Dozens detained secretly in Egypt: HRW
July 21, Beirut: Egyptian security forces appear to have forcibly disappeared dozens of people. Egyptian authorities should immediately disclose their whereabouts and hold those responsible to account. The authorities should either release anyone illegally detained or charge the person with a recognizable crime, bring them immediately before a judge to review their detention, and try them before a court that meets international fair trial standards.
Enforced disappearances constitute a serious violation of international human rights law and, if carried out systematically as a matter of policy, are a crime against humanity. Egypt’s allies, especially the United states and European countries, should not participate in any assistance to Egypt’s internal security forces until Egypt transparently investigates serious abuses such as alleged enforced disappearance, Human Rights Watch said.
“Egyptian security forces have apparently snatched up dozens of people without a word about where they are or what has happened to them,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director. “The failure of the public prosecution to seriously investigate these cases reinforces the nearly absolute impunity that security forces have enjoyed under President al-Sisi.”
Human Rights Watch documented the cases of five people forcibly disappeared and two people most likely forcibly disappeared between April 2014 and June 2015. In three of the cases, the people were last seen in the custody of state officials, although state authorities initially denied that the people had been detained or refused to reveal their whereabouts. In three cases, relatives and others who knew the disappeared said that security forces had apprehended the victims. A doctor who was disappeared in April 2014 remains unaccounted for.
The cases Human Rights Watch documented show a clear pattern of prosecutors failing to conduct transparent and independent investigations. In three cases, the people’s whereabouts were determined days or weeks later either because state authorities eventually acknowledged their detention or because other people saw them in official custody. In three other cases, individuals believed to have been forcibly disappeared by the security forces and in official custody were found dead after a period during which their whereabouts were unknown.
Egyptian rights organizations have credibly documented scores of additional cases of enforced disappearances in 2015 and in some cases from 2013. In a June 7, 2015 report, Freedom for the Brave, an independent group offering support to detainees, documentedwhat it said were 164 cases of enforced disappearance since April and said that the whereabouts of at least 66 remained unknown. The report listed 64 people whose whereabouts were revealed after more than 24 hours, the maximum time allowed to detain someone without charge under Egyptian law.
In its latest annual report, released May 31, the quasi-governmental National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) stated that it had verified nine cases of enforced disappearance. The report did not state whether prosecutors had investigated any of these cases. On June 9, the NCHR said it would review 55 cases of alleged enforced disappearance that their families had presented in a meeting. In an email to Human Rights Watch on July 9, the council said it had created a committee to look into complaints of enforced disappearances.
Khaled Abd al-Hamid, a Freedom for the Brave coordinator who attended the NCHR meeting, said he learned about 39 additional cases that his group had not previously documented. Most took place in April and May 2015, but some dated from the time of the ouster of Mohamed Morsy, Egypt’s first freely elected president, in July 2013.
The Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms, an independent group, shared with Human Rights Watch detailed information about 14 other people who disappeared in the two months following the military’s removal of Morsy and have never reappeared. Their families filed official police reports and complaints to prosecutors, who never investigated, Mohamed Lotfy, the founder of the group, told HRW.
The Interior Ministry has denied or refused to comment on alleged enforced disappearances. A senior unnamed police official told Agence France Press in June 2015, “We don’t use these methods. If anyone has proof, they should file a formal complaint to the Interior Ministry.” Lotfy said the authorities have not responded to most complaints filed by independent groups, and it appears that the same is true for complaints relayed by the NCHR. Salah Salam, an NCHR member, told Al-Tahrir newspaper, “What is the use of receiving and reviewing complaints, while no one is answering them back.”
Ezzat Ghoneim, a lawyer with the Egyptian Coordination for Rights and Freedoms, an independent group that has documented violations against the Muslim Brotherhood, said that in March, it filed suit on behalf of four families against the president and interior minister at the Administrative Court and asked the judge to request authorities to disclose the fate and whereabouts of a number of disappeared people. The court has yet to rule on any of them. Ghoneim said that criminal courts had rejected four lawsuits his group filed against the prosecutor general for failing to investigate alleged enforced disappearance and that the group would appeal those rejections to the Cassation Court.
The United Nations Working Group on Enforced Disappearances said in its most recent report, in September 2014, that it had 52 outstanding cases in Egypt under review. The group expressed “concern that the situation continues to deteriorate in Egypt, which may facilitate the occurrence of multiple human rights violations, including enforced disappearance.”
“If Egypt’s public prosecutors take no action to ensure the police and other security personnel follow the law and release detainees from secret detention, then they risk being complicit in those disappearances,” Stork said.
The Oslo Times/HRW