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UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Egypt, Western Sahara

19 February 2013

Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Rupert Colville
Location: Geneva

1) Egypt

We regret that the draft law on demonstrations approved by the Cabinet on 13 February does not sufficiently take into account comments submitted by OHCHR and other human rights organizations.

Freedom of assembly, which is one of the cornerstones of democracy, is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as well as in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (article 21) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (article 8), both of which were ratified by Egypt in 1982.

Although freedom of assembly can be subject to certain restrictions, freedom should be considered the rule, and restrictions the exception. In its current form, the draft law raises concern with regard to the type and scope of limitations imposed.

In particular, the draft law imposes criminal sanctions on organizers who fail to comply with legal requirements for organizing an assembly.

It also imposes broad restrictions on public-order grounds and unduly limits the choice of places where assemblies may occur, while giving too much discretion to the Ministry of Interior to object to assemblies.

No one should be criminalized or subjected to any threats or acts of violence, harassment or persecution for addressing human rights issues through peaceful protests.

We strongly advise that there should be further consideration of the content of the draft law so to ensure it complies with international human rights law standards.

2) Western Sahara

We are concerned by the use of a military court to try and convict 25 Saharan civilians charged in relation to violence during and after the dismantling of the Gdim Izik protest camp near Laayoune, Western Sahara, in November 2010, when 11 members of the Moroccan security forces and two Saharans were killed.

The 25 civilians were sentenced to between two years and life in prison by the Permanent Military Tribunal of the Royal Armed Forces in Rabat during the night of 16 to 17 February 2013.

As noted by the Human Rights Committee, the use of military or special courts to try civilians raises serious problems as far as the equitable, impartial and independent administration of justice is concerned.

We are also concerned by reports that most of the accused allege they were tortured or ill-treated during their pre-trial detention, but that no investigations into these allegations appear to have taken place. This was a very serious event, involving substantial loss of life, and it is important that justice is done, but it is also important that the judicial processes scrupulously abide by international fair trial standards.

ENDS

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