Army pressures constitution committee on military trials of civilians: Rights group

Ahram Online , Friday 25 Oct 2013

'No to Military Trials' says Egypt's army is attempting to keep mandate to subject civilians to military tribunals in the amended constitution

The Egyptian Armed Forces' representative in the constitution amending committee (Photo: Ahram).

Egyptian rights group 'No to Military Trials for Civilians' said that the army is exerting pressure on Egypt's constitution amending committee to refrain from abolishing articles that allow for the prosecution of civilians in military tribunals.

The group claimed that during a previous session a majority of the 50-committee were against trying civilians in army courts, but that the army had increased pressure on members and the head of the committee following what they felt had been a positive hearing.

"We were successful in communicating the truth that military courts are exceptional in nature and unjust … this was evident in the committee spokesperson's statements after the session … It is clear that the military institution exerted pressure after witnessing the leaning of committee members towards banning military trials for civilians," the group said in a statement.

Military trials were sanctioned by article 174 of Egypt's 2012 constitution, written predominantly by the Muslim Brotherhood and their allies, and passed via popular referendum in December.

The rights group reiterated its position, stating that it would reject the draft constitution if military tribunals for civilians are not fully banned.

No to Military Trials for Civilians "reasserts its legitimate demand for the institution of a complete ban of civilian trials in military courts, without exception, in article 174 of the constitution," the group said, warning the constitution amending committee not to follow in the footsteps of the Brotherhood's constituent assembly [in bowing to the will of the military].

"This will lead – if it [the article] isn't altered – to our rejection of the constitution," the group concluded.

The amended draft of the 2012 constitution was supposed to be completed earlier this month, but has been postponed due to internal disagreements, including debates over the military articles.

A sub-committee was set up specifically to resolve the issue, including representatives of the army, a development that troubled No to Military Trials for Civilians, who said that the representatives on the new panel weren't members of the amending committee and didn't have the right to be incorporated into the decision-making process.

They also said the sub-committee should have included victims of military trials who have been given unjust sentences, in order to balance the scales.

The advocacy group also criticised a planned meeting between the head of the amending committee, Amr Mousa, and Egypt's powerful Defense Minister Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi.

After the popularly-supported military ouster of former Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in July, the interim government initiated a transitional roadmap to guide the country until presidential elections are held. The 2012 constitution, which was drawn up by an Islamist-dominated constituent assembly during Morsi's rule, is being amended as part of that roadmap.

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