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Decrees issued by the Egyptian ruling military council and the Justice Minister in recent days sharply reduce civilian oversight of military actions, creating conditions ripe for further serious human rights violations, Human Rights Watch said today.
A June 4, 2012 Justice Ministry Decree empowers the military to arrest civilians. On June 17, the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) issued new Constitutional Declaration provisions that set out an expanded role for the military in civilian law enforcement, including continued trials of civilians before military courts. And a June 18 decree restructuring the National Defense Council gives the military expanded decision-making powers on internal as well as national security issues, Human Rights Watch said.
"The generals' relentless expansion of their authority to detain and try civilians now goes far beyond their powers under Hosni Mubarak," said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "These decrees are the latest indication yet that there won't be a meaningful handover to civilian rule on June 30."
Increasing military authority over law enforcement will invite continued abuses from an unaccountable military, Human Rights Watch said. Abuses by the military over the past year-and-a-half, including torture of protesters in detention and excessive use of lethal force in dispersing protests, have gone unpunished because civilian prosecutors do not have jurisdiction to investigate complaints against military personnel. That leaves victims of human rights abuses without a remedy, in violation of international law, Human Rights Watch said.
The Justice Ministry Decree
On June 13, the Official Gazette published Decree No. 4994, which Justice Minister Adel Abdel Hamid issued on June 4, four days after Egypt's longstanding State of Emergency expired.
The decree states:
Without prejudice to the mandate set out in the Code of Military Justice Law 25 of 1966, military police and military intelligence officers granted a law enforcement role by the Minister of Defense shall have judicial arresting authority for crimes committed by non-military personnel.
The decree says it would apply to crimes set out in chapters 1, 2, 2bis, 7, 12, and 13 of the Penal Code. These include crimes such as the one described in article 102 ("spreading false information with the purpose of affecting national security"); article 98(c) ("operating an unregistered association"); article 133 ("insulting a public official"); and article 184 ("insulting the military or parliament").
On June 14, the SCAF general for legal affairs, Gen. Mamdouh Shaheen, appearing on the live Egyptian television show Al Qahira Al Youm, said this decree was "for the general good... so that we can organize and bring security to the street. The good of the country requires a presence for the armed forces in the street to protect the country since the police are still unable to fully perform."
Lawyers and human rights organizations have filed at least five appeals before the Council of State, Egypt's highest administrative court, contending that the Justice Minister had exceeded his authority in issuing this decree. The judge assigned to the case held the first hearing on June 19 and the judge adjourned the trial to June 26.
"This decree authorizing military arrests of civilians appears to be an attempt to embed exceptional emergency law-like powers into regular law," Stork said. "The result is likely to be a continuation of abusive law enforcement practices."
Lack of Civilian Oversight and Military Accountability During Policing
Decree No. 4994 is of particular concern because the Egyptian military considers that its arrests of civilians constitute sufficient jurisdictional basis to then bring those civilians before military courts. International human rights law applicable in Egypt prohibits trials of civilians before military courts. Moreover, the military's close involvement in law enforcement has been characterized by widespread and serious human rights violations over the past year-and-a-half, Human Rights Watch said.
Human Rights Watch has documented dozens of cases of torture by the military during arrests and in detention, most recently in Abbasiya in May, and before that, brutal beatings of male and female protesters in December 2011. On March 9, 2011, military officers subjected female protesters in detention to virginity tests. In October, Human Rights Watch documented the excessive use of force by the military in policing protests, as well as apparent extrajudicial killings of protesters at Maspero, the state media center in downtown Cairo.
Decree No. 4994 also provides that chapter 2 of the Code of Criminal Procedure will regulate the involvement of military officers. Article 23 of chapter 2 provides that law enforcement officers are subject to oversight by the public prosecutor, who can order investigations in cases of violations or infractions.
However, the SCAF contends that the public prosecutor does not have oversight over military personnel and that only the military prosecutor can initiate an investigation into any violations on their part. As reflected in the latest amendments to the Code of Military Justice, passed on May 6 by parliament, and in the discussions in parliament with General Shaheen that preceded parliament's action, the military has refused to allow civilian prosecutors to determine when military courts have jurisdiction, insisting that only military prosecutors are competent to make that determination.
The absence of any civilian oversight of the military's involvement in law enforcement and the fact that civilian prosecutors cannot investigate military abuses has already led to a climate of impunity that encourages such abuses, Human Rights Watch said.
Legislative Developments Expand Military Role
The SCAF's military decree of June 17, which it called a "Constitutional Declaration," greatly expands the military's powers in law enforcement. Article 53 bis(2) states that:
[I]n cases of internal disturbances that require the intervention of the armed forces, the president may ask the SCAF for permission to order the armed forces to share in law enforcement duties and the protection of public institutions. The mandate and tasks of the armed forces, as well as regulations on the use of force, arrest, detention, jurisdiction, and accountability mechanisms shall be determined by law.
