while the third involved peaceful protest movements, as supporters and members of the Freedom and Justice Party repeatedly harassed and violently assaulted opposition demonstrators, critical journalists (in front of Media Production City), and persons filing lawsuits against certain practices supported by the Muslim Brotherhood. All of these crises remain unresolved and may lead to further strife if the president does not address them courageously and comprehensively based on human rights principles, the rule of law, and Egypt's relevant international commitments."

The report expressed a fear that a continuation of such policies and practices would lead to even more severe assaults against a number of fundamental rights in the coming period, including:

The right to peaceful assembly and the practice of political and social demonstrations, with the potential for increased participation by supporters of the ruling party in repressing such protests, as was seen during and after the first 100 days of President Morsi's tenure;

The right to freely form and operate NGOs in accordance with international standards, with human rights groups being particularly targeted;

The right to form independent trade unions, and ensure trade union pluralism;

The right to freedom of belief and the ability of those who do not belong to the Sunni Muslim majority to practice their religious rites, as well as minority rights in general;

Freedom of the press and the media, and the right to access to information;

Women's rights;

The right to a fair trial.

Regrettably, the worst fears expressed in this report have been realized, as is made clear from the following developments:

The principles of the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary were undermined with the issuance of the constitutional declaration of November 2012. Egyptian citizens lack confidence in the appointment of the new public prosecutor and doubt his independence from the executive authorities, including the president, and this lack of confidence is evident among the prosecutor's subordinates as well. Moreover, the president and the ruling Freedom and Justice Party persistently contest the integrity of the Egyptian judiciary and accuse certain judicial rulings of being politicized. Such practices have undermined the confidence of Egyptian citizens in the fairness and impartiality of the rulings of the judiciary and resulted in the developments recently witnessed in the city of Port Said. When the president and the leaders of his party proclaim their lack of confidence in the integrity of certain judicial decisions and incite against the courts, and when their supporters prevent the Supreme Constitutional Court from carrying out its work with the collusion of the relevant state authorities and of the security establishment, it is impossible to blame citizens for adopting the same stance towards other judicial rulings as well.

A "state of emergency" was announced unnecessarily and by way of a law which violates international human rights standards, insofar as it was used to undermine the rights of Egyptian citizens.[2]

Torture and degrading treatment continue to be systematically practiced against Egyptian citizens. Officers and officials within the Ministry of Interior continue to enjoy the protection of the state and their performance continues to receive the blessing of the president, despite the record numbers of deaths and victims of torture which have been recorded over this limited period of time. This allows for the perpetuation of impunity and the deterioration of the state of human rights in Egypt.[3]

The president and his party undertook a campaign to attack freedom of the press through statements aimed at reducing the relative freedom which is currently allowed and by submitting various complaints to the investigative authorities against journalists and other media professionals. [4] Moreover, representatives of the president's party in the constituent assembly supported the inclusion within the new constitution of provisions which allow for such repressive practices against the media, including the detention of journalists.

Political and social protests have repeatedly been suppressed through excessive use of force, which has resulted in large numbers of deaths and injuries. Among the victims were a number of prominent activists opposed the Muslim Brotherhood who were shot in the head. The government has also endorsed a new draft law to restrict the right to peaceful protest which contradicts international standards on the matter, including those found in treaties ratified by the Egyptian government.

The police and the security establishment continue to shirk their legal responsibility to protect political and social protests and have been complicit in crimes of rape and sexual assault against female protestors. Members of the Shura Council -which is controlled by the president's party- have contributed by publicly justifying these appalling crimes, placing the blame for these attacks on the women themselves simply for having exercised their right to demonstrate.

The government appointed by the president and his party has endorsed a new draft law on civil society associations which would eliminate the already limited margin available for forming associations, especially human rights organizations. Some of the provisions of the draft law are already being implemented based on official orders from the prime minister, despite the fact that the law has not yet been passed[5]. This draft law on associations endorsed by the president's party indeed represents the most repressive law on associations ever seen in Egypt.

The National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) lacks independence, as the majority of its members belong to the ruling coalition. Indeed, a number of its members are well-known for their hostility towards human rights, and some of them use sectarian political speech publicly, including language inciting to hatred and violence against both Muslim and non-Muslim religious minorities. Given the NCHR's current composition and its practices to date, it is clear that the current purpose of the NCHR is to conceal or downplay human rights violations, rather than to expose and condemn them, as well as to enhance the image of the government before the international community. While the NCHR suffered perpetually from a lack of independence under the Mubarak regime, it has now completely lost all semblance of independence and has become an indirect platform for some of its members to publicly incite against human rights.

