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Egyptian civilians face military trials under new law

(Human Rights Watch/IFEX) - 10 December 2012 - The law that President Mohamed Morsy of Egypt issued on December 9, 2012, grants the military authority to arrest civilians and refer them to military courts until results are announced in the scheduled December 15 constitutional referendum. Morsy should immediately amend the law to prohibit trials of civilians before military courts and require the military to promptly hand over any detained civilians to civilian prosecutors.

Law No. 107 of 2012, the 11th law Morsy has issued since taking over legislative authority from the military in August, grants law enforcement powers to the armed forces without any protections against the referral of civilians for military trials. Past Human Rights Watch research, primarily during military rule, found that military involvement in law enforcement was accompanied by serious abuses including excessive use of force, torture, and sexual assault.

“Any deployment of the Egyptian military to help maintain security needs to be accompanied by guarantees to respect basic rights,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “President Morsy should be ending, not expanding, military trials of civilians.”

The new law ignores a June administrative court decision annulling a similar decree issued by the justice minister during military rule. Unfair military trials of civilians were one of the most serious violations Egyptians experienced during the more than a year-and-a-half of military rule, with over 12,000 civilians tried before military courts.

Law No. 107 gives the military law enforcement powers that raise serious human rights concerns, Human Rights Watch said. Article 1 provides for deploying the military to provide security until the referendum results are announced. Article 2 states that members of the armed forces shall have “all powers of judicial arrest authority.” Article 3 provides that military officers should hand over those arrested to the appropriate prosecution, “without contravening the jurisdiction of the military justice system.” Articles 2 and 3 are of particular concern because over the past two years the Egyptian military has considered any involvement of a military officer in law enforcement sufficient jurisdictional basis to bring those civilians before military courts, Human Rights Watch said.

Human Rights Watch strongly opposes any trials of civilians before military courts. The African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights, in interpreting the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, has said that military courts “should not, in any circumstances whatsoever, have jurisdiction over civilians.”

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