New Anti-Terror Law Must Not Further Erode Human Rights in Egypt

Wednesday 25 July 2007

The new anti-terrorism law will lead to a further deterioration in the human rights situation in Egypt unless it contains sufficient safeguards for the protection of human rights and personal freedoms, warned the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR). In a policy paper released today, the organization called on the bill's drafting committee to heed the warnings of United Nations (UN) experts about the potential for abuse that is commonly associated with anti-terror legislation.


"Giving this regime the benefit of the doubt is simply impossible," said Hossam Bahgat, Director of the EIPR. "Statements by government officials about the new law will always be insufficient in the face of 25 years of systematic abuses committed under the pretext of countering terrorism."
Official statements from the drafting committee have indicated that work on the draft anti-terrorism law is near completion, and that it is due to be presented to Parliament at its upcoming session, which starts in November 2007.


The policy paper, entitled "Egypt's New Anti-Terrorism Law: A Human Rights Risk Analysis", foresees several risks that the new law could pose, including the use of broad and vague language and definitions; excessive or impermissible derogation from human rights obligations; undermining the absolute prohibition against torture and ill-treatment; sustaining abusive arrest and detention policies and the violation of fair trial guarantees; restricting freedom of expression to criminalize incitement of terrorism; and allowing arbitrary and unlawful interference with the right to privacy.


The EIPR also called on the government to make the draft law public as soon as possible and to allow ample time for public debate before the draft is sent to Parliament. The organization also stressed the need to repeal all the repressive provisions introduced into both the Penal Code and the Code of Criminal Procedure since the early 1990s in the name of countering terrorism.


“We still strongly believe that Egypt could effectively address the threat of terrorism without the need for exceptional legal powers in a new anti-terrorism law," continued Hossam Bahgat. “While the new law seems unstoppable now, it should not sustain the state of impunity enjoyed by security agencies for serious and widespread human rights violations."


Last March, the government amended Article 179 of the Constitution to allow for the promulgation of a new counter-terrorism law even if it suspends the constitutional protections related to arrest and detention, house and body searches and the privacy of communications. The amendment also allows the president to refer civilian terrorism suspects to military and other exceptional courts. Shortly before its adoption, the EIPR issued an assessment of the impact of the amended Article 179 on the legal regime of human rights protection in Egypt.