Egypt rejects abolition of death penalty, inheritance equality rec. from UN
A view of the Human Rights and Alliance of Civilizations Room at the Palais des Nations- UN Photo

CAIRO: Egypt will not approve the abolition of the death penalty or equal inheritance for men and women, two of the recommendations from the United Nations Universal Periodic Review, the Ministry of Transitional Justice stated Thursday.

Egypt has “reservations” about the two recommendations for “established constitutional and societal reasons,” the ministry said, adding that the final response to the recommendations would be issued in March.

“In principle, I do not believe the Egyptian society is ready for the abolition of the capital punishment. However, it is necessary that the government narrows down the crimes to which the death sentence applies, so only execution rulings upheld by the Islamic law are implemented,” leading member of the state-funded National Council for Human Rights Hafez Abou Se’da told The Cairo Post Saturday.

Egypt received more than 300 recommendations from 122 states in November, in an almost double rise from the 171 recommendations the country received in the 2010 UPR, of which it accepted 135.

“The government cannot violate the Quran. But, for example, the death penalty for drug dealers has not and will not end bring about any positive result. Also, we are against the execution rulings on political grounds,” Abou Se’da said.

Egyptian law is principally based on Islamic Sharia, however it does not apply all Quranic teaching. Judges traditionally refer cases to the Grand Mufti for consultation on death sentences, but they are not bound to apply the Mufti’s opinion. Further, judges may, but are not obligated to, turn to the codes that stipulate executions.

The 2014 suggestions from the UPR focused on amending the 2013 Protest Law, the proposed NGOs law, and, like in 2010, called for the abolition of the death penalty.

The capital punishment issue follows serious international concern after Egyptian courts in April sentenced 683 to death in primary rulings for their alleged involvement in mass violence, killings and sabotage across Egypt following the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi in July 2013. Rulings of executions, however, go through several levels of litigation and in many cases are commuted.

With 12 cases, Egypt ranked 17th out of 82 countries that executed convicts in 2007-2012, according to an Amnesty International report.  China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and the U.S. topped the list.

However, in June 2014 alone, Egypt executed some ten people on charges of murder, rape and robbery.

“The implementation of death sentences is a dangerous step regarding the right to life, after Egypt had applied a de facto moratorium since the end of 2011. It is also a worrying precedent in light of the current context where Egyptian courts are upholding mass death sentences against political opponents in trials that are marred by irregularities and violations of due process,” said Karim Lahidji, the president of the  International Federation for Human Rights, in a statement June 25.

Some of the crimes punishable by death in Egypt are murder, rape, abduction, drug trafficking, treason, espionage and terrorism.

Execution for civilians in Egypt is implemented by hanging in a private room at prison in the presence of the executioner, a cleric and a judicial official. Minors, the mentally ill and pregnant women are exempted from the punishment.

Inheritance law for Muslims in Egypt is governed by Islamic Sharia, which stipulates specific percentages for the immediate family, and in some cases for members of the extended family. Although sons inherit twice as much as daughters, there are a number of cases in which women inherit as much or more than men, depending on the heirs’ relation to the deceased, according to Egypt’s Dar al-Iftaa.

Egyptian Christians, who are not obligated to follow this law, settle inheritance matters at the church or courts.

Other recommendations that Egypt did not accept in 2010 were related to sexual orientation, presented by the U.S., Switzerland, Canada and Czech Republic. Egypt also did not accept recommendations tackling torture.

Some activists say that Egypt has intensified a crackdown against the LGBTQ community; although homosexuality itself is not explicitly illegal, many persons have been sentenced to years-long prison terms for “habitual debauchery.”

Egypt prepares for its response to the UPR

The National Committee on Human Rights, presided by Minister of Transitional Justice Ibrahim al-Heneidy convened Thursday to study the UPR recommendations, and was attended by the head of the National Council for Women’s Rights Mervat al-Talawy, first assistant to the foreign minister Hesham Badr, assistant to the Minister of Interior Medhat Basyouni, representative from the Attorney-General office Jude Mohamed Khalaf, and other representatives from the intelligence and the Ministry of Transitional Justice, the ministry statement said.

The committee thanked the non-governmental human rights organizations that traveled to Geneva to participate in the UPR and decided to invite them, as well as other organizations, to a meeting yet to be scheduled to discuss a “sustainable mechanism” between the government and the civil society.

Seven NGOs had submitted their reports on human rights in Egypt to the UPR but did not partake in the sessions in fear of “retaliatory measures or persecution” by the Egyptian authorities, and also objecting to the NGOs law proposed by the Ministry of Solidarity.

Some of the said organizations are the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI,) the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) and the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS.)

On Nov. 18, nine rights organizations, including the aforementioned, released a statement calling for a transparent dialogue with the Ministry of Solidarity to address the government’s “worries towards the role of the civil society.”

Although the Ministry of Solidarity had set a Nov. 10 deadline for NGOs to register with the government, it said in a Nov. 11 statement that it would study the case of each unregistered NGO individually and would then contact every NGO to “work on registering them.”

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