The SCAF has frequently considered peaceful protests criticizing its policies to be a threat to internal security.
On June 18, the Official Gazette published another previously unannounced military decree re-structuring the National Defense Council to augment its yet undefined mandate on "national security issues." Under the decree, the council has 11 military and six civilian members and can only make decisions through absolute majority, thereby giving the military a controlling role on issues of security, further limiting civilian oversight.
In the June 17 Constitutional Declaration, which came three days after the SCAF declared the recently elected parliament dissolved, the military granted itself legislative authority until a new parliament is elected. Since it took over legislative authority on February 13, 2011, the military has issued a number of laws that violate Egypt's obligations under international human rights law. In April 2011, the SCAF issued Law 34/2011, which effectively criminalizes the right to strike. In September 2011, the SCAF expanded the scope of application of the Emergency Law to include for the first time a charge limiting freedom of expression - "spreading false information."
The SCAF contends that the Code of Military Justice is a sound law and has used it to justify the trials of at least 12,000 civilians before military courts since it took power in February 2011. It clearly intends to rely on this law to protect its prerogative of trying civilians before these courts, Human Rights Watch said.
Human Rights Watch is one of the world's leading independent organizations dedicated to defending and protecting human rights. By focusing international attention where human rights are violated, we give voice to the oppressed and hold oppressors accountable for their crimes. Our rigorous, objective investigations and strategic, targeted advocacy build intense pressure for action and raise the cost of human rights abuse. For 30 years, Human Rights Watch has worked tenaciously to lay the legal and moral groundwork for deep-rooted change and has fought to bring greater justice and security to people around the world.
"At a time when online mobilizations were one of the few forms of protest available to the public, Twitter was seemingly asked to shield the powerful from criticism," said one campaigner. "That should worry all those who care about accountability."
Drugmaker BioNTech and the German government pushed Twitter to "hide" posts by activists calling on Big Pharma to temporarily lift patents on Covid-19 vaccines—a move which would have given people the Global South greater access to the lifesaving inoculations, a report published Monday by The Intercept revealed.
Twitter lobbyist Nina Morschhaeuser "flagged the corporate accounts of Pfizer, BioNTech, Moderna, and AstraZeneca for her colleagues to monitor and shield from activists," according to The Intercept's Lee Fang. An email from Morschhaeuser said the German Federal Office for Information Security also contacted Twitter on behalf of BioNTech, whose spokesperson, Jasmina Alatovic, asked the social media giant to "hide" activist tweets targeting her company's account for two days.
Morschhaeuser, meanwhile, requested that colleagues track the hashtags #PeoplesVaccine—a movement for the temporary lifting of patent protections—and #JoinCTAP, a reference to the World Health Organization's Covid-19 Technology Access Pool. Morschhaeuser further warned that the advocacy group Global Justice Now shared an online signup form for a December 2020 People's Vaccine Day of Action.
"The allegations in this article suggest that government and industry tried to silence legitimate criticism during a crisis," Maaza Seyoum, Global South convener at the People's Vaccine Alliance, said in a statement Monday. "At a time when online mobilizations were one of the few forms of protest available to the public, Twitter was seemingly asked to shield the powerful from criticism. That should worry all those who care about accountability."
\u201c\ud83d\udce2 REACTION: German government and @BioNTech_Group asked Twitter to censor vaccine equity critics.\n\nNew #TwitterFiles piece by @lhfang shows how they worked to silence activists demanding a #PeoplesVaccine\n\nRead our reaction: https://t.co/VyaSBIbWnS\n\n1/\u201d— The People's Vaccine (@The People's Vaccine) 1673889107
Global Justice Now director Nick Dearden also noted the troubling timing of BioNTech's censorship request during a period of global pandemic lockdowns.
"To try and stifle digital dissent during a pandemic, when tweets and emails are some of the only forms of protest available to those locked in their homes, is deeply sinister," he told The Intercept.
It is not clear to what extent Twitter took any action on BioNTech's request. In response to Morschhaeuser's inquiry, several Twitter officials chimed in, debating what action could or could not be taken. Su Fern Teo, a member of the company's safety team, noted that a quick scan of the activist campaign showed nothing that violated the company's terms of service, and asked for more examples to "get a better sense of the content that may violate our policies."
But it shows the extent to which pharmaceutical giants engaged in a global lobbying blitz to ensure corporate dominance over the medical products that became central to combating the pandemic. Ultimately, the campaign to share Covid vaccine recipes around the world failed.
While U.S. President Joe Biden in 2021 heeded activists' calls and joined most of the Global South in backing a Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) waiver at the World Trade Organization, most rich nations—including Germany—oppose the policy and have, along with Big Pharma, fought to thwart it.
"If the German government wants to show that it is now willing to side with public health over private profit, it must change its approach to pandemic response," Seyoum asserted. "That means backing efforts at the World Trade Organization to improve access to generic Covid-19 medicines and treatments, supporting the World Health Organization's mRNA Hub in South Africa, and standing up to corporate interests in negotiations over a Pandemic Treaty."
