Political Reform in the Egyptian-European Negotiations

In Egypt /Road Map Program, Euro-Mediterranean Partnership by

The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) has submitted to the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the European Commission (EC) a memorandum on the priorities of the issues of human rights and political reform, to be considered during the negotiations between the two parties on the joint plan of action in the framework of the policy of neighborhood, the third round of which was completed yesterday in entire secrecy. CIHRS communicated the detailed 11 page memo to the two parties since 10 days on February 12th.

Noting worthy is that the joint plan of action being negotiated by the two parties includes a specific chapter on dialogue and political reform. The memorandum is based on the notion that the recommendation, for the implementation thereof no time schedule is specified, shall be deemed insignificant. The memo proposed the beginning with implementing of the clauses on anti-torture, elimination of the state of emergency, improvement of the status of prisoners and detainees, granting freedom to organize parties, trade unions, NGOs, students union, and judges independence, during the first two years as of the date of signing, since the majority of these demands and the draft legislative amendments related to it have been requested since more than 15 years by the experts in the United Nations Human Rights Committee, UN Committee Against Torture, Egyptian and international human rights organizations, judges&#146 club, and the National Council for Human Rights.

The demands in the memo included that the government ceases to apply the emergency law with no delay whatsoever, and not to renew it after next May, or replace it with a combacting terrorism Law, particularly that the law being currently drafted is a mere colony of the emergency law. Another demand is to incorporate amendments to the laws of penalties and criminal procedures, with a view to putting a limit to the spread of torture, ensuring the right of its victims to resort to the judiciary, granting no protection to the perpetrators of torture, destroying any devices used for the purpose of torture or abuse in the places of arrest, detention and prisons. This should be announced to the public. The Ministry of Interior, together with the Prosecutor General shall make an official declaration, in which they identify the time limit each of them shall abide by with respect to responding to torture-related complaints. The Prosecutor General shall publish a white book stating in details the actions taken in the thousands of torture-related complaints during the last 15 years, with particular emphasis on cases of death because of torture. Among the demands also are giving permission to human rights organizations to visit prisons and detention places to investigate the status of prisoners and detainees; enacting a new law on the authority of the judiciary to be consistent with the international standards on judicial independence; ensuring the independence of the Prosecution General, and annulling the text stipulating for its affiliation to the Ministry of Justice.

The memo recommended the abrogation of the Law on Political Parties number 40 of 1977 and the amendments thereto of 2005, Law on NGOs number 84 of 2002, Law on Professional Trade Unions number 100 of 1993, Law on Trade Unions number 35 of 1976, and the Regulations on Students Unions 1979. This shall come together with the elimination of other security, legislative and administrative constraints on the right to association, to form political parties, and to organize professional and workers trade unions and students unions, to use audio, visual and printed media, and setting new legislations in compliance with the international human rights standards. There should be guarantees to ensure the independence of universities from government and security control. The punishment of arrest in publication-related issues should be abolished. The recommendations also stressed that the definition of civil society organization shall not be limited to those registered under the Law on NGOs, unless a new legislation regulating the operation of NGOs according to the international standards is being enacted, taking into consideration benefiting from the alternative draft law previously proposed by three rights-based organizations.The memorandum demonstrated that limiting the dealing with the civil society on the organizations registered under the currently applicable tyrant law is a grave mistake, and this constitutes a retreat from the norms and traditions applicable in the United Nations bodies. The memorandum also stressed that it is necessary to avoid making reference to or invoking the Egyptian legislations with respect to the section on political reform in the plan of action, and constantly rely on international standards and conventions on human rights, with a view to avoiding any impairment in such legislations in contrast with the international law on human rights, particularly since the Egyptian constitution deals with the international conventions ratified by Egypt as being national legislation.

On the other hand, the memorandum called for having in place an effective monitoring and follow up system; and setting specified standards on measuring the progress made with respect to the fulfillment of the clauses stipulated in the plan of action, and involving the civil society in monitoring the fulfillment thereof. The memorandum also recommended the establishment of a joint sub-committee to be entrusted with following up the human rights file, and the membership thereto shall be open to all NGOs operating in the field of human rights in both Egypt and Europe. The memo also contained recommendations on narrowing the scope of the execution of the capital punishment as an introduction to abolish it, recommendations on the freedom of thought and belief, and rights of women, child, disabled and the refugees; reforming electoral system; ensuring full judicial oversight on the elections; legalizing the right of Egyptian and international civil society organizations to monitor and oversee the elections; as well as seeking the experience of the United Nations and the European Union in organizing the elections.

It is worth mentioning that the neighborhood policy negotiations have started in Cairo in September 2005, and the second round took place in Brussels in December. Despite the fact that the Egyptian government approved to incorporate the political reform within the negotiations on the joint plan of action, it has reservations regarding the commitment to take some concrete steps, with the pretext that such falls within its national sovereignty.

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