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UN rights chief expresses concern over new Egypt constitution

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] expressed grave concern on Friday at the rising death toll during the ongoing political chaos in Egypt, saying that Egypt's draft constitution [text, PDF] presents serious problems for human rights. Pillay complained [UN News Centre report] that the draft constitution, which was approved last week [JURIST report], was passed without the participation of Christian or liberal legislators. Pillay also said that she was concerned about the draft constitution's omission of references to international human rights treaties that Egypt ratified in the past. While Pillay commended the fact that the draft constitution imposes term limits on President Mohammed Morsi [BBC backgrounder] and provides some protections for freedom of expression and religion, she noted [NYT report] that these protections were not strong enough. The draft constitution is scheduled to be put to a referendum vote on December 15.

Egypt has endured political turmoil since its revolution [JURIST backgrounder] last year. Last week Egyptian courts suspended work [JURIST report] to protest Morsi's recent decree, which, most significantly, removed judicial review of his actions. In October Human Rights Watch [advocacy website] urged Egypt to amend its proposed constitution [JURIST report] to comply with international treaties. In August a lawyer in Egypt filed an appeal challenging a declaration by Morsi granting himself complete legislative and executive power [JURIST reports]. In July, a few days after he was sworn in as president, Morsi issued a decree [JURIST reports] calling the Egyptian parliament back into session, despite a previous ruling by the Supreme Constitutional Court dissolving parliament after finding that one-third of its members were elected illegally. The court suspended Morsi's decree two days later, after which Morsi vowed that he would respect the ruling [JURIST reports]. Days before its dissolution, the Egyptian parliament elected a new constitutional council after lawmakers finally reached an agreement [JURIST reports] on the political composition of the council.

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