Given this context, the undersigned rights organizations call upon the presidency to:

Form an independent committee comprised of the most prominent and competent experts in Egypt in the fields of constitutional law and human rights - regardless of political or religious affiliations - to review the new constitution and to amend or abolish the articles which contradict the principles of human rights, democracy, and the rule of law in the parts entitled "Elements of the State and Society" and "Rights and Freedoms" - for which international human rights conventions must be the underlying reference[6] - and in the articles which grant to the president vast authorities without providing for mechanisms for accountability;

Appoint a new public prosecutor nominated by the Supreme Judicial Council, ensure that the president and his party cease casting doubt on judicial rulings, and promptly submit the draft law on the judiciary which was prepared by the Supreme Judicial Council in 2011 to the Shura Council for its adoption as law;

Put an end to all practices of torture in police stations, prisons, and detention facilities, open serious investigations into the killing and torture of Egyptian citizens, whether committed by the police or other groups or individuals, and refer those responsible to trial;

Cease targeting protestors and opponents of the Muslim Brotherhood and of the president during their participation in demonstrations, ensure that the police carry out their duty to secure and protect protestors, take legal measures to eradicate the phenomenon of rape and sexual assault, and put an end to violations to the rights of protestors during arrest and interrogation;

Conduct serious and public investigations with the officials who were present at the Ittihadiyya Presidential Palace during the attacks against those conducting the sit-in on 5 December 2012 outside of the palace walls, as well as with the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood implicated in political and sectarian incitement to violence and with those who participated in the dispersal of the sit-in or in the torture of demonstrators and attempts to extract confessions from them under duress, as this incident left at least 11 Egyptian citizens dead and hundreds injured, while others were abducted and subjected to brutal torture, as the result of calls made by leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood to their ranks to assemble and proceed to the presidential palace to disperse the peaceful sit-in under the slogan of "protecting the legitimacy" of the elected president[7];

Re-constitute the NCHR - according to the international standards set out in the Paris Principles relating to national institutions to promote and protect human rights issued by the United Nations General Assembly - to include independent individuals who display impartiality and enjoy the respect of the Egyptian public, and who have a recognized history of working in the field of human rights;

Instruct the prime minister to withdraw the draft law to regulate the right to protest which was proposed by Dr. Morsi's government and amend the draft law according to the comments previously sent by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch to the Ministry of Justice;

Instruct the prime minister to withdraw the two draft laws on associations, one of which was presented by the Ministry of Social Affairs and the other by the Freedom and Justice Party through the Ministry of Local Development, and adopt either the draft law on associations which was proposed by 56 Egyptian rights and development organizations or the proposal of Justice Minister Ahmed Mekki to restore the relevant articles of the civil code as a basis for discussion;

Instruct the prime minister, the Ministry of Social Affairs, and the security establishment to refrain from interfering in or overseeing the activities of NGOs;

Ensure that national and international organizations are allowed to monitor elections according to international standards, including the right of civil society organizations to obtain permits to monitor the elections without requiring permission from the NCHR and without imposing any restrictions on the number of monitors, and invite international organizations which specialize in elections monitoring to observe elections, beginning with the United Nations; and

Publicly acknowledge the binding nature of all of the international human rights conventions ratified by Egypt, and consider these conventions to be the references for interpreting all legislation related to human rights.

Signatories:

Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies;

Andalus Institute for Tolerance and Anti-violence Studies;

Arab Penal Reform Organization;

Arab Program for Human Rights Activists;

Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression;

Association for Human Rights Legal Assistance;

Center for Appropriate Communication Techniques;

Center for Egyptian Women's Legal Aid;

Center for Trade Union and Workers' Services;

Egyptian Association for Community Participation Enhancement;

Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights;

Egyptian Center for Women's Rights;

Egyptian Foundation for the Advancement of Childhood Conditions;

Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights;

Egyptian Organization for Human Rights;

Habi Center for Environmental Rights;

Land Center for Human Rights;

Masriyon Against Religious Discrimination;

Nazra for Feminist Studies;

New Woman Foundation;

United Group: Attorneys at Law, Legal Researchers and Human Rights Advocates.

[1] See CIHRS, entitled "After President Mohamed Morsi's first 100 days: Worrying indications for future of human rights, major crises remain unresolved" at http://www.cihrs.org/?p=4547&lang=en

[2]See memo submitted by the Forum of Independent Human Rights Organizations: "Maintaining Security without Infringing on Rights: No Exceptional Measures Needed, Existing Law is Sufficient," (http://www.cihrs.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/Maintaining-security-without-infringing-on-rights-No-exceptional-measures-needed-existing-law-is-sufficient.pdf).

[3]See the "Ten-Point Initiative to Stop the Crimes of the Regime" presented by 13 Egyptian rights organizations, (http://www.eipr.org/pressrelease/2013/02/19/1635); See also the report by the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights: "State Crimes Remained Unpunished: The Interior Ministry is Above the Law and the Public Prosecution is Missing in Action," (http://eipr.org/en/report/2013/01/22/1602).

[4]See the report by the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information: "The Crime of Insulting the President, a Crime of an Authoritarian Regime," (http://www.anhri.net/en/?p=10908).

[5] See reports by the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies: "Strangling Civil Society with Repressive Laws: Morsi's Bill to Nationalize Civic Activity Must be Retracted," (http://www.cihrs.org/?p=5875&lang=en); "Egypt: The Freedom and Justice Party Endorses Repressive NGO Law," (http://www.cihrs.org/?p=5909&lang=en).

[6]See report issued by the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies: "No to constitution establishing political and theocratic tyranny; Egyptian rights groups reject draft constitution," (http://www.cihrs.org/?p=5049&lang=en).

[7]See report issued by the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies: "Will the Ittihadiyya clashes become a routine model to settle political disputes in Egypt?" (http://www.cihrs.org/?p=5361&lang=en).

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