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
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

Video Russia’s Syrian Escalation Tests Obama’s Crisis Response

Critics once again question whether president has been slow to act on Syrian conflict, thus creating opening for powers like Russia More

Ancient African DNA Shows Mass Migration Back Into Africa

First genetic analysis of ancient human remains in Africa suggests massive migration from north around time of Egyptian empire More

NASA: Pluto Has Blue Sky

New photos also reveal the presence of water ice More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugeesi
Henry Ridgwell
October 08, 2015 8:02 PM
Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugees

Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Iraqi-Kurdish Teachers Vow to Continue Protest

Sixteen people were injured when police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse teachers and other public employees who took to the streets in Iraq’s Kurdish north, demanding their salaries from the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). VOA’s Dilshad Anwar, in Sulaimaniya, caught up with protesting teachers who say they have not been paid for three months. Parke Brewer narrates his report.

Video Syrian Village Community Faces Double Displacement in Lebanon

Driven by war from their village in southwestern Syria, a group of families found shelter in Lebanon, resettling en masse in a half-built university to form one of the biggest settlements of its kind in Lebanon. Three years later, however, they now face being kicked out and dispersed in a country where finding shelter as a refugee can be especially tough. John Owens has more for VOA from the city of Saida, also known as Sidon.

Video Bat Colony: Unusual Tourist Attraction in Texas

The action hero Batman might be everyone’s favorite but real bats hardly get that kind of adoration. Put more than a million of these creatures of the night together and it only evokes images of horror. Sarah Zaman visited the largest urban bat colony in North America to see just how well bat and human get along with each other.

Video Device Shows Promise of Stopping Motion Sickness

It’s a sickening feeling — the dizziness, nausea and vomiting that comes with motion sickness. But a device now being developed could stop motion sickness by suppressing certain signals in the brain. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Making a Mint

While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Activists Decry Lagos Slum Demolition

Acting on a court order, authorities in Nigeria demolished a slum last month in the commercial capital, Lagos. But human rights activists say the order was illegal, and the community was razed to make way for a government housing project. Chris Stein has more from Lagos.

Video TPP Agreed, But Faces Stiff Opposition

President Barack Obama promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Tuesday, one day after 12 Pacific Rim nations reached the free trade deal in Atlanta. The controversial pact that would involve about 40 percent of global trade still needs approval by lawmakers in respective countries. Zlatica Hoke reports Obama is facing strong opposition to the deal, including from members of his own party.

Video Ukranian Artist Portrays Putin in an Unusual Way

As Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing the United Nations in New York last month, he was also being featured in an art exhibition in Washington. It’s not a flattering exhibit. It’s done by a Ukrainian artist in a unique medium. And its creator says it’s not only a work of art - it’s a political statement. VOA’s Tetiana Kharchenko has more.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

VOA Blogs