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UN human rights group: Executions in Egypt, a travesty of justice

Abolish the 529 death sentences that were handed out last week and give defendants a fair trial ensuring respect for international human rights law; a group of human rights experts of the UN urged Egyptian authorities today.

In a statement, the experts said that: "The right to life is a fundamental right and not a game to be manipulated. Though the death penalty will be used in a country that has not abolished it yet, international law requires strict respect of a number of key criteria."

The death penalty sentence was issued on 529 pro-democracy Egyptians on March 24, whilst 600 others await a similar fate.

The experts iterated their alarm at the vague charges that were given to the accused for such a punishment to be handed down. According to reports, the accused were sentenced to death for taking part in illegal gatherings or other offences. This indicates a clear violation of international law, which points to the requirement of "extremely dangerous crimes", allowing the use of the death penalty only in cases of murder.

They also expressed their grave concern about the many procedural irregularities cited by the reports during the trials, such as the reduction of communication with lawyers and trials in absentia and the collective death sentences which were handed out. "Carrying out trials under these circumstances is a breach of the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights, which was signed by Egypt," the officials said.

They pointed out that "international law requires that in cases where the death penalty is issued, trials must meet the highest standards of justice and due process of law."

The experts added: "The imposition of the death penalty against 529 defendants, only two days after a trial filled with procedural irregularities, and vague or simple charges make justice a farce. There is a clear need for serious comprehensive reforms of any judicial system that allows for such developments to occur."

They warned that "in the absence of guarantees that the Egyptians are conducting fair trials and due process of law and respect for Egypt with its legal obligations, all sentences and in particular the death penalty will undermine and ruin any possibility of reconciliation within Egyptian society."

They added: "We will monitor the situation and in particular the trials and remind the Egyptian authorities the importance of basing the future of Egyptian society on justice and respect for human rights."

Members of the Committee:

  • Christof Heyns, Special Rapporteur on executions outside the law, and rapid and arbitrary executions
  • Gabriela Knaul, Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers
  • Juan Mendez, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment
  • Pablo de Greiff, the Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation, and non-recurrence
  • Mads Andenas, scheduled to become President of the Working Group on arbitrary detention
  • Maina Kiai, the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association
  • Frank La Rue, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression
  • Ben Emmerson, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while counter-terrorism.
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