Critics rebuke U.S. climate envoy for calling Sultan al-Jaber a "terrific choice."
Progressives on Monday reacted with outrage and disbelief after U.S. climate envoy John Kerry backed the appointment of Sultan al-Jaber to lead the the United Nations' annual conference on the climate emergency, saying the CEO of the United Arab Emirates' state-run oil company was not only qualified to preside over the summit, but that his background strengthened the case for his presidency.
As Common Dreamsreported last week, the UAE named al-Jaber as president of the 28th United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP28), scheduled to begin in November—a decision that was met with scorn from campaigners as al-Jaber is heads the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) and a renewable energy firm in which ADNOC holds a 24% stake.
"I think that Dr. Sultan al-Jaber is a terrific choice because he is the head of the company. That company knows it needs to transition," Kerry told the Associated Press Sunday, despite the fact that scientists and advocates across the globe have also known for decades that policymakers must lead a rapid transition away from oil and gas-generated energy. "He knows—and the leadership of the UAE is committed to transitioning."
Advocates have warned that the UAE has not made clear how it plans to reach its stated goal of being carbon neutral by 2050, especially as it plans to increase production of crude oil by a million barrels per day.
The UAE is expected to become "the third largest expander of oil and gas production" between 2023 and 2025 as ADNOC embarks on the second-largest expansion of oil production of any company in the world, locking in more than 2.7 gigatonnes of CO2 emissions.
But when asked by Sky News Arabia about whether al-Jaber would have a conflict of interest at the conference, where leaders are expected to be pushed to take significant emissions-reduction steps, Kerry dismissed the concern.
"That's a first blush, very simplistic way to look at this," Kerry said, adding that "the only way we will meet this crisis and protect our citizens and build an economy for the future, is by reducing emissions."
Putting the ADNOC executive—who is also the UAE's climate enjoy and minister of industry and technology—in charge of COP28 drew comparisons from Progressive International leader Yanis Varoufaki to naming "a jihadist to oversee religious tolerance" or "a Nazi to oversee racial harmony."
"What could go wrong?" labor historian Erik Loomis asked sardonically.
\u201cJeffrey Dahmer placed to oversee anti-cannibalism commission. \n\nhttps://t.co/D7Yyz2MMAw\u201d— Erik Loomis (@Erik Loomis) 1673888060
COP28 will follow the two most recent international climate conferences, held in Glasgow, Scotland and Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, where hundreds of fossil fuel lobbyists were in attendance and policymakers failed to hammer out a final agreement requiring countries to phase out oil, coal, and gas extraction.
Kerry toldSky News Arabia that the UAE was not "involved in changing" the outcome of the COP26 and COP27 talks.
The former secretary of state acknowledged that there would be "a level of scrutiny" aimed at al-Jaber's appointment.
"And I think that's going to be very constructive," he told the AP. "It's going to help people, you know, stay on the line here. I think this is a time, a new time of accountability."
Acknowledging Kerry's negotiating of the Paris climate agreement in 2015—which despite its many flaws and shortcomings represents the strongest global pact ever reached on the issue—Leo Roberts of the climate think tank E3G said on social media that the U.S. politician's endorsement of el-Jaber represents "a really rather spectacular fall from grace."
"I am Ayuso's plan for the emergency ward," said one demonstrator dressed as the Grim Reaper.
Tens of thousands marched in Madrid, Spain on Sunday to stop the right-wing regional government's ongoing attack on the public healthcare system.
"Cutting public health is criminal!" demonstrators chanted as they held placards against the push for privatization and cuts.
\u201cTens of thousands of health workers took to the streets of Madrid on Sunday to lodge their protests against what they consider an erosion of public health infrastructure.\n\nhttps://t.co/asGkvSgAle\u201d— DW Europe (@DW Europe) 1673869377
According to the Associated Press:
Carrying homemade signs with slogans that translated into English as "S.O.S. Public Healthcare" snd "Stop Privatization," the marchers clamored against staff shortages and criticized what they consider the favoritism shown by regional authorities toward private health care providers.
The event was the latest in a series of protest actions, including strikes, by Madrid’s public health workers against the capital region’s government, which is led by Popular Party heavyweight Isabel Ayuso.
The unions that organized Sunday's demonstration said Madrid spends the least amount per capita on primary health care of any Spanish region even though it has the highest per capita income. They claim that for every 2 euros spent on health care in Madrid, one ends up in the private sector.
"We have about 40 or 50 patients per day and can give them about six minutes each," Ana Encinas, a doctor who has worked in primary care in the nation's capital for 37 years, toldReuters. "The problem is that they do not allow us to give proper care to patients."
One protester in the crowd—led by doctors, nurses, labor groups, and other defenders of public health—was dressed as the Grim Reaper and held a sign that said: "I am Ayuso's plan for the emergency ward."