Wednesday, March 6, 2024

Mission creep for Egypt's military courts

From this Human Rights Watch report on recent Egyptian legislation:

Law No. 3 tasks the armed forces with “assisting, and fully coordinating with the police, in guarding and protecting public and vital facilities and buildings including power stations, electricity lines and towers, oil fields, railway tracks, roads, bridges,” and “other comparable facilities.” The law provides military personnel involved in such operations with the same judicial powers of arrest and seizure as the police. It also stipulates that all offenses against or in relation to broadly worded “vital” public facilities and buildings are to be prosecuted in military courts.

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Amendments to the Military Code of Justice include adding to the military courts’ jurisdiction crimes committed against “public and vital facilities and public properties, and other comparable things, that are protected by the armed forces.” Other amendments introduced new military appeals courts for major offenses, following the template of a similar change in January made to the civilian court structure. Previously, appeals in cases of major offenses in military courts went directly to the Military Cassation Court, the military counterpart of the Cassation Court in the civilian justice system.

While increasing opportunities for legal appeals could be a positive change, it does not alter the well documented abusive record of military courts, their lack of independence, and their inability to uphold the right to a fair trial. The motivation appears to be increasing the military judiciary’s capacity to replace the function of the civilian court system rather than limiting its mandate to military staff, Human Rights Watch said. The amendments introduced a new entity within the Defense Ministry to oversee military courts, but they did not change the nature of military judges as serving military officers who are subject to the Defense Ministry’s laws regulating issues related to hierarchy, promotion, discipline, and general work.

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The African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights, in interpreting the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, has said that military courts “should not, in any circumstances whatsoever, have jurisdiction over civilians.” It said that even when military courts follow guidelines for fair trial guarantees – as they always should – their “only purpose” should be in “offenses of a purely military nature committed by military personnel.”

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