Egypt. No More Impunity, Truth and Justice for All

Egypt. No More Impunity, Truth and Justice for All

When they ask for truth and justice for their son, Giulio Regeni, his parents always do so by adding at the end of the sentence “for all Giuli and Giulie”, aware that the victims of forced disappearance and torture in Egypt are a multitude lacking all protection

1.Europe and the United Nations on human rights in Egypt

On 13 December 2018, the European Parliament passed a Resolution on Egypt, in particular on the situation of human rights defenders. In it, it is highlighted that “the Egyptian Government has intensified its crackdown against civil society organisations, human rights defenders, peaceful activists, lawyers, bloggers, journalists, labour rights defenders and trade unionists, including by arresting and disappearing several of them and increasingly using counter-terrorism and state of emergency laws.” The adopted text reported that “since late October 2018, at least 40 human rights workers, lawyers and political activists have been arrested, some of them forcibly disappeared; whereas women human rights defenders and activists defending the rights of LGBTQI people in Egypt continue to face various forms of state-led harassment, notably via defamatory campaigns and judicial prosecution” (European Parliament, 2018).

The 2017 Report of the UN Committee against Torture states that the practice in Egypt is systematic and goes unpunished: “Perpetrators of torture almost universally enjoy impunity, although Egyptian law prohibits and creates accountability mechanisms for torture and related practices, demonstrating a serious dissonance between law and practice. In the view of the Committee, all the above lead to the inescapable conclusion that torture is a systematic practice in Egypt.” There are numerous and widespread institutional locations where torture is perpetrated, many are perpetrators or responsible in various capacities: “Torture occurs in police stations, prisons, State security facilities, and Central Security Forces facilities. Torture is perpetrated by police officers, military officers, National Security officers and prison guards. However, prosecutors, judges and prison officials also facilitate torture by failing to curb practices of torture, arbitrary detention and ill-treatment or to act on complaints” (United Nations Human Rights, 2017).

On 21 August 2019, the United Nations Conference against Torture in the Arab World, which should have been held in Cairo on 4 and 5 September, was postponed until a later date. Rupert Colville, spokesperson for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said that the decision was taken after learning of the “growing unease among part of the NGO community”, but pointed out that “it is obviously very useful to hold a conference that aims to try to reduce torture in a country (and wider region) where torture is taking place”, thus defending the initial decision to host the meeting in the Egyptian capital (Michaelson, 2019).

The European Parliament Resolution on Egypt, adopted on 24 October 2019, also having regard to previous resolutions, “strongly condemns the latest crackdown and the ongoing restrictions on fundamental rights in Egypt, notably freedom of expression both online and offline, freedom of association and assembly, political pluralism and the rule of law; condemns the excessive use of violence against protesters and reminds Egypt that any response by the security forces should be in line with international norms and standards and its own Constitution.” Furthermore, it “calls on the Egyptian authorities to immediately and unconditionally release all human rights defenders detained or sentenced merely for carrying out their legitimate and peaceful human rights work”, naming some of them: Eman Al-Helw, Mohamed Ibrahim, Mohamed Ramadan, Abdelrahman Tarek, Ezzat Ghoneim, Haytham Mohamadeen, Alaa Abdel Fattah, Ibrahim Metwally Hegazy, Mahienour El-Masry, Mohamed El-Baqer and Esraa Abdel Fattah, Ibrahim Ezz El-Din, academics and others in detention under the “Coalition Hope” case, including Zyad el-Elaimy, Hassan Barbary and Ramy Shaath, as well as members of the Bread and Freedom party, the Al-Dostour party and the Egyptian Social Democratic party, who were also arrested without credible grounds.

The forced disappearance of human rights defenders, the Resolution states, appears to be a systematic practice of the Egyptian authorities, as is the excessive use of pre-trial detention. In this way, lawyers are prevented from protecting those disappeared and, at the same time, torture is facilitated.

The text also mentions the 31 cases of detained media professionals documented by Reporter Sans Frontières, the expulsion or refusal of permission to enter the country issued to numerous international correspondents, and the blocking of websites and social media. Finally, the report denounces the increase and extremely high number of death sentences, which also include minors, issued on the basis of military and mass trials, without minimum guarantees: since 2014, criminal and military courts have issued over 3,000 death sentences, while 50 people, at the date of the Resolution, were at imminent risk of being executed.

