The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) sent a memorandum to the Egyptian President as head of the executive power, calling upon him to conduct a prompt investigation of the grave crimes against human rights enumerated in the first annual report of the National Council on Human Rights (NCHR), issued few days ago. Likewise, CIHRS sent a memorandum to the same effect to the Speaker of the People’s Assembly (Egyptian Parliament) to conduct a parallel investigation in the capacity of the Parliament as a supervisor of the work of the executive power, as stipulated by Articles No. 73, 87, 131, 137, 155 and 159 of the Egyptian Constitution. The said Articles describe the powers and responsibilities of the President and the Parliament in this respect.
The most prominent of the said crimes are the following:
First: Exploiting Egypt as a slaughterhouse receiving the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) suspect terrorists kidnapped in other countries, to obtain confessions from them after subjecting them to torture. Afterwards, they are sent to Guantanamo or returned to the places from which they were kidnapped. (NCHR report p. 264, 265)
Second: Spread of practices of torture leading to death (ibid. p. 144, 150, 252, 253, 254). Use of horrible means of torture, including: electric shocks, hanging, beating, sexual harassment and threatening of sexual abuse (ibid. p. 147, 148, 152, 258, 262, 263). Whole families including women and children are detained, tortured and kept as hostages (ibid. p. 138). The report of the NCHR describes the places where torture is practiced – in locations under the authority of the security agencies nationwide – which confirms that torture is a common practice and that it is not limited to individual practices. The report of the NCHR used the term “arbitrary torture” (ibid. p. 124).
Third: “Flagrant violation of the legal legitimacy”, according to the report, through continuous detention for long periods of time exceeding in some cases 10 years, without any ground in the Emergency Law and on the basis of tricks by the Ministry of Interior to violate the law (ibid. p. 136, 137, 239, 259).
Fourth: Use by the Ministry of Interior of illegal places of detention, in violation of the law. Such places are not subject to the supervision of the Prosecution or the Judiciary (e.g. the state security locations). Moreover, detainees are tortured in such locations (ibid. p. 135, 145, 150, 333).
Fifth: Involuntary disappearance is becoming an expanding phenomenon (ibid. p. 273, 274).
Sixth: The Prosecution fails to protect the victims of torture (ibid. p. 153), or accepts torture tacitly (ibid. p. 263) or neglects the complaints of the victims (ibid. p. 266, 330).
Seventh: Governmental guardianship is imposed on workers and students elections. Moreover, a whole generation of professionals has been deprived from the exercise of their right to vote for up to 11 years, due to the freezing of elections in 11 professional syndicates (ibid. p. 283).
Eighth: The Security agencies control the decisions of the Ministry of Social Affairs regarding the registration of NGOs, without authorization by the law (ibid. p. 172, 173).
Ninth: Some ministries and governmental agencies prevent the implementation of Article 72 of the Constitution according to which judicial rulings should be respected and enforced. Such agencies include: the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Manpower and the administration of some universities (ibid. p. 136, 169, 171, 260, 261, 263).
CIHRS’ memorandum urged the President of the Republic to strictly require from different ministries and governmental agencies, particularly the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Justice and the Public Prosecutor that they cooperate with the NCHR and reply to the letters and complaints of the citizens referred thereto. On page 234, the report of the NCHR condemns the “lack of interaction of the Ministry of Interior, the Ministry of Justice and the Public Prosecutor with the correspondence of the NCHR regarding the violations of human rights” and that they “don’t take into consideration a specific type of correspondence of the NCHR and never reply to it”. Furthermore, the report of the NCHR sheds light on the fact that the Ministry of Justice and the Public Prosecutor waive some of their constitutionally and legally ensured competences in favor of the Ministry of Interior, at the expense of the rights of the citizens – as illustrated by the report of the NCHR on the cases of involuntary disappearances, torture and detention (ibid. p. 239, 241, 242).
