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By Godfrey Olukya 27-11-2013

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay has warned that a
new law regulating demonstrations in Egypt could lead to serious
breaches of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and must be
amended,Africa Press has reported.

The law gives wide-ranging powers to local security authorities to ban
such gatherings. Article 7 of the law prohibits protesters from
conduct that would, among other things, constitute a threat to
“security” and “public order,” “disrupt citizens’ interests,” or
obstruct justice, without providing clear definitions of those terms.

“International law requires precision in detailing what specific
conduct is prohibited by law,” Pillay said.

“This is a country whose people have proclaimed loudly, clearly,
courageously and repeatedly their desire to be able to demonstrate
peacefully in accordance with their international human rights,” she
said. “Egyptian civil society organizations and human rights defenders
raised many concerns, but unfortunately these have not been taken into
account.”

“Of particular concern are the provisions on the use of force by law
enforcement officials and the excessive sanctions, including massive
fines as well as prison sentences, that can be imposed on those found
to be in breach of this law,” the High Commissioner said.

The new law prescribes a list of escalating measures that law
enforcement authorities can employ, after issuing warnings, to
disperse unruly demonstrators. These include use of tear gas, water
cannon, smoke grenades, warning shots, rubber bullets and even live
ammunition.

“There has been a succession of extremely serious incidents over the
past three years when the authorities are alleged to have used
excessive force against protestors — most recently during the deadly
14 August events in Rabaa al-Adawiya in Cairo,” Pillay said. “The law
should make it absolutely clear that, in accordance with international
standards, intentional lethal use of firearms may only be made when
strictly unavoidable in order to protect life.” *

“There is a real risk that the lives of peaceful protestors will be
put at risk because of the violent behaviour of a few, or because the
law may too easily be interpreted by local security authorities in a
way that permits them to use excessive force in inappropriate
circumstances,” the High Commissioner said.

Organisers of protests are required by the new law to give at least
three days’ notice to the police (except during election periods when
it is reduced to 24 hours). “This effectively outlaws spontaneous
peaceful demonstrations,” Pillay said.

“The law is also much too wide-ranging in terms of restricting
locations,” she said. “Article 5, for example, has a sweeping ban on
public meetings or assembly for political purposes in and around
places of worship. There are tens of thousands of mosques, churches,
shrines and other such places of worship in Egypt.”

“No one should be criminalised or subject to any threats or acts of
violence, harassment, persecution, intimidation or reprisals for
addressing human rights issues through peaceful protest,” the High
Commissioner stressed. “The fact that the law criminalises acts by
demonstrators which may breach ‘security and public order,’ without
clearly defining these terms, leaves the door open to a very
restrictive and repressive interpretation.”

“Assembly organizers should not be held liable for the violent
behavior committed by others,” she said. “Instead, police have the
duty to remove individuals committing violent acts from the crowd in
order to allow protesters to exercise their basic rights to assemble
and express themselves peacefully.”

“I urge the authorities to amend or repeal this seriously flawed new
law,” Pillay said.

The right to freedom of assembly is enshrined in the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights and is guaranteed by major human rights
treaties, in particular, by article 21 of the International Covenant
on Political and Civil Rights, and article 8 of the International
Covenant on Social, Cultural and Economic Rights, both ratified by
Egypt in 1982.

END

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