A specific passage is devoted to Giulio Regeni: the European Parliament “regrets the lack of a credible investigation into, and accountability for, the kidnapping, torture and murder in 2016 of Italian research assistant Giulio Regeni; reiterates its call on the Egyptian authorities to shed light on the circumstances surrounding the deaths of Giulio Regeni and Eric Lang and to hold those responsible to account, in full cooperation with the authorities of the Member States concerned by these cases” (European Parliament, 2019).

Lastly, on 18 December 2020, the European Parliament passed a resolution on the deteriorating human rights situation in Egypt, notably the case of activists from the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) organisation. In it, the European Parliament considers that the Egyptian authorities “intensify their crackdown on civil society, human rights defenders, health workers, journalists, opposition members, academics and lawyers, and continue to brutally and systematically repress any form of dissent, thereby undermining core freedoms, notably the freedoms of expression, both online and offline, and of association and assembly, political pluralism, the right to participation in public affairs and the rule of law.”

The document cites the case of activists Gasser Abdel Razek, Karim Ennarah and Mohammad Basheer, arrested between 15 and 19 November 2020 and charged with terrorism, after they met with ambassadors and diplomats from other countries. And again it cites the Regeni case, complaining that “the Egyptian authorities have constantly hindered progress in investigating and revealing the truth about the kidnapping, torture and killing of Giulio Regeni and the death of French teacher Eric Lang, who had been detained in Cairo in 2013, preventing the possibility for those responsible to be held accountable” while “on 10 December 2020, and after a four-year judicial investigation, Italian prosecutors in Rome announced that they had unequivocal proof of the involvement of four Egyptian state security officers on the aggravated kidnap, aggravated injury and murder of the Italian research assistant.” The Resolution also addresses the case of Patrick George Zaki, an EIPR activist, researcher and post-graduate student in Bologna, Italy, who was arbitrarily arrested during a trip to Cairo. After his arrest, the text summarises, he was transferred to Mansoura prison, where “beaten and tortured with electric shocks”. Once again the European Parliament, deploring the “pattern of intimidating organisations defending human rights”, in this specific case “regrets the Egyptian authorities’ persistent refusal to provide the Italian authorities with all the documents and information needed to enable a swift, transparent and impartial investigation into the murder of Mr Regeni in accordance with Egypt’s international obligations” (European Parliament, 2020).

 

2. Forced disappearances

The Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms (ECRF) recently published a five-year report that perfectly illustrates and documents the phenomenon of forced disappearances in Egypt.

A campaign has been launched by ECRF, also including Giulio Regeni’s family advisors, on 30 August 2015 to coincide with the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances, with the aim of spreading awareness of the seriousness of this crime in Egyptian society, and the need to counter it. The campaign also provides psychological support, media and legal information for victims of forced disappearances and their families.

The report’s summary states that “forcibly disappeared persons usually appear after different periods of time in video recordings during their disappearance, under torture or intimidation, in which they make confessions of having committed certain crimes, and some of them often show signs of stress and of torture” (ECFR, 2021).

The crime of forced disappearance remains at the top of the list of violations committed by the security forces against citizens and opponents in Egypt. The authorities have always denied the phenomenon, claiming that the disappeared are simply “missing” or have joined armed groups.

However, denials have been followed by a resurgence of arrests, particularly against activists of human rights organisations.

The report contains astounding figures: in the course of the five year period being reported on, according to the Stop Enforced Disappearances campaign, 2,653 people were abducted by security forces and placed in official and unofficial detention facilities. The document shows that relatives of the disappeared have also often been victims of violations and persecution by the authorities and sometimes they too have been detained.

The disappeared are obviously more exposed to other violations, such as ill-treatment and torture, and extrajudicial killings, dealt with by the Ministry of Interior, which explains them by claiming these people were “killed in an exchange of fire”.

The report also sheds light on the changing patterns of enforced disappearance over the five year period, as its forms have varied, from the duration of disappearance, to places of detention and unofficial detention centres.

One of the techniques used to frustrate possible release by the judiciary, when the disappeared are “officialised” as detainees, is that of repeated disappearances. One of the cases reported is that of Khaled Yousri Zaki, who was subjected to enforced disappearance six times in a row, after being arrested for the first time on 9 January 2015. After the long series of kidnappings, arrests and releases he appeared for the sixth time on 30 September 2019, as a defendant in connection with “case 1413” in pre-trial detention.

