UN rights experts urge Egypt to guarantee independence of judiciary; deplore attacks

14 June 2006 –

Expressing “grave concern” over recent attacks against the judiciary in Egypt and the severe repression of demonstrations supporting the judiciary, three independent United Nations human rights experts today urged the Government to guarantee judges’ freedom of opinion and expression and judicial independence.

The experts also expressed “serious concern” regarding the Egyptian Government’s decision to transfer two Deputy Heads of the Court of Cassation, Judges Mahmoud Mekki and Hisham al-Bastawissi, to the Disciplinary Council, where Judge al-Batawissi was found guilty of disparaging the Supreme Judicial Council and talking to the press about political affairs. Judge Mekki was cleared of all charges.

“The independent experts are gravely worried that this decision represents a means to punish Judge al-Batawissi for exercising his right to freedom of expression with regards to the allegations of widespread electoral fraud during the parliamentary elections of 2005 and deter other judges from further action in favour of judicial reform,” they said in a statement issued in Geneva.

“In particular, the independent experts are disturbed by the fact that this decision may aim at deterring the other judges whose immunity has also been lifted from continuing their calls for amending the Judicial Authority Law to guarantee the impartiality and the financial and administrative independence of the judiciary.”

The experts also noted the concerns expressed by a number of Egyptian judges at several provisions in the proposed Judicial Authority Law “which reportedly may undermine the independence of the judiciary.” Ahead of the law being submitted to Parliament this week they called on the Government to ensure the judges’ proposals are taken into consideration.

The experts, known as Special Rapporteurs, are unpaid and serve in an independent personal capacity. They received their mandate from the now defunct UN Commission on Human Rights and will report to the newly established and enhanced Human Rights Council, which is to be inaugurated in Geneva next Monday.

They also expressed alarm regarding the “excessive use of force” displayed against judges, human rights defenders, journalists and civil society in general during their peaceful protests in support of the independence of the judiciary and the two investigated judges.”

The experts reaffirmed that judges, like other citizens, are “entitled to freedom of opinion and expression, belief, association and assembly, and that they are free to exercise these rights in particular in order to represent their interests, to promote their professional training and to protect their judicial independence.”

“They urge the Government to take all appropriate measures to guarantee both these freedoms and the independence of the judiciary, which is a fundamental safeguard for justice and for the protection of the human rights of all people in Egypt”.

The three experts are: Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Leandro Despouy; Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Human Rights Defenders, Hina Jilani; and Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Ambeyi Ligabo.

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