Syrian govt's attempts at reform 'ridiculous' |
Gulf Times - 06 May, 2012
Justice Hassan al-Sayed, justice of the QFC Civil and Commercial Court, has criticised the Syrian government’s attempts at reform, describing them as “ridiculous” and disingenuous, as they have done nothing to reduce presidential power.
Justice al-Sayed was critical of the fact that even after reforms were passed, the law states that the president remains in office even if Parliament is dissolved, and the president has the right to dissolve Parliament arbitrarily. The president effectively has sole legislative power, and can appoint the chief of the constitutional court and the chief of the supreme judicial council.
Justice al-Sayed made these remarks at the opening of a plenary session during the Qatar Law Forum on “The Rule of Law and Change in the Arab World,” which addressed the causes and effects of the Arab Spring on legal systems.
Sir Jeffrey Jowell, director of the Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law, said that the Arab Spring has helped to clarify the meaning of the term ‘rule of law’, “to a greater extent than it has been defined before, and making it clear what its particular ingredients may be.”
Jowell explained that following the collapse of the Soviet Union, a “great wave” of reform swept across the region regarding the rule of law, and the wave is now coming to the Middle East.
The rule of law is “indispensable for the purpose of delivering just outcomes in the daily lives of individuals, and it is becoming clearer still that the rule of law is not a vague concept…it is quite sharp and has a number of ingredients that are not only suitable for the developed world, but for all countries.”
Jowell stressed that all countries are different, and the rule of law must fit countries in different ways through its institutions, growing “naturally on their own soil. Rules must be certain, they must not be arbitrarily imposed. People must have access to challenge laws that affect them, and there must be an independent judiciary and hearings must be fair.”
Jowell said that changes have come across the region either from the top at a government level or from grass-roots movements.
In his opening address, Justice al-Sayed outlined the total overhaul of Libya, as well as the individual circumstances of Tunisia, Egypt, Syria and Bahrain.
Lord Phillips, president of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom, pointed out that even countries that have not seen mass demonstrations are not immune to change, as Algeria has recently implemented political reforms to try and prevent an Arab Spring within its borders.
The panel tried to identify the root causes of the region-wide uprising, and while they agreed that each country’s case was unique, either the abuse or absence of the rule of law, was a common theme across the region.
Jordan Ryan, director of the Bureau for Crisis Prevention and Recovery – United Nations, said that a 2002 UN report on Arab human development pointed to significant deficits that, in hindsight, were indicators of future turbulence. These included deficits in governance, deficits in living standards, women’s empowerment, justice, human rights, access to education, services and human security.
“If you take those deficits both individually and across the board throughout the Arab nations, one can see why growing frustration in individuals living in societies where a lack of participation, lack of engagement, a youth bulge, changing opportunities that one can see from other societies, a social media expansion, the 2009 situation in Iran where Twitter and social media got people on the streets - a whole raft of changes,” led to mass uprisings.
Hasim Kilic, president of the Constitutional Court of Turkey, agreed that the rule law cannot exist without human dignity; there can be no human dignity without human rights, and without human rights you have anger. This combined with an imbalance of income and other injustices forces that anger to spill out on the streets.
Ryan concluded that the ability and willingness of the state to actually have checks and balances on its actions is the ultimate signifier of meaningful change.
Constitutions have to have limits, and be inclusive of people who are typically not listened to and included in decision making, whether it’s women, minorities or those who are not favoured by the state. Capacity building in legislative bodies, women’s groups, and civil society groups is also absolutely necessary in balancing executive power.