25 May 2014

Egypt: To Anchor the Rule of Law 10 Demands On the Next President Concerning Human Rights

press release

The undersigned organizations reiterated today that bringing political stability to Egypt requires the coming president to adopt a political and economic program that makes it a priority to restore and support the rule of law in a state that respects human rights and public liberties. The coming president should make a clean break with the policies of impunity that were a major feature of the Mubarak regime and all national administrations that followed the revolution of January 25, 2011. We note that, as proven in the last three years, stability cannot be achieved solely through the election of a president by majority vote, even if the elections are fair and transparent.

The undersigned organizations are following with great interest the course of the coming presidential elections, which many consider an important milestone toward bringing the country out of its current exceptional circumstances. We understand that the next president will face major challenges that stemmed from the mismanagement of the country under Mubarak and his successors. There is a heavy legacy of crimes and grave abuses that have continued in the past few years with no accountability for the perpetrators.

The undersigned organizations point to the unfortunate, serious increase in human rights violations after July 3, 2013. It is clear that the police state, which has no regard for the rule of law and human rights standards, is being reconstituted in a form more brutal and flawed than under Mubarak, all on the pretext of countering terrorism.

Despite attempts by the security apparatus to justify the rapid reconstruction of the police state by pointing to bombings carried out by self-described Islamist groups, the reliance on security and an emboldened police state as a basic tool in this confrontation will only heighten the wave of terrorism and lead to its spread. Having been limited to attacks centered in Sinai carried out by small groups, terrorist attacks have now reached Cairo and other governorates.

This failure to combat terrorism and uphold human rights requires the state to undertake radical, comprehensive reforms of the security apparatus, hold to account all persons responsible for previous violations, and draft new policies focused on respect for human rights. There is no contradiction here; on the contrary, respect for rights builds a strong foundation on which to confront acts of violence, identify its causes, and apprehend the real perpetrators.

But current developments and the way in which the conflict with the Muslim Brotherhood and acts of violence are being addressed has eroded the status of human rights and public liberties while also stoking further violence and terrorism, especially after excessive force was used to break up sit-ins staged by Brotherhood supporters on August 14. This was followed by hundreds of deaths and increased political polarization, after it became clear that repressive security approaches were preferred to political solutions. In turn, this has led to systematic assaults on the right to peacefully demonstrate--a right won by Egyptians three years ago and paid for with their lives. Ironically, this right helped bring the current regime to power after the massive demonstrations of June 30, 2013.

The undersigned organizations warned against the alarming return and spread of torture, the erosion of due process guarantees for those subject to security harassment or pretrial detention on baseless charges, and the politicization of the judiciary and its use to retaliate against political opponents. The organizations said that overcoming the looming crises requires the next president to pledge to enforce adequate guarantees for the disclosure of truth and ensure accountability for violations committed since the overthrow of the Mubarak regime to the present day. In this context, we call on the coming president to:

1. Reconsider the composition of the fact-finding commission formed by the interim president on December 21, 2013 in concert with civil society and remove all obstacles facing it, including by enforcing the legal obligation of state institutions and executive bodies to provide information and documents requested by the commission; taking effective measures to protect witnesses to these events; pledging to release the commission's final report; instituting participatory instruments to supervise and guarantee the actual implementation of the commission's findings and recommendations; and bringing persons responsible for grave human rights violations to justice regardless of their positions, along with all persons involved in all acts of political violence, whether members of the Muslim Brotherhood or its opponents.

2. Pledge to stress to the competent bodies the need to prevent the security authorities from interfering in and influencing current investigations into those accused of acts of violence. In particular, this requires prohibiting any interrogations in prisons, police stations, or Central Security Forces headquarters and permitting all detainees to contact attorneys and family. In addition, the Supreme Judiciary Council should be encouraged to draft a plan to strengthen judicial independence and support judicial competence. This requires undertaking reforms necessary to insulate the judiciary against political or security interference, which has increased markedly in the past three years.

3. The restoration of security and stability and an end to violence and terrorism--a priority for any presidential program--need not be grounded in purely security solutions, which have proven their abject failure, but instead in political solutions. This requires a presidential pledge to create a climate for the restoration of a national consensus. In turn, this requires the rapid review of the status of thousands of persons detained since Mohamed Morsi was deposed, the implementation of an effective program for transitional justice, and the disclosure of the facts of violations in the near and distant past. A societal dialogue must be conducted about ways to turn the page on grave abuses based on fair foundations and clarify the broad outlines and rules for transitional justice legislation, as well as the establishment of an independent commission overseeing these rules after its approval by the coming parliament. This could pave the way for a national reconciliation with parties that were not involved in criminal acts of violence and which are willing to abandon and criminalize these acts.

4. Pledge to honor the rules of public openness regarding the facts of the extremely poor economic situation; adopt time-bound programs and plans that respond to the legitimate demands of broad sectors of Egyptians for economic and social rights; implement the minimum and maximum wage; advance the development needs of marginalized areas in Sinai, Upper Egypt, and informal areas; and guarantee an adequate minimum threshold for Egyptians' economic and social rights, in the form of health care, housing, education, and sanitation.

