Global perspective Human stories

Egypt’s legal system needs reform, UN and African experts say after mass death sentences

Photo: UNHCR/V. Tan
Photo: UNHCR/V. Tan

Egypt’s legal system needs reform, UN and African experts say after mass death sentences

In the wake of the second wave of mass death sentences handed down in Egypt last month, a group of African and United Nations human rights experts today called on authorities to bring the country’s legal system into compliance with international and regional standards.

“Following the two mass trials, Egypt’s legal system is in critical need of being reformed, in line with international and regional standards,” stressed the nine UN experts, together with the Chairperson of the Working Group on Death Penalty and Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Killings in Africa.

“A failure to do so is likely to undermine any prospects for long-term reconciliation and justice in the country,” they added in a news release.

On 28 April 2014, a group of 683 individuals were sentenced to death in Egypt on charges related to the events in Al-Minya in August 2013. The verdicts were pronounced in the aftermath of a first round of mass death penalties imposed on 529 individuals on 24 March 2014.

As in the previous case, the new death sentences were pronounced, reportedly under similar charges, after proceedings that seriously violated international standards of fair trial and ‘the most serious crimes’ provisions. Among them, reports indicate lack of clarity on the precise charges against each individual, conduct of the trials in the absence of the defendants and their lawyers, and mass sentencing.

“We are shocked at the extent to which the international and domestic outcries and calls following the first case were ignored by the authorities in Egypt,” the UN experts said, recalling their previous statement of 31 March in which they urged the authorities to quashing the 529 death sentences and ensure new and fair trials for all defendants.

“We stress once again that the imposition of these mass death sentences in both March and April for crimes that may not be punishable by death and after a grossly unfair trial is a staggering violation of international human rights law by Egypt,” they said.

“This is a continuing and unacceptable mockery of justice that casts a big shadow over the Egyptian legal system,” they added.