Participants in the conference on “The Role of the Judiciary in the Process of Political Reform in Egypt and in the Arab World” held in Cairo from 1st to 3rd April, 2006 declared that the independence and immunity of the judiciary are not only safeguards for justice and freedom for citizens, but are also a prerequisite for the very freedom of Arab countries. Aware of this fact in their struggle for independence throughout numerous decades, Egyptian judiciary and judges merit independence from the other two authorities. Judges consider their experience as an example to be followed in the Arab region and countries of the Third World.
It is worth mentioning that the conference was organized by the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) in coordination with the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the EuroMediterranean Network for Human Rights (REMDH), with the support of the European Commission. About 120 female and male judges, human rights activists, lawyers, writers and academics participated in the conference. Most of them came from 11 Arab states (Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, UAE, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen and Egypt), while some came from France, Germany, USA. Participants included representatives of a number of international institutions, foreign and Arab diplomats, acting as observers, in addition to journalists.
Participants have followed with deep concern what could be the premises of a new crisis, with the decision to interrogate six of the Egyptian Court of Cassation’s Vice-Presidents. Two of the heads of the Court’s circuits have also been notified of warnings relating to the exercise of their constitutional right to freely express their opinions through mass media and in their professional association known as The Judges Club. Such government practices bring to mind the 1969 “massacre of the judiciary “. Sadly, these recent measures have been jointly taken by the Ministry of Justice and the Supreme Judicial Council.
They were announced in statements and declarations spread through governmental satellite channels, audio-visual and printed media. Participants in the conference consider that the judges’ struggle against depriving legal texts of their content and in favor of their independence is in fact a serious endeavor to put into force the fundamental principles of the independence of the judiciary and the international human rights standards.
1- The position of the Egyptian government and the Supreme Judicial Council against judges demanding judicial reform and impartial elections. Participants affirm their solidarity with judges and call upon all Arab political and civil forces and international organizations to exert efforts to stop the arbitrary measures taken against them. They also refuse any procedure or decision that may deprive judges of their freedom of expression and of their right to express their opinion through mass media and/or through international and national civil society associations, including judicial associations. They also denounce the media campaign, sponsored by the Egyptian government and its loyalists, against the Judges Club and judges defending their independence and the independence of the judiciary. Such a campaign is considered by the participants to be wrongly organized against judges exercising their legitimate right to reach out to the public opinion and to international and national institutions. Besides, it is meant to black out facts away from the international and national public opinion;
2- The position of the Tunisian government, its gross interference in the affairs of the Association of Tunisian Judges and harassment of members of its Executive Bureau and Administrative Board, in particular: Mokhtar al-Yehyawi, Mohammed Khaleefy, Abdel-Baqi Kreb, Ahmed el-Rahmouny, Kalthoum Kno, Roqia Qarafi, Wasila el-Keabi and Lila Bahrya. Participants call upon international organizations to refuse to recognize the government-imposed changes in the Administrative Board of the Association of Tunisian Judges, and to denounce government seditionary practices;
3- The pressures that some Arab governments exercise on judges to join the ruling party, in particular in Syria, Sudan and Yemen. Participants assert that judges’ affiliation to any political party deprives them of their judicial capacity, since it conflicts with the requirements of neutrality and impartiality;
4- The position of most Arab governments with regard to non-respect of the fundamental principles of the independence of the judiciary – especially in judicial cases in which the state is a party – and of freedom of expression, fundamental freedoms and freedom of the press;
5- The position of the Egyptian authorities with regard to the prevention of the coverage by some satellite channels of the proceedings of this conference. This indicates the desire on the part of the government to impose a blackout in Egypt and in the world on facts and views relating to judges and the independence of the judiciary.
Furthermore, participants in the conference assert the following:
First: That securing the independence of the judiciary and the separation of the three authorities is the right approach to and a prerequisite for any political, economic, cultural or social reform in any state. They are also the only means to avoid having national cases investigated by international bodies or tribunals. Thus, participants support the demand by the Judges Club – which is the sole legitimate election-based representative of Egypt’s judges – that the Law on the Judicial Authority be amended, provided that it includes the following:
a) That the head and members of the Supreme Judicial Council, the attorney general and other leading posts in the judiciary be elected by judges themselves, without interference from any other authority;
b) That no judge be appointed in or delegated to work in non-judicial posts;
c) That the judicial authority have an independent budget, safeguarded against the interference of the other two authorities;
d) That no authority, apart from the Supreme Judicial Council – whose majority of members will be elected – interfere in the appointment, promotion, transfer or discipline of any judge in any practical or legal way;
e) That cases be distributed to courts and judges according to a pre-established abstract rule, and that no text or measure allow any authority or person to file a case to be considered before a specific judge.
Second: That judges’ freedom of opinion, expression, assembly and right to establish independent associations be safeguarded. Enforcing judges’ right to establish national and regional civil associations in the Arab World is a guarantee for having an independent judiciary. Besides, establishing associations is a legitimate means for judges to concert their efforts and defend their interests. Associations are the natural place for judges to exercise their right to freedom of opinion, expression and assembly, and to share experience. Associations should, however, be independent from any state’s authority and should be only subject to their general assemblies. Their Board of Directors and all bodies and branches should be composed on the basis of free and direct elections. Participants in the conference undertake to provide necessary support for establishing such associations in the Arab region, and help them undertake their mission. They also undertake to urge all states and international organizations to contribute in support of such associations.
Third: That all exceptional courts be cancelled, that all judicial bodies be combined in one judicial authority and that the unwarrantedly imposed state of emergency be raised in state of the Arab region. It is also necessary to set regulations to restrict the right to impose emergency measures, and to work on establishing a judicial police only subject to judicial authority. Such a police should be entrusted with the implementation of rulings and with the management of all kinds of prisons
In 1969, after a group of reformers and critics of the regime’s authoritarianism won an election for the board of the Judges Club, the direct challenge posed by the vocal judicial leadership proved intolerable to the regime. Nasser responded with a series of measures subsequently referred to as the “massacre of the judiciary,” including the dismissal of over a hundred sitting judges.
This post is also available in: العربية