Egypt: Torture is systematic and those who perpetrate it enjoy complete impunity

In Egypt /Road Map Program, Statements and Position Papers by CIHRS

Following Egypt’s report to the UN Committee against Torture

On 5 October 2021, the Egyptian government submitted a combined[1] fifth, sixth, seventh, and eighth periodic report to the United Nations Committee against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. Following a continuous absence of two decades, the report offers nothing but a resumption of the government’s attempts to whitewash its human rights violations and shameful reputation before the United Nations. Egypt is facing mounting international criticism of its human rights file, in which thirty-two United Nations countries issued a joint declaration condemning the country’s human rights situation.[2]

The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) confirms that torture is a systematic practice in Egypt, utilized by the state to impose repressive policies or as a means of prosecuting criminal cases instead of policing and respecting the rule of law. The Egyptian authorities deliberately use  torture as punishment or vengeance against political opponents, and against defendants in criminal cases and from marginalized social classes.

The Egyptian state provides perpetrators of torture with a favorable climate of impunity through the complicity of the public prosecution and the judiciary, amid the absence of any meaningful oversight from the parliament. The complicity of the public prosecution and the judiciary has contributed to the implementation of death sentences in cases in which confessions were extracted under torture [3]and defendants’ rights were routinely disregarded,  including the summoning of witnesses, medical examinations of the accused, and investigation into complaints and statements of defendants who were tortured in detention sites. Moreover, the state resists any independent efforts aimed at addressing legislative shortcomings to criminalize torture.

The government’s report focuses on legislative, judicial and administrative measures to prevent torture, highlighting constitutional provisions and the legislative “phenomenon.”  The report emphasizes the availability of oversight over sites of detention and incarceration, and the guarantee of detainees’ rights. Nevertheless, the reality in Egypt reflects the control of the security sectors over government institutions, and has reduced the constitution  and its guarantee of detainee rights to  mere ink on paper, despite the government’s proud emphasis on the constitution before the international community.

The Committee against Torture has previously reported that torture in Egypt “appears to occur particularly frequently following arbitrary arrests and is often carried out to obtain a confession or to punish and threaten political dissenters. Torture occurs in police stations, prisons, State security facilities, and Central Security Forces facilities.”[4] This shows where the real crisis lies, not in the absence of legislation or laws but rather in  the culture of the security services and the political leadership’s  sanction of torture, especially that perpetuated by the national security sectors without fear of the slightest accountability. Despite obvious legislative shortcomings, Egypt did not issue a separate law addressing torture when a human rights lawyer, with the consultancy of judges, proposed a draft law to combat the crime; instead, the lawyer and judges were referred for investigation in retaliation for their efforts.[5]

The Egyptian government’s report claims that the National Council for Human Rights and the parliament’s Human Rights Committee made unannounced visits to prisons. However, the report failed to mention that such visits were requested in advance, and often refused; and when permitted, some members of the visiting team are denied entry. During such visits, prisons are depicted as akin to hotel accommodations,  in response to international criticism, especially that directed at Egypt during its 2019 Universal Periodic Review (UPR).[6]

The government’s report denies arbitrary security practices inside places of detention, only referring to what is recognized by the Prisons Law. The report failed to acknowledge the reality of the country’s prison conditions amid a total absence of oversight by the public prosecution. Instead of oversight, the public prosecution mainly covers up crimes of torture and ill-treatment, without any consideration for the minimum treatment of prisoners. An absence of medical care has resulted, leading to a rise in the death toll within prisons, with 400 deaths reached over the period of four years.[7]  In addition,  detainees are routinely abused and prevented from accessing their legal rights to correspondence or visits, while being deprived of exercise, books and basic needs. These practices previously prompted UN experts to state that thousands of detainees in Egypt suffer from grave violations of their human rights, in a consistent and deliberate practice by the Egyptian government to silence its opposition.[8]

The criminalization of acts of torture in the government’s report referred to holding officers accountable in four cases dating back to 2004 and 2005, claiming that incidents of torture were simply isolated cases for which law enforcement officials were held accountable. When addressing the past decade in the section on investigating torture practices, the report mentioned several disciplinary trials of police officers for practices that did not amount to torture, and convictions for crimes of torture were limited in the mentioned trials, and the details of the trials omitted. During this ten-year period, the crime of torture became a widespread phenomenon in the country practiced by the security services, especially the national security sector.

