Parliamentary Committee Should Reject Terror-Related Constitutional Amendment
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Sunday 18 February 2007
The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) warned against the suspension of fundamental constitutional rights in the name of fighting terrorism. As members of the Legislative and Constitutional Committee of the People's Assembly begin drafting amendments to 34 articles of the Constitution today, the EIPR urged them to reject the proposal for a new article that would grant security forces the power to circumvent other constitutional provisions in counter-terrorism measures.
In a letter addressed to both houses of the Parliament on 26 December 2006, President Hosni Mubarak proposed the introduction into the Constitution of Article 179, which would provide for "constitutional protection of the measures" taken in the fight against terror. The President specifically requested a constitutional provision that would allow counter-terrorism measures to avoid the basic rights provisions of Articles 41 (on arrest and due process), 44 (on house searches) and 45 (on the privacy of correspondence and communications) of the Constitution.
"The President's proposal to extend constitutional protection to exceptional security measures while depriving citizens of the same protection is simply unacceptable," said Hossam Bahgat, Director of the EIPR. "Basic rights are protected by our Constitution precisely in order to prevent impinging on them by excessive powers such as those proposed in the President's letter to the Parliament."
The EIPR said it was deeply concerned about the prospect of removing anti-terror measures outside the sphere of constitutional protection of basic freedoms, particularly in light of the broad and vague definition of terrorism in Egypt's Penal Code. Article 86, introduced into the Penal Code in 1992, classifies as terrorism such acts that could fall under the peaceful exercise of human rights protected both by the Constitution and by international human rights treaties ratified by Egypt, such as the right to freedom of expression and assembly
During two parliamentary hearings convened by the People's Assembly last week, constitutional law professors invited to comment on the amendments expressed strong objections to the proposed Article 179 and warned against its impact on freedoms. The EIPR strongly calls on lawmakers to take these expert opinions into account while drafting the amended articles.
The EIPR reiterated that subjecting the excessive counter-terrorism measures to retroactive judicial oversight will stop short of providing the necessary safeguards against abuse by security agencies. "Since the state of emergency was declared in 1981, retroactive judicial oversight provided by the Emergency Law offered little protection against systematic violations of human rights at the hands of security officials," said Bahgat. "The proposed Article 179 will only sustain this atmosphere of impunity and even embed it in the country's Constitution."
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