On International Human Rights Day: Egyptians to vote on a constitution that undermines human rights and liberties

Monday 10 December 2012

The undersigned human rights organizations declare their rejection of the draft constitution to be put to a popular referendum on 15 December, with the vote for Egyptians residing abroad starting on 12 December.. We are extremely concerned about the future of liberties and human rights if this draft is adopted as the country’s permanent constitution following the referendum. Instead of celebrating the 64th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, drafted by a group of states which included Egypt, today Egyptians are facing the prospect of having their future determined by a constitution that entrenches political and religious tyranny, grants “constitutional legitimacy” to assaults on human rights, and does not recognize Egypt’s international commitments to protect these rights. This situation is particularly regrettable, as it comes in the wake of  the popular revolt in which hundreds died and thousands were injured to obtain freedom, human rights, and democracy.


The constitution was drafted by a constituent assembly lacking legal, social, political, and moral legitimacy. From the outset, it became clear that forces hostile to public freedoms and human rights dominated the assembly and aimed to impose oversight over citizens’ personal rights and liberties in all spheres, including by granting constitutional backing for the formation of groups whose purpose would be to compel citizens to follow their strict moral and social codes, including through the exercise of violence.


Unfortunately, this illegitimate assembly ultimately received the support of the president, who had been among the first to admit that its composition was unbalanced. Indeed, during his electoral campaign, he vowed to create a balance in the assembly, yet he did not keep his word. He has also failed to follow through on a promise made after winning the elections to refrain from putting any constitution to a referendum that did not enjoy a broad consensus among political and social forces.


The current draft opens the door to the establishment of a theocratic system similar to the Iranian “Wilayat al Faqih” model (Guardianship of Islamic jurists), albeit under Sunni terminology. The Sunni legal and religious scholars, represented by a body of senior religious scholars, would be given the authority to act as custodians of the legislative process. This undermines the concept of the modern democratic state and sets the country up for significant legal uncertainty.


The post-revolution draft constitution contains no reference to human rights treaties and conventions ratified by Egypt, reflecting the constituent assembly’s disdain for these agreements. Moreover, in enumerating rights and liberties, the constitution uses broad and vague language to restrict their exercise or refers to statutory law for their regulation. The text also dictates that the principles outlined in the first chapter of the document will act as a reference for the interpretation of human rights and civil liberties. As religious scholars are given interpretive authority, these rights and liberties are therefore jeopardized.


Despite the fact that the broad autocratic powers and prerogatives enjoyed by the president was one cause behind the revolution, the current draft grants the president authorities that are no less autocratic than those enjoyed by Hosni Mubarak. In addition, this constitution represents a massive regression from the human rights protections contained in the former constitution which was overthrown by the revolution.


The proposed constitution curtails several fundamental rights, such as the right to practice religious rituals, the right to freedom of expression, and the right to demonstrate, and it allows for the dissolution of associations and rejects the principle of trade union pluralism. It restricts the right to information and press freedom, making the press subject to closure, suspension, confiscation, and censorship, and creates a national press council to regulate “the affairs of audio and visual broadcast, the print and digital press, and other [forms of media].” This council will act as the everyday custodian of the press and media. In addition, for the first time, the constitution grants legitimacy to military trials for civilians and gives constitutional protections to discrimination on political grounds.


This draft constitution represents a blatant attack on  the Supreme Constitutional Court, once a bastion for the defense of human rights and liberties in Egypt prior to the revolution. The constitution transfers the power to determine the court’s composition from its general assembly to the president and allows for the inclusion of members from outside the judiciary, which could allow for the inclusion of clerics for the first time.


In light of the above, the undersigned Egyptian human rights organizations declare their unequivocal rejection of the draft constitution.


Signatories

 

  1. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
  2. Andalus institute for Tolerance and Anti-Violence Studies
  3. Appropriate Communications Techniques for Development
  4. Arab Network for Human Rights Information
  5. Arab Penal Reform Organization
  6. Arab Program for Human Rights Activists
  7. Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression
  8. Center for Trade Union and Workers’ Services
  9. Egyptian Association for Community Participation Enhancement
  10. Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights
  11. Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights
  12. Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights
  13. Egyptian Foundation for Advancement of the Childhood Conditions
  14. Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights
  15. Egyptian Organization for Human Rights
  16. Habi Center for Environmental Rights
  17. Hisham Mubarak Law Center
  18. Human Rights Association for the Assistance of Prisoners
  19. Human Rights Legal Aid Group
  20. Land Center for Human Rights
  21. Misryon Against Religious Discrimination (MARED)
  22. New Woman Foundation
  23. The Arab Center for the Independence of the Judiciary and the Legal Profession (ACIJLP)