On-going police violations are the reason behind the latest clashes in Egypt, according to a report released by Human Rights Watch (HRW).
In a press statement released on Thursday, the international watchdog organisation urged Egyptian authorities to “stop using Mubarak-era laws”.
The statement was released during a press conference held by the organisation to issue its annual report about human rights progress in the Middle Eastern and North African regions.
“The police handled the Port Said riots with excessive and illegal use of force,” said Heba Morayef, HRW Egypt director.
He added that the police used the same tactics they had resorted to two years ago in attempting to quell the 25 January revolution.
HRW reported 52 deaths in Cairo and the Canal cities of Ismailia, Port Said and Suez since Friday. The organisation urged President Mohamed Morsy to “repeal the state of emergency (enforced in the Canal cities) and use the regular penal code to prosecute incidents of violence when the evidence warrants it”.
On a more general note, the organisation stated Egypt witnessed a decline in human rights during 2012, which was further prompted by the recently enacted constitution.
“If we are to entitle 2012,” Morayef said, “it would be the year of wasted opportunities for improving human rights standards in Egypt.”
According to Morayef, the missed opportunities included the Peoples’ Assembly failure to amend or pass any laws further protecting human rights in the country. A court order dissolved the assembly in June.
Another wasted opportunity, according to the report, was the transfer of power to Egypt’s first democratically-elected president.
HRW stated that Morsy took positive steps upon assuming his role as president such as establishing a fact-finding committee to investigate all acts of violence committed against protesters since the revolution. The organisation called upon Morsy to officially release the results reached by this committee.
The constituent assembly which drafted the new constitution was seen as a third lost chance. The report criticised the new constitution, which Morayef said offers less human rights guarantees than the 1971 constitution which Egyptians rejected.
Article 81 which stated rights and duties are to be practiced in a manner which conforms to the constitution’s State and Society Section was called the constitution’s “worst article”.
Article 198, which grants the military power to try civilians who “harm” it, was also criticised by the organisation, stressing that international law prohibits militarily trials of civilians.
Morayef further criticised the ‘loose terminology’ used in article 31, which prohibits “insulting human beings”, saying: “In light of this article, any political criticism of a person or an institution might be interpreted as insult.”
The organisation reported at least three defamation suits against journalists for insulting the president, and 18 others for insulting the judiciary.
Children’s rights in Egypt were also addressed during the press conference by Priyanka Motaparthy, a Middle East child rights researcher at HRW.
Motaparthy stated that over 300 children were arrested during protests in 2012. Several of those arrested were beaten, tortured, incarcerated with adult detainees and tried at natural instead of juvenile courts; all of which are breaches of Egypt’s Child Law.
The recommendations presented by HRW included: reforming the police, avoiding exceptional procedures such as declaring a state of emergency and enforcing the Child Law.