Cancelled rights talk shows up lack of judicial freedom, say activists

Daily Star Egypt Staff
5 Min Read

CAIRO: The last-minute cancellation of a scheduled meeting between representatives of international rights group Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the Cairo-based Judges’ Club exposed the judiciary’s lack of independence from the authorities, local activists said.

“The decision reflects the grim reality faced by the judiciary in Egypt, said Nasser Amin, director of the Arab Center for the Independence of the Judiciary.

An HRW delegation was set to meet with top members of the Judges’ Club on April 5. But after pressure from the authorities, in the form of slur campaigns in the state-run press and statements issued by top judicial bodies, the Club announced its decision to withdraw from the meeting.

“At first, we welcomed the idea of the meeting, especially in light of HRW’s global reputation for its work as an unbiased rights body, said Judges’ Club Secretary-General Hisham Geneina. “However, given the growing number of obstacles, we realized it wasn’t the right time to hold the meeting, lest we promote splits among the judicial community.

According to HRW Cairo representative Fadi Al-Qadi, the state press ran a series of articles in the run-up to the scheduled meeting intended to damage the reputation of the international rights watchdog. Among the accusations made in the press was that the organization has a “Zionist agenda. “The very same newspapers often quote our reports on human rights violations by the U.S. in Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, and those committed against Palestinians by Israel, Al-Qadi complained.

In addition, the Courts of Appeal issued a statement on April 2 accusing members of the judiciary of using their positions as judges to make political statements. “Some judges [from the Club] took advantage of their positions and pretended to be responsible for the fate of their colleagues and for the entire nation, the statement read. “They say they are seeking the independence of the judiciary, as though the judiciary wasn’t already independent. The statement added: “Although HRW is outwardly American, it is Zionist at heart.

Minister of Justice Mahmoud Abul Leil reportedly advised Judge’s Club President Zakaria Abdel Aziz days before the scheduled meeting not to meet with the HRW delegation, according to Geneina.

The campaign appears to have had the desired effect: on April 3, the Judge’s Club announced its decision to cancel the meeting. “The general Egyptian public receives most of its information from the press, Geneina said. “So as to not disrupt the harmony enjoyed among judges, we decided that it was not a good time for the meeting.

For rights groups, especially HRW, the decision is indicative of a lack of judicial independence. “The level of government pressure to end our meeting is, in itself, the strongest indication of the lack of judicial independence in Egypt, Al-Qadi said.

He added that HRW was set to meet with Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif, Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa, Presidential Adviser Osama Al-Baz and representatives of the National Council for Human Rights on April 6 to discuss human rights in Egypt and the region. “It makes one wonder just what the problem is with us meeting the Judges’ Club, Al-Qadi said.

The Judges’ Club is a non-governmental organization, a number of whose members openly criticized the government’s handling of parliamentary elections last year. They seek greater independence for the judiciary. According to Geneina, the club is unique in the Arab world in its appeals for judicial freedom.

The club’s decision not to attend the meeting has been criticized by some rights groups. “Weighing up the potential losses they could have incurred by holding the meeting, Amin said, “they simultaneously lost much of the sympathy they enjoyed from international rights groups in general.

Wagid Abdel Aziz, director of the Southern Center for Human Rights Studies, agreed, adding, “Not only does the incident expose the pressures faced by the judiciary, but also the inherently unhealthy relationship between the judiciary and the executive. IRIN

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