5. Immediately review the status of detainees and prisoners, to be carried out by a legal committee including representatives from independent human rights groups. This review will guarantee the unconditional release of all persons whose freedoms have been limited due to court sentences or in pretrial detention on charges related to the right to express one's opinion, demonstrate, or peacefully protest. The coming president should also suspend Law 107/2013 on the right to public meetings, processions, and peaceful demonstrations and revise it prior to submitting it to the coming parliament for issuance in a new form that is consistent with international standards for the right of peaceful assembly.

6. Reconsider legislation regulating the use of firearms by the security apparatus and relevant ministerial decrees to guarantee that they are consistent with international rules for maintaining security, which prohibit the use of firearms and live ammunition in demonstrations and establish strict controls on the use of firearms in all other cases. The next president should also pledge to institute radical reforms to rebuild trust in the police force, whose brutality against citizens was a primary motivating factor for the popular uprising in January 2011. This trust cannot be regained without restructuring the police, retraining them, and improving their professional performance to guarantee that the police undertakes its duty to preserve all citizens' security and to guarantee effective action against crime. There can be no success on this front except by strictly complying with international human rights standards when pursuing criminal elements. The coming president should also pledge to cooperate with the government and next parliament to take legislative measures necessary to prohibit torture or breaches of the minimum standards for the treatment of detainees and prisoners.

Take the legislative measures necessary to ensure Egypt's accession to international human rights conventions, in particular:

Ratify the optional protocol of the Convention against Torture and declare Egypt's compliance with Articles 21 and 22 of the convention, which permit all Egyptian citizens and any state party to the convention to file a complaint with the Committee against Torture in the event that the Egyptian government breaches its obligations under the convention.

Ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.

Ratify the optional protocol of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Ratify the optional protocol of the International Covenant on Economic and Social Rights.

Ratify the optional protocol of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and withdraw the reservations to Article 2, 16, and 29 of the convention, pursuant to constitutional guarantees that prohibit all forms of discrimination against women.

Ratify the third optional protocol of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Ratify the Rome Charter establishing the International Criminal Court.

Ratify the optional protocol of the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights establishing the African Court of Human Rights.

7. Instruct members of the government to remove bureaucratic and security obstacles to the opening of an Egypt office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, as well as security and bureaucratic obstacles impeding the opening of offices for various international human rights organizations that seek to operate in Egypt; stress constructive cooperation with UN human rights bodies and instruments and respond to requests from special rapporteurs to visit Egypt and assess the human rights situation. The coming president should also pledge to respect international standards that guarantee the right of human rights and other organizations to operate freely and independently of government control; revise the NGO law to guarantee its full compliance with international standards by including human rights groups in the revisions; disavow and condemn all smear campaigns that aim to undermine the role of these organizations.

8. Draft clear strategies, with the participation of civil society and women's groups, to end all forms of violence against women and animate the articles in the constitution related to gender equality, especially the fair representation of women in representative bodies and the creation of an independent commission to counter discrimination. Preserve the legislative gains made for children in Egypt by enforcing the Egyptian child law, amended by Law 126/2008, and resist proposed amendments to stiffen penalties on children which include prison sentences with labor or execution (a crime against humanity if this actually occurs); treat children accused in political cases as victims of political exploitation rather than criminals or terrorists while designating an officer in every station to work with child rights; provide legal aid to children upon arrest and activate the independent juvenile judiciary set forth in Article 80 of the constitution.

9. Pledge to reform the justice system, both the prosecution and the judiciary, in order to provide the conditions for a fair trial and meet due process standards by issuing laws amending the Code of Criminal Procedure to introduce two stages of trial for felonies rather than the current one stage and repealing the latest amendment to the code in September, which eliminated the maximum time allowable for pretrial detention in felony cases; amend the judiciary law to eliminate seconding judges to executive bodies and establish rules for the appointment of the public prosecutor to be consistent with the constitution; issue laws to realize financial and administrative independence for the judiciary by eliminating the oversight of the Ministry of Justice, an executive authority, which controls the fate of judges through seconding, transfer, promotions, and pensions, and instead vest these authorities in the Supreme Judiciary Council.

10. Encourage the media to stop all forms of religious and sectarian incitement, hate speech, and smear campaigns targeting political opponents; enforce the law equally for all violations and infringements of personal liberties, libel, and incitement to violence in the media; pledge to restructure the state-owned and private media based on draft laws already submitted by the Journalists Syndicate and media and human rights experts.

Signatory organizations 1. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies

2. Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights

3. Egyptian Coalition for the Rights of the Child

4. Land Center for Human Rights

5. Hisham Mubarak Law Center

6. Egyptians Against Religious Discrimination

7. New Woman Foundation

8. Egyptian Foundation for the Advancement of Childhood Conditions

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