The significant contribution of the report of the NCHR does not justify the grave mistakes included in the same report:
1. On top of these, is the adoption of the same unconvincing governmental self-defense as the one before the UN committees, regarding the conformity of the Egyptian Constitution and legislations with human rights. Such a defense is in total contradiction with the grave crimes and accusations included in other chapters of the report of the NCHR. Moreover, such a defense does not cope with the calls of the NCHR for the amendment of a number of legislations that are not consistent with human rights. It rather undermines such calls as long as the report of the NCHR deems the Egyptian legislations in conformity with human rights! The report of the NCHR suffers from incurable schizophrenia – the first part tells the reader that the Egyptian Constitution and legislations significantly ensure the protection of human rights, whereas other parts of the same report blatantly illustrate that human rights do not enjoy the minimum of protection! The government should be granted copyrights for this part of the report of the NCHR!
2. Since the report of the NCHR adopts the point of view of the government with respect to the Constitution, it did not include any reference to its major shortcomings. Such shortcomings are represented by the total domination of the legislative and judicial powers by the executive power and the lack of serious institutional mechanisms for accountability. This allowed not only the crimes included in the report of the NCHR to be perpetrated, but also led to inability to bring such crimes to an end or to hold their perpetrators accountable for decades.
3. The report of the NCHR tackled a number of important issues in a flagrantly superficial manner. The most important of these issues are: the status and guarantees of the independence of the judiciary, freedom of establishment and activity of civil society institutions, particularly NGOs, syndicate and the media as well as the political parties. Similarly, a too short reference was made to the Coptic issue, to the censorship role of the religious institutions regarding freedom of thought and literary and artistic creativity and the role of the Azhar’s curricula in disseminating ideas contradicting with human rights and the essence of Islam per se.
4. Another contradiction in the contents of the report of the NCHR lies in the fact that the delegation of the NCHR that visited prisons reported that they observed significant improvement, while references in other parts of the same report describe the deteriorating condition of the jails and the fact that they fail to fulfill the basic human needs! (according to the complaints of citizens received by the NCHR and the reports of the human rights NGOs on which the report of the NCHR is based).
5. It goes without saying that the leadership of the NCHR committed a grave professional mistake by not providing the government with any opportunity to respond to the report prior to releasing it to the public – as per the professional norms of the human rights NGOs and the national institutions on human rights. It rather launched the report to the media and the national and international parties at the same time. Hence, the report of the NCHR turned into a public opinion issue prior to providing a final opportunity for a potential serious dialogue with the government. The latter now has to reply to NCHR and to the public opinion at the same time.
6. The recommendations of the report of NCHR, as well as its introduction, seem very weak in comparison with the grave crimes enumerated in the same report.
The report of NCHR does not provide new information different from that provided by the reports of the national and international NGOs, on human rights violations over more than 15 years. However, the report of the NCHR is politically significant as it is issued by an institution established by the state that appointed its members. Unless the government invokes the pretext used in responding to the reports and criticisms of human rights NGOs: alleging that they reflect the desires of foreign funders! It is stated in the introduction of the report of the NCHR that it is financed by the UNDP, known for collecting its resources from the foreign embassies. These embassies similarly fund the Egyptian government Human Rights Capacity Building Program and the National Council for Women.
Finally, CIHRS notes that the sound negative attitude of the public towards the NCHR is reflected in the manner the report of the NCHR was received. The negative aspects were highlighted whereas the positive ones were completely ignored. The positive aspects of the report of the NCHR are the result of the constructive criticisms by a number of public opinion actors, on top of which are human rights NGOs, some political parties’ and independent newspapers and an increasing number of members of NCHR. Therefore, CIHRS urges all public opinion actors including political parties, syndicates, NGOs and the media to conduct a deep analysis of the report of NCHR, and to consider it as one of the most important political documents of the current phase of the life of Egyptians. The government is urged to provide a comprehensive explanation to the Egyptian people of the grave crimes enumerated in the report, to apologize in a convincing manner, take proceedings against the perpetrators and develop institutional guarantees to stop the recurrence of such crimes.
NCHR is not just issuing books and reports to increase the reader’s cultural level; it is an institution established by the state as a national mechanism to protect human rights. Hence, the government should respond to the report, otherwise the ruling party – with its overwhelming majority in the Consultative Council – should dissolve NCHR, in case the accusations included in the report of NCHR proved to be groundless.
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