GENEVA -- Navi Pillay, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, expressed alarm on Friday at the rising casualty toll in Egypt's deepening political turmoil and said flaws in the substance of its draft constitution and the process of preparing it were a major cause of the "disastrous situation" unfolding there that has resulted in at least six deaths.
The constitution proposed by President Mohamed Morsi, which is to be put to a referendum next week, includes "very worrying omissions and ambiguities" that could mean it is weaker than the 1971 Constitution introduced under ousted President Hosni Mubarak it is supposed to replace.
Speaking out on Egypt for the third time in a week, Ms. Pillay praised the new constitution for restricting the president to two four-year terms and for the freedom that it provides to set up civil associations and institutions simply by notifying the authorities rather than by seeking their permission.
But Ms. Pillay, in a statement, expressed dismay over the new constitution's failure to give legal standing to a range of international treaties that protect civil and political rights and forbid torture and racial or gender discrimination. That failure opens the way to national laws that may conflict with Egypt's international obligations, legal experts in her office warn.
Many of the new constitution's provisions referred to existing laws that are out of step with international human rights norms, Ms. Pillay said, and concentrate powers in the hands of the president that could undermine the independence of the judiciary.
The new charter, she said, guarantees equality but does not explicitly prohibit discrimination on grounds of sex, religion or origin. It guarantees freedom of religion but only specifies three faiths Ms. Pillay added. And while it provides some protection for press freedom, that is " taken back with certain clauses dealing with national security," Mona Rishmawi, a legal and constitutional expert in Ms. Pillay's office, said.
People had the right to protest peacefully, Ms. Pillay reminded Mr. Morsi this week, and since his government had come to power on the back of similar protest it should be "particularly sensitive to the need to protect protesters' rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly."world
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.