UN statement condemns government's actions

Joseph Mayton
5 Min Read

CAIRO: Three independent United Nations human rights experts condemned the actions of the Egyptian government during the dispute with judges Mahmoud Mekki and Hisham El Bastawisy. The experts expressed their concern in regard to the decision to transfer Mekki and El Bastawisy to the disciplinary council.

The statement was issued by Leandro Despouy, special rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Hina Jilani, special representative of the secretary-general on human rights defenders and Ambeyi Ligabo.

“Today [the experts] expressed grave concern over recent attacks against the judiciary in Egypt and the severe repression of demonstrations organized by civil society in support of the judiciary, the statement read.

The statement discussed the importance of freedom of expression and electoral fraud, which El Bastawisy and Mekki attempted to reveal. “The independent experts are gravely worried that this decision represents a means to punish El Bastawisy for exercising his right to freedom of expression with regards to the allegations of widespread electoral fraud during the parliamentary elections of 2005 and deter other judges from further action in favor of judicial reform, the statement said.

On September 2, 2005, just five days before last year’s historic presidential vote, the judiciary cut a deal with the government and agreed to supervise the election. Experts say a major factor in persuading them to agree was the establishment of the Electoral Commission, which would serve as a mediator between the executive and judicial branches.Parliamentary elections, which have been held in three phases since 2000 to ensure judicial supervision at all polling stations, revealed shortcomings in the government’s sincerity to reform, say Egyptian opposition forces. A number of electoral monitoring groups spoke of rampant irregularities at polling stations across the country, though violence overshadowed much of the headlines in the second and third phases of voting.

El Bastawisy and Mekki spearheaded a judge’s report on the misuse of power during the parliamentary elections, which led to their prosecution by the government. Mass demonstrations in support of the judges were organized during their court appearances in April and May. The government used violent means to suppress such dissent, says the statement by the UN experts.

“The experts also expressed alarm regarding the excessive use of force displayed against judges, human rights defenders, journalists and civil society in general during their peaceful protests in support of the independence of the judiciary and the two investigated judges, the UN experts wrote.

The statement noted the numerous arrests of “peaceful demonstrators during the protests. The statement also notes the severe beatings of activists, their arrests and the use of force to inhibit journalists from doing their job.

Most concerning for the experts is that judicial independence has not been guaranteed by the actions of the government over the past few months.

“In particular, the independent experts are disturbed by the fact that this decision may aim at deterring the other judges whose immunity has also been lifted from continuing their calls for amending the Judicial Authority Law to guarantee the impartiality and the financial and administrative independence of the judiciary.

The experts note the concerns expressed by a number of Egyptian judges at provisions included in the proposed Judicial Authority Law, which reportedly may undermine the independence of the judiciary by providing the minister of justice power to determine the composition of the Supreme Judicial Council, to appoint the Head of the Court of Cassation and to decide the budget.

“Such control of the Supreme Judicial Council allows the minister to influence that body s decisions on the appointment, promotion, transfer and discipline of all judges, said the statement.

The independent experts reiterated their concern that they already expressed to the government on different occasions in the past few months, but in relation to which they have received no response. They said that judges are entitled to freedom of opinion and expression, belief, association and assembly, and that “they are free to exercise these rights in particular in order to represent their interests, to promote their professional training and to protect their judicial independence.

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