Press Release

December 10, 1996

On the 48th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,

The government is requested to undertake serious measures to strengthen human rights

With the world celebrating the 48th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Center for Human Rights Legal Aid (CHRLA) sees this as an important time to call on the Egyptian government to respect its international obligations and confirm its commitment to the global human rights covenants and charters it has signed, in particular the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).

CHRLA believes that for the Egyptian government to honor these covenants it must first of all take the necessary legislative measures to bring Egyptian legislation in line with them. In this regard, the Center notes that although the Egyptian government ratified the covenants 14 years ago, the state and the legislature have been negligent in reviewing legislation and cleansing it of all clauses which conflict with the two covenants—on the contrary, the legislature has in fact moved to establish more legislation which conflicts with human rights and the covenants. Perhaps the best evidence of this tendency are the rulings of the Higher Constitutional Court which has declared invalid not less than 35 articles of legislation issued in the last 14 years. The Court has demonstrated that these articles contradict the principles of the Constitution and infringe the fundamental framework of rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution and in conformance with the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The Constitutional Court has shown that the legislation declared invalid represents a violation of the equality of citizens before the law, and that a number of laws have created a form of discrimination between citizens. Unconstitutional laws have also infringed the rights of citizens to freedom of expression and to form federations, syndicates and associations, and the right to participate in running the affairs of country. Other legislation constitutes a violation of labor rights and ownership rights, and yet more laws run contrary to guarantees of fair trials and the independence of the judiciary.

The Center for Human Rights Legal Aid would like to take the opportunity of this anniversary to call on the government to take serious steps to strengthen human rights in Egypt, the foremost of these steps being:

1. To end the state of emergency which has been in force without break since 1981 and which gives extensive powers to the executive under the Emergency Law, allowing it to waive basic guarantees of rights and freedoms specified in the Constitution. The arbitrary application of these powers has allowed the phenomenon of transferring civilians to military trial and denying them the right to appear before an ordinary and impartial judge to become much more widespread.

2. To review dozens of legislative measures which contradict either the Constitution or international charters on human rights. Two particularly prominent instances are the Nationality Law, which constitutes a form of blatant discrimination against the children of Egyptian women married to foreign men, and the Hamayouni Code, which sanctions discrimination on the basis of religion in building places of worship and practicing religious rites.

Also prominent here is the Law concerning Professional Syndicates (Law 100/1993) and its amendments, which attacks of the freedom to organize syndicates and the independence of syndicate bodies. The application of this law has led to a suspension of syndicate elections for two years in a number of syndicates, many of which have been transformed into arenas of conflict to the extent that two have had to have guards imposed on them.

In addition, the Law of Associations (Law 32/1964) remains a real obstacle to community action because of all the restrictions it places on the freedom to create associations and the authority it gives to government to monitor their activity. This law also gives the government the right to dissolve existing associations or their elected boards of administration, and effectively allows government control of human rights organizations and other NGOs in Egypt.

3. To strengthen the rights of the citizen with regards to political participation, which requires canceling the Law on Political Parties (Law 40/1977) to allow any groups, except military or paramilitary groups, the freedom to form parties, reviewing the Law on the Exercise of Political Rights in a way which guarantees an end to the surveillance by the executive, via the Ministry of the Interior, of general elections, and giving real guarantees of the neutrality and integrity of general elections. Linked to this is the need to allow freedom to publish newspapers and guaranteeing the right to hold peaceful gatherings, to strike and to hold peaceful sit-ins.

4. To ratify the optional protocol appended to the ICCPR which allows individuals whose rights have been violated the right to present official complaints to the UN Commission on Human Rights.

5. To announce Egypt's acceptance of Articles 21 and 22 of the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Punishment, which give the UN's Committee Against Torture the right investigate complaints put forward, either by individuals or states party to the convention.

Finally, the Center for Human Rights Legal Aid believes that if Egypt adopts steps such as these and respects the principles of human rights it will create a suitable climate for all segments of society to peacefully express their opinions. This will provide an objective basis to halt the phenomena of violence and terrorism which have led to extensive abuses of the right to life, and which up to now have found some pretexts in the absence of a definite commitment of the state to the rulings of the Constitution, the law and the principles of human rights.

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