Despite the report’s acknowledgment of the public prosecution’s opening of investigations into several cases of torture, the indictments did not include a clear definition of the officers’ perpetration of the crime. In the end, these investigations resulted in acquittal or reduced sentences that are not proportionate to the scale of the crime committed against the victims. The Court of Cassation acquitted the officers involved in the murder of lawyer Karim Hamdy and others inside Mattareya Police Station, despite evidence that he was tortured in his autopsy.[9] The South Cairo Court ruled out allegations of torture against Mohammed Abd al-Hakim Mahmoud, known as Afrotto, who died after being tortured at Muqattam police station in 2018.[10] The prosecution further failed to identify those involved in the murder and torture of Italian researcher Giulio Regeni, and instead closed the case without any credible efforts towards accountability.

The United States Department of State’s report on the human rights situation in Egypt for the year 2020 acknowledged the routine practice of torture in police stations and other detention centers under the Ministry of Interior, noting that impunity is pervasive among the security forces.[11] In its annual  report in 2017, the United Nations Committee against Torture confirmed the same findings, stating that perpetrators of torture in Egypt generally enjoy impunity, and such impunity is reinforced by the absence of an independent authority to investigate allegations of torture, together with the lack of independent and regular monitoring in places of detention.

The government of Egypt has adopted a position of denial in regards to National Security officers  committing the crimes of enforced disappearance and torture inside National Security headquarters. The report also denied the contribution of the public prosecution and the courts in all their forms to covering up these crimes, including by failing to investigate reports and complaints submitted by the families of the victims, which substantiate the increasing prevalence of the practice since July 2013 to the present time. Arrested persons are regularly subjected to enforced disappearance and torture for periods often lasting several months before their appearance before the State Security Prosecution, with the prosecution disregarding requests to submit detainees to medical examination to prove their physical assaults in prison. The same detainees then face prolonged imprisonment and the resumption of their trials on the basis of confessions coerced under torture and during enforced disappearance, and are at high risk of being sentenced to death or lengthy prison terms while their families and others who demand investigations be opened into torture crimes are intimidated by the state.[12]

The Committee against Torture also acknowledged in its report that 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.”[13] The US Department of State’s report on the human rights situation in Egypt also indicated “continuing large numbers of enforced disappearances, alleging authorities increasingly relied on this tactic to intimidate critics.”[14] This indicates the falsity of the Egyptian government’s claim in its report that victims of torture have the right to submit complaints to the competent authorities.

The first steps towards preventing torture in Egypt begin with the state’s recognition of its systematic practice, the investigation of all complaints submitted against law enforcement officials and the public prosecution’s deputies and judges, due to their complicity in this crime, which does not have a statute of limitations according to the constitution cited by the state.

The crime of torture in Egypt is too widespread to be erased by government reports citing the constitution and laws, in a country where the constitution is violated on a daily basis, and laws do not come close to meeting even the lowest international standards for respecting human rights. The real predicament lies in the lack of political will to end the crime of torture, as torture constitutes an essential means of governance for the authoritarian government in Egypt.

[1] Egypt’s combined fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth periodic report to the Committee against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, OHCHR.
[2] States break silence to condemn Egypt’s abuses at UN rights body, CIHRS.
[3] Egypt: UN experts condemn executions of nine men after “confessions under torture”, OHCHR.
[4] The Committee against Torture fifty-eighth, fifty-ninth and sixtieth sessions report, OCHCR.
[5] Egypt: Systematic torture is a state policy, CIHRS.
[6] Breaking the Silence: Egypt’s unprecedented repression scrutinized at the United Nations, CIHRS.
[7] Egypt: Systematic torture is a state policy, CIHRS.
[8] Egypt: UN experts denounce Morsi “brutal” prison conditions, warn thousands of other inmates at severe risk, OCHCR.
[9] Egypt Spate of detainee deaths points to rampant abuse at Cairo’s Mattareya Police Station, Amnesty.
[10] Young man tortured to death in Muqattam police station: locals and neighbours pay the price of bringing accountability to the police, EIPR.
[11] US Department of State: Egypt 2020 Human Rights report.
[12] Egypt: Rights Defender’s Relatives Arrested, CIHRS.
[13] The Committee against Torture fifty-eighth, fifty-ninth and sixtieth sessions report, OCHCR.
[14] US Department of State: Egypt 2020 Human Rights report.

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