 

3. Extrajudicial executions

Equally impressive is the figure the report gives for extrajudicial killings in Egypt: since 2014, they are said to have risen to at least 365, and in 242 cases the identity was not revealed. In many cases, these are people who had previously been forcibly disappeared; human rights organisations have documented 63 cases in which people were first disappeared and then found dead. This is exactly what happened to Giulio Regeni. Their bodies later appeared in films and propaganda statements by army or police security forces, or were found in morgues with gunshot wounds in various parts of their body. According to reports from relatives of the victims, the authorities refuse to hand over the bodies unless they accept to forego an autopsy and also require that the bodies be transferred directly from the morgue to the cemetery without any funeral ceremony.

Speaking only of the weeks in which the kidnapping, torture and murder of Giulio Regeni were prepared and carried out, it is necessary to recall the following cases, described in the report of the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms. Muhammad Hamdan was abducted on 10 January 2016. His family sent a telegram to the public prosecutor’s office in Beni Suef requesting information about his place of detention. His body was found on 25 January 2016 in a field with visible signs of torture; the Interior Ministry’s version, as usual, spoke of death following an exchange of fire with the police. On 20 January 2016 Ahmed Jalal was the victim of enforced disappearance in an unknown location. His relatives immediately filed a missing persons report, but on 31 January 2016 they were informed by telephone that their relative was in the morgue in Zenhom, killed by a bullet to the head.

 

4. Complicity with “all the evil in the world”

There are many, too many, names and stories of people kidnapped, tortured and killed in recent years that the Report summarises: Abdul Rahman Jamal Muhammad; Muhammad Sayed Hussein Zaki; Alaa Rajab Ahmed Awais; the teacher Muhammad Abd al-Sattar, arrested at work, who reappeared dead along with Abdullah Rajab; Abd al-Zahir Mutawa, Sabri Sabah and Ahmed Abu Rashid; Muhammad Abdel Moneim Abu Tabikh. According to the Ministry of Interior, all or almost all of them died in an exchange of fire because they were members of the armed group Hasm. At some point after 2017, the authorities stopped releasing the names of the victims, thus making it even more difficult for human rights defenders to monitor and report.

Among the stories of victims of the Egyptian regime’s violence, the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms naturally includes that of Giulio Regeni.

Giulio Regeni’s parents often say that Giulio “does things”. Sometimes, in the light of the absolute impunity of the Egyptian regime (as well as others) and the disregard of our governments for systematic violations of human rights, also perpetrated in countries considered to be “friendly”, we might add that “Giulio can’t be doing everything”.

Giulio has also made us Europeans aware of “all the evil in the world”, which takes place in Egypt with extreme frequency. Today we can no longer say we do not know what terrible violations of human rights the regime and its security apparatuses are capable of.

Now it is up to governments and the European Union to “do things”. And if “no one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”, as required by the Nice Charter (art. 4), the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (art. 5), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (art. 7) and the European Convention on Human Rights (art. 3), no state that adheres to these conventions should collaborate in any way with a regime that constantly violates these prohibitions.

Collaboration in such cases risks being complicity.

 

* Alessandra Ballerini, Lawyer. This text was published in the 19th Report on global rights – State of impunity in the world 2021, “Another world is possible”, by the  Associazione Società Informazione

 

Reference list

ECRF – Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms (2021), Continuous violation and absent justice Forced Disappearance – A five-year report, https://www.ec-rf.net/3509/?fbclid=IwAR0oOF7JkPUrDIpfGB396imh-jJanIDSTi3ZBFEC4n-iE1cWjn6UYTj6iko

European Parliament (2018), European Parliament resolution of 13 December 2018 on Egypt, notably the situation of human rights defenders (2018/2968(RSP)), https://www.europarl.europa.eu/doceo/document/TA-8-2018-0526_EN.pdf, 13 December.

European Parliament (2019), European Parliament resolution of 24 October 2019 on Egypt (2019/2880(RSP)), https://www.europarl.europa.eu/doceo/document/TA-9-2019-0043_EN.pdf, 24 October.

Michaelson Ruth (2019), UN postpones anti-torture conference in Cairo after backlash, “The Guardian”, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/aug/20/un-postpones-anti-torture-conference-in-cairo-after-backlash, 20 August.

European Parliament (2020), The deteriorating situation of human rights in Egypt, in particular the case of the activists of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), https://www.europarl.europa.eu/doceo/document/TA-9-2020-0384_EN.pdf, 18 December.

United Nations Human Rights (2017), Report of the Committee against Torture A/74/44, https://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/15/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?symbolno=A%2f74%2f44&Lang=en, April-May.



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