UN: New law on demonstrations in Egypt seriously flawed and must be amended

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Egyptians protest in Cairo in July 2013. Photo: UN News Centre

A new law enacted in Egypt to regulate demonstrations is likely to lead to serious breaches of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, according to the UN Human Rights Office (OHCHR).

The law gives wide-ranging powers to local security authorities to ban gatherings and prohibits protesters from conduct that would, among other things, constitute a threat to "security", public order, disrupt citizens' interests or obstruct justice.

The law further prescribes a list of measures that law enforcement authorities can employ to disperse unruly demonstrators, including the use of tear gas, water cannon, smoke grenades, warning shots, rubber bullets and even live ammunition.

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, says the law is seriously flawed and must be amended, as it may be interpreted by local security agencies as reason enough to permit them to use excessive force.

Rupert Colville is the Spokesperson for the UN Human Rights Office.

"Egyptian civil society organizations and human rights defenders raised many concerns about the new law when it was in draft, but unfortunately these have not been taken into account. Of particular concern are the provisions on the use of force by law enforcement officials and the excessive sanctions, including massive fines as well as prison sentences, that can be imposed on those found to be in breach of the law. The High Commissioner notes that there has been a succession of extremely serious incidents over the past three years when the authorities are alleged to have used excessive force against protestors. — most recently during the deadly 14 August events in Rabaa al-Adawiya in Cairo. The law she says should make it absolutely clear that, in accordance with international standards, intentional lethal use of firearms may only be made when strictly unavoidable in order to protect life."

The High Commissioner says no one should be criminalized or subject to any threats or acts of violence, harassment, persecution, intimidation or reprisals for addressing human rights issues through peaceful protest.

Patrick Maigua, United Nations Radio, Geneva.

Duration 2.09″

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