Memorandum to Morsi spells out human rights challenges facing Egypt

‘The army’s powers to arrest, detain and investigate civilians … are the most urgent threat to the rule of law’ - Salil Shetty

Amnesty International today called on Egypt’s new president to break the cycle of abuse perpetuated under Hosni Mubarak and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF).

Ahead of President Mohamed Morsi’s swearing-in ceremony tomorrow, the organisation has presented him with a memorandum detailing what it considers the key human rights priorities for Egypt.

Amnesty urged him to take decisive action in his first 100 days to put Egypt firmly on the path of the rule of law and respect for human rights and said it would be closely monitoring progress during this period.

Key priorities include ending the military’s power to police civilians, reforming the security forces, launching independent investigations into violations of the past - both under Mubarak and the SCAF - and putting in place measures to stop discrimination against Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights and religious minorities.

Amnesty warned that the road to human rights will be made difficult by the army’s attempts to hold on to its powers and to remove itself from civilian oversight.

Meanwhile, the commitment of the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), which Mohamed Morsi chaired until recently, to human rights remains unknown. The FJP were the only major party not to sign Amnesty’s Human Rights Manifesto for Change ahead of parliamentary elections last year, giving no indication of which elements they could support. Mohamed Morsi has, however, now formally resigned from his position from both the FJP and its parent organisation, the Muslim Brotherhood.

Amnesty International Secretary General Salil Shetty said:

“The President must now dispel any uncertainty about his commitment to uphold human rights in all circumstances, and for all Egyptians.
 
“Egypt deserves a leadership which is prepared to confront the abuses of the past, restore the rule of law in the present and set out a vision of human rights for all for the future.
 
“It will be important to scrutinise the early months of the new President, and hold him to account for the actions he takes, or does not take, to get to grips with the pressing human rights priorities in Egypt.”

Key areas needing urgent attention are:

Prisoners of conscience

Amnesty is urging the new President to release all prisoners of conscience. The organisation is also calling for the President to ensure that thousands of civilians imprisoned by military courts are either released, or else are charged with recognisable criminal offences and given fair trials before civilian courts.

Excessive army powers

Amnesty is calling on the President to end immediately the power of the military to arrest, detain and try civilians. Salil Shetty said: “The army’s powers to arrest, detain and investigate civilians, and its refusal to put its forces under civilian oversight, are the most urgent threat to the rule of law. If President Morsi is serious about human rights, he should not call on the army to police the streets, but instead move to strip it of its authority to arrest and detain civilians once and for all.”

Reform of security services:
Amnesty is calling on President Morsi to take two immediate steps to reform the security forces. First, the creation of an independent body with the power to investigate allegations of abuses by the security forces and to oversee their vetting. Second, publication of the structure of the security forces, as well as the orders which govern their use of force.

Investigation of past abuses

Amnesty is calling for independent and impartial investigations into the human rights violations that under Hosni Mubarak’s 31-year rule and the 16-month rule of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.

Hosni Mubarak was this month sentenced to life in prison for his involvement in the killing of protesters in the “25 January Revolution”, but victims of prolonged arbitrary detention, torture and other ill-treatment during his rule have yet to see any semblance of truth, justice or reparation. Meanwhile, the SCAF did nothing to challenge this legacy and their own rule has been marked by a sustained and often brutal crackdown on human rights. To date, army investigations have failed to hold a single member of the armed forces to account for abuses. Salil Shetty said:

“For Egypt to now look to the future, there must be truth, justice and reparation for the past. There has to be a guarantee that the brutal and systemic human rights violations of Hosni Mubarak and the SCAF will never be repeated.”

Freedom of expression, association and assembly

Amnesty is calling for an end to systematic restrictions on the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly, imposed in crackdowns under both Hosni Mubarak and the SCAF. Journalists, bloggers and others who have spoken out against repression have faced arbitrary arrest and prison terms. Egyptian human rights organisations have also faced reprisals, including a government-ordered criminal investigation into their registration and funding. Protesters calling for an end to repression have been brutally dispersed in a series of lethal crackdowns. Salil Shetty said: As recognition of the vital role played by human rights organisations, all impediments to their activities in law and practice should be immediately lifted.”

Discrimination against woman and minorities

Egyptian law continues to discriminate against Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights in terms of personal status, and does not punish crimes like marital rape. Sexual harassment remains widespread and often goes unpunished. Only a handful of Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights were elected to the now-dissolved Parliament.

Amnesty is also calling on President Morsi to end discrimination against minorities in Egypt, including Coptic Christians. Copts continue to be under-represented in appointments to high public offices, positions of university presidents, as well as key security positions, including at the level of the National Security Agency or the General Intelligence. Sali Shetty said:

“President Morsi has said he will be a President for all Egyptians and has said he will appoint a woman and a Copt as his two Vice Presidents. We look to the leadership to undo the damage wrought by repressive laws, and to combat discriminatory practices.”

Housing

Many of Egypt’s 12.2 million slum-dwellers live in fear that the authorities will forcibly evict them from their homes, a common practice. In such cases many are left homeless, or are resettled far from their homes, their families and their livelihoods. Amnesty is calling on the new President to end the policy of forced eviction.

  • Read our letter to Morsi ahead of his swearing in ceremony (PDF)

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