News / Africa

    UN Rights Official Slams Credibility of Egypt’s New Constitution

    United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay
    x
    United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay
    United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay
    Lisa Schlein
    GENEVA — The U.N.’s top human rights official is expressing alarm at the violence and deaths of people opposed to Egypt’s new draft constitution.  Navi Pillay says she has numerous concerns about the text, which she believes weakens and undermines many of the human rights and freedoms of the Egyptian people.   
     
    U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay questions the haste with which Egypt’s largely-Islamist constituent assembly adopted the final text of the draft constitution for presidential action. She says this and many of the surrounding circumstances have put the credibility of the process into doubt and contributed to the chaos in the Egyptian capital, Cairo, and other cities.
     
    Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi’s call to hold a constitutional referendum on December 15 has sparked the most violent protests since he assumed power in June.

    In the past two days, at least seven people have died and nearly 700 been injured in clashes between supporters and opponents of the president. Speaking on national television Thursday, Morsi said he will not tolerate killings or sabotage.  
     
    Protestors are demanding the referendum not go ahead.  They say the constitution does not adequately represent them or protect their rights.  High Commissioner Pillay says she shares many of these concerns.  
     
    Her spokesman, Rupert Colville, says Pillay believes this disastrous situation has been developing in Egypt because most segments of Egyptian society have been locked out of the drafting process and too many of their concerns are not represented in the new draft constitution.
     
    “The draft constitution does provide some guarantees to some human rights," said Colville. "But there are also some very worrying omissions and ambiguities, and in some areas the protections in it are even weaker than in the 1971 Constitution it is supposed to replace.  The High Commissioner is highly concerned, for example, by the absence in the current draft of any reference to the international human rights treaties, which Egypt has ratified, and is bound to uphold.  The 1971 Constitution, by contrast, stipulated the legal standing of these treaties.”   
     
    Egypt has ratified most of the important human rights treaties.  These include the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
     
    Pillay notes many of the provisions in the draft constitution are at odds with international human rights norms.  She says its provisions should be clearly stated so that national laws do not undermine or conflict with international law.
     
    For example, she notes the draft constitution guarantees equality before the law, but does not explicitly prohibit discrimination on the grounds of gender, sex, religion and origin.
     
    Mona Rishmawi is chief of the Rule of Law and Equality Branch of the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights.  She says the text must clearly spell out provisions for protecting human rights.
     
    “You enforce these rights when you have a constitutional provision and you have a judiciary that are much more able to actually enforce these constitutional provisions," said Rishmawi. "But if you, on the one hand, limit the role of the judiciary and, on the other hand, minimize the constitutional provisions, then you have a real problem in the implementation, and that’s really our concern here.”   
     
    High Commissioner Pillay says human rights must be guaranteed by law and enforced by independent courts.  She says a provision of the draft constitution marks a serious step backwards from the 1971 constitution, which states that judges of the Supreme Constitutional Court cannot be removed from their positions.
     
    After Egyptian President Morsi granted himself near absolute power on November 22, he stripped many judges of their ability to make judicial decisions.  This prompted the judges to go on strike and refuse to oversee the constitutional referendum.

    You May Like

    US, Somalia Launch New Chapter in Relations

    US sends first ambassador to Somalia in 25 years; diplomatic presence and forces pulled out in 1993, after 18 US soldiers were killed when militiamen shot down military helicopter

    Brexit Vote Ripples Across South Asia

    Experts say exit is likely to have far-reaching economic, political and social implications for a region with deep historic ties to Britain

    Russian Military Tests Readiness With Snap Inspections

    Some observers see surprise drill as tit-for-tat response to NATO’s recent multinational military exercises in Baltic region

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Testing Bamboo as Building Materiali
    X
    June 27, 2016 9:06 PM
    For thousands of years various species of bamboo - one of the world's most versatile plants - have been used for diverse purposes ranging from food and medicine to textiles and construction. But its use on a large scale is hampered because it's not manufactured to specific standards but grown in the ground. A University of Pittsburgh professor is on track to changing that. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Testing Bamboo as Building Material

    For thousands of years various species of bamboo - one of the world's most versatile plants - have been used for diverse purposes ranging from food and medicine to textiles and construction. But its use on a large scale is hampered because it's not manufactured to specific standards but grown in the ground. A University of Pittsburgh professor is on track to changing that. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Orphanage in Iraqi City Houses Kids Who Lost their Parents to Attacks by IS

    An orphanage in Iraqi Kurdistan has become home to scores of Yazidi children who lost their parents after Islamic State militants took over Sinjar in Iraq’s Nineveh Province in 2014. Iraqi Kurdish forces backed by the U.S. airstrikes have since recaptured Sinjar but the need for the care provided by the orphanage continues. VOA’s Kawa Omar filed this report narrated by Rob Raffaele.
    Video

    Video Re-Opening Old Wounds in a Bullet-Riddled Cultural Landmark

    A cultural landmark before Lebanon’s civil war transformed it into a nest of snipers, Beirut’s ‘Yellow House’ is once again set to play a crucial role in the city.  Built in a neo-Ottoman style in the 1920s, in September it is set to be re-opened as a ‘memory museum’ - its bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking the city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Brexit Resounds in US Presidential Contest

    Britain’s decision to leave the European Union is resounding in America’s presidential race. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump sees Britain’s move as an affirmation of his campaign’s core messages, while Democrat Hillary Clinton sees the episode as further evidence that Trump is unfit to be president.
    Video

    Video New York Pride March A Celebration of Life, Mourning of Loss

    At this year’s march in New York marking the end of pride week, a record-breaking crowd of LGBT activists and allies marched down Manhattan's Fifth Avenue, in what will be long remembered as a powerful display of solidarity and remembrance for the 49 victims killed two weeks ago in an Orlando gay nightclub.
    Video

    Video NASA Juno Spacecraft, Nearing Jupiter, to Shed Light on Gas Giant

    After a five-year journey, the spacecraft Juno is nearing its destination, the giant planet Jupiter, where it will enter orbit and start sending data back July 4th. As Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, the craft will pierce the veil of Jupiter's dense cloud cover to reveal its mysteries.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.
    Video

    Video Tunisian Fishing Town Searches for Jobs, Local Development Solutions

    As the European Union tries to come to grips with its migrant crisis, some newcomers are leaving voluntarily. But those returning to their home countries face an uncertain future.  Five years after Tunisia's revolution, the tiny North African country is struggling with unrest, soaring unemployment and plummeting growth. From the southern Tunisian fishing town of Zarzis, Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at a search for local solutions.
    Video

    Video 'American Troops' in Russia Despite Tensions

    Historic battle re-enactment is a niche hobby with a fair number of adherents in Russia where past military victories are played-up by the Kremlin as a show of national strength. But, one group of World War II re-enactors in Moscow has the rare distinction of choosing to play western ally troops. VOA's Daniel Schearf explains.
    Video

    Video Muslim American Mayor Calls for Tolerance

    Syrian-born Mohamed Khairullah describes himself as "an American mayor who happens to be Muslim." As the three-term mayor of Prospect Park, New Jersey, he believes his town of 6,000 is an example of how ethnicity and religious beliefs should not determine a community's leadership. Ramon Taylor has this report from Prospect Park.
    Video

    Video Internal Rifts Over Syria Policy Could Be Headache for Next US President

    With the Obama administration showing little outward enthusiasm for adopting a more robust Syria policy, there is a strong likelihood that the internal discontent expressed by State Department employees will roll over to the next administration. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports.
    Video

    Video Senegal to Park Colorful ‘Cars Rapides’ Permanently

    Brightly painted cars rapide are a hallmark of Dakar, offering residents a cheap way to get around the capital city since 1976. But the privately owned minibuses are scheduled to be parked for good in late 2018, as Ricci Shryock reports for VOA.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora