Last Updated: Friday, 19 December 2014, 13:25 GMT

Egypt's Revolutionary road, one year on: still awaiting respect for human rights and democratic reforms

Publisher International Federation for Human Rights
Publication Date 9 February 2012
Cite as International Federation for Human Rights, Egypt's Revolutionary road, one year on: still awaiting respect for human rights and democratic reforms, 9 February 2012, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4f3929671c.html [accessed 20 December 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Last Update 9 February 2012

On the occasion of the first anniversary of Mubarak's resignation on February 11th, 2011, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) is releasing a position paper which shows that the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF), the de-facto ruler of Egypt has not upheld the basic human rights of Egyptians during the transitional period over the last year.

Protesters have flocked to Tahrir square and other squares across the country protesting SCAF's policies, and have been met with violence, arrest, torture and ill-treatment from security forces.

"Since the fall of Former President Mubarak and after the army took over power, we have been documenting and reporting dangerous developments that question the Supreme Council of Armed Forces' ability to conduct a peaceful transition. At a time where the protection of basic fundamental rights, such as freedom of peaceful assembly, freedom of expression, freedom of religion and freedom of association should not be compromised, we are worried that red lines have regularly been crossed which constitutes a major step-back for the demands of the Egyptian revolution" says Souhayr Belhassen, FIDH President.

"Therefore, we call upon the newly elected Parliament to engage in necessary legislative reforms that will allow for a better protection of basic human rights and civil liberties of the Egyptian people", continues Belhassen.

------------

On 9 March 2011, 17 women were amongst those arrested by the military when they violently dispersed the Tahrir sit-in. The detained protesters were taken to the Egyptian Museum where they were severely beaten, given electric shocks and verbally abused. The detainees were later transferred to the military Hykestep detention centre, where 7 women were threatened with prosecution, stripped of their clothes, and forced to submit to "virginity tests" administered by male army doctors.

On the 9th of October, Coptic protesters marched towards Maspero, the State television building, denouncing the latest burning of a church in Aswan. Protesters were confronted by brutal violence from military forces as they fired live ammunition to disperse the crowd, in addition to running over protesters with armed personnel carriers; resulting in the death of 24 protesters and injury of hundreds. In the wake of this violence, SCAF promised to open investigations into the events, however to this date, no result has been made public [1].

On the 19th of November, protesters clashed again with security forces as they had violently dispersed a sit-in in Tahrir square earlier. Security forces used an excessive amount of tear gas, live ammunition, bird-shot pellets, and rubber bullets. The clashes lasted for four days resulting in the deaths of 45 protesters and thousands of injuries [2].

Again on the 17th of December, military forces violently dispersed the sit-in at the Cabinet of Ministers, and arrested and detained several protesters. Protesters later gave their testimonies about the ill-treatment they have suffered during their detention. Those recent events witnessed an unprecedented use of violence against female protesters. Ghada Kamal, one of the female protesters detained after the violent crackdown, reported that she was severely beaten by army officers and received death threats. Military forces beat protesters with batons, electric shocks, live ammunition, rocks and in some instances firebombs. The violence resulted in the deaths of 17 protesters and hundreds of injuries [3].

On the 2nd of February 2012, protesters flocked to the streets in the vicinity of the Ministry of Interior to protest the massacre in Port Said stadium the day before. Protesters believed that the security forces did not intervene to protect the Al-Ahly fans in the stadium, and consequently resulted in the death of 78 civilians according to official figures (179 deaths have been recorded by families of the victims [4]). Security forces have been firing excessive amounts of tear gas, bird-shot pellets, rubber bullets, and in some instances live ammunition; leading to the death of 15 protesters and injury of hundreds [5].

Major challenges ahead for the new parliament

Starting November 2011, parliamentary elections were held where unprecedented number of voters turned out to polling stations. Islamist parties have won almost 70% of the parliament's seats. Despite the massive turn out of female voters, there are only 11 females in parliament today; 9 elected and 2 appointed, marking only 2% of the chamber. This parliament, according to the Constitutional Decree issued in March 2011, will appoint a committee consisting of 100 members to draft the upcoming constitution, which will then be put to a popular referendum. SCAF had announced that that the door for presidential candidates registration will open on the 10th of March 2012.

Egypt's new parliament is the first free elected body in Egypt's modern history, and it has expectations of reform to live up to. FIDH has set forward a series of recommendations that should be considered by parliament in further legislative reforms.

On Freedom of Association

First, the parliament must issue a new law on associations that guarantees freedom of forming non-governmental associations in accordance with the provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the African Charter of Human Rights and the Arab Charter of Human Rights. The new parliament must distance itself from the Mubarak policy that was proceeded by SCAF during its rule. In June 2011, the Minister of International Cooperation, Fayza Abu El Naga, announced the opening of an investigation in conjunction with the Ministry of Justice, into non governmental organizations working without a permission in the country accused of foreign funding. On the 29th of December, heavily armed security forces raided NGO buildings in Cairo, confiscating documents and laptops from their offices, and in some instances shutting them down. This comes in the wake of an intensified media slandering campaign against human rights organizations; accusing them of receiving foreign funds and conspiring to meddle in Egypt's affairs [6].

It is important to note that Law no. 84 on Associations of 2004 allowed the government to interfere with independent NGOs and restrict their activities. The law requires that NGOs must register with the government and report on its operations; to the extent that the Ministry of Insurances and Social Affairs can unilaterally dissolve an organization. The Ministry rejects various applications of registration of NGOs without giving an explanation. FIDH is deeply disturbed by the latest developments where as 43 NGO personnel, including 19 Americans and 24 Egyptians, have been referred to the criminal court on charges of illegal funding. Accordingly, FIDH recommends that the parliament should amend the existing law on association in order to guarantee freedom of association in accordance with Egypt's international obligations, and to replace the existing regime of prior authorization by a declaratory regime, specifying the permissible limitations and subjecting them to judicial review. Such control should be exercized on decisions to refuse the registration of or to dissolve associations. FIDH also recommends that the law allows NGOs operating in Egypt to receive foreign funding, as long as such funding is transparent and the association undertakes lawful activities. Employees and members of NGOs awaiting registration under applicable law shall be protected against criminal abuse, that is actually aimed at punishing an activity that complies with international standards subscribed to by Egypt.

On the Right to a fair trial and the prohibition to refer civilians before exceptional and military courts

Second, the parliament must amend the Code of Military Justice, which allows referral of civilians to military courts, to limit the jurisdiction of military tribunals to only military personnel charged with offenses of a military nature. Since the 28th of January 2011 when the military went down to the streets in Egypt, military trials have been excessively used; as of August 2011, 12,000 civilians have been tried in military courts. Sentences are handed down to civilians within days, in the absence of their lawyers, and without a right to appeal. Military trials have also been used to silence opponents of the regime and human rights activists. In April 2011, Maikel Nabil, a blogger who published an article in March 2011 titled "The People and the Army Were Never One Hand", detailing the human rights violations that military personnel have committed since 28 January, was handed down a military sentence of 5 years; which was later repealed to two years in military prison [7]. In the wake of the Maspero massacres, blogger Alaa Abdel Fattah, was detained by a military court for charges of stealing weapons and assaulting military officers. Abdel Fattah was later released after a huge solidarity campaign by human rights organizations; the charges against him have not been dropped [8]. At this moment, several protesters, political opponents and activists are facing judicial investigations with charges of burning the Scientific Institution Building. The Egyptian authorities continue to use judicial harassment to silence opposition to its policies [9]. FIDH urges the SCAF to immediately stop all referral of civilians to military trials; without any exception. The parliament must repeal the law that allows for persons accused of "thuggery" to be tried in military courts under the intact partial emergency law, as per SCAF's decree of 24th of January 2012 (see further below).

The Code of Military Justice not only allows the president to refer civilians to military tribunals under the emergency law, but it also gives jurisdiction to military tribunals if the crime committed is within a place that is under military control, or if one of the parties involved is a military personnel. After the army took to the streets on the 28th of January 2011, this law was extensively abused by the military prosecutor to refer civilians before military courts, as Article 48 of the Code of Military Justice allows the prosecutor to define his jurisdiction freely [10]. Accordingly, the parliament must reform this code so to as limit military jurisdiction to military personnel only, accused of military-related crimes, as recalled by the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights, in several decisions concerning Nigeria and Sudan, in particular [11]. Furthermore, the upcoming constitution should strictly stipulate that no civilian can be tried before any exceptional courts.

In addition, all those tried before military courts must be released or transferred to civil court for a retrial in case there are valid charges against them. The Minister of Justice should request from the Head of the Appeals Chamber to appoint investigation judges to examine all sentences given to civilians in military tribunals [12]. In addition, the judges must investigate all violations of human rights committed by military personnel against the detainees; such as the incidents of torture and virginity tests on the 9th of March 2011.

On the necessity to end the state of emergency

Third, the parliament must immediately and completely lift the state of emergency (law no. 162 of 1958). Field Marshal Tantawi, head of SCAF, announced on the 24th of January 2012 that the state of emergency had been partially lifted as the Emergency law, in force since 1981, will still be applied in acts of "thuggery". Again, exceptional cases and loopholes are maintained which allows for vast violations of human rights, as "thuggery" may apply to organizers of anti-governmental peaceful protests. Accordingly, the parliament must amend the current state of emergency law to be in accordance with article 4 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, where it states that only when the life of the nation is under threat, the emergency law should be in force. The ICCPR also provides that even in a state of emergency, the laws limiting the basic rights and freedoms of the citizens must be narrowed as well as justified.

On the Right to Peaceful Assembly

Fourth, over the past year and until today, peaceful protesters have been confronted with brutal violence from security and army forces. FIDH urges the parliament to amend the law no. 156 of 1964 which grants the Minister of Interior the right to order the use of live ammunition for the dispersement of protests and sit-ins. FIDH recalls that the fundamental right of peaceful assembly that cannot be jeopardized under any circumstances. In this light, FIDH also calls on the parliament to repeal the law banning protests and strike (law no. 34 of 2011) that was issued by SCAF in April 2011. Instead, the right to strike and the right to peaceful assembly should be guaranteed in the future constitution, and any restrictions to these rights must be up to international standards.

On the right of victims to justice and reparation

Fifth, a year after the outbreak of protests on January 25th 2011 and the gross violations of human rights that followed by government forces [13], the victims are still waiting for justice to be served. Criminal proceedings against former president Mubarak and former regime officials have been deemed as more of a show-trial. The only sentence that was given to a police officer for the killing of protesters on the 28th of January 2011 was given in absentia. The police officer later surrendered himself and he is now facing re-trial that was adjourned for April 2012. Another four police officers in Qalioubeya have been referred to trial in March 2011, and the hearings have been constantly adjourned until the present day. In December 2011, a court acquitted six police officers from Sayeda Zeinab. In January 2012, the Court acquitted two police officers accused of killing protesters in Ain Shams. The trial of Mubarak on the high level security officials have started in August 2011, and continue to this day. The trial of another 13 police officers accused of killing protesters in Imbaba and Kerdasa was adjourned to February 2012. FIDH views this prolonged process of slow justice as an indication of the lack of political will to try the police officers for the killing and injury of protesters.

FIDH has repeatedly called on SCAF to conduct impartial, independent and prompt investigations and prosecute the perpetrators of human rights violations; however SCAF announces the start of the investigation, and yet no result is made public, and the perpetrators have not been put on trial. The above mentioned incidents of violence after Mubarak's departure have also not been properly investigated or prosecuted. Instead, after the outbreak of violence, security forces mainly arrest protesters and by-standers and prosecute them with charges such as attacking the military and police officers.. The only incident for which there has been trial proceedings for the killing of protesters was for the Maspero massacre that occurred on the 9th of October. However, the trials are held by the military prosecutor and only three soldiers are charged with involuntary manslaughter, without any consideration for the chain of command. FIDH recalls that higher military officials who gave orders should also be investigated and prosecuted for being responsible for the killing of protesters. FIDH urges the parliament to distance itself from SCAF's policies of impunity, and immediately demand the trial of all perpetrators of gross human rights violations.

On the Prevention of Torture

FIDH recalls that one of the reasons behind the demonstrations of January 25th 2011 which sparked the beginning of the popular uprising, was the protest against the systematic use of torture by the police, especially during interrogation. FIDH recalls that the current incomplete definition of torture in Egyptian legislation has been a concern during Egypt's Universal Periodic Review in 2010 [14]. Accordingly, FIDH calls on the parliament to adopt a definition of torture in full compliance with the definition in Article 1, paragraph 1, of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT). FIDH recalls the obligation of state parties to CAT to "eliminate any legal or other obstacles that impede the eradication of torture and ill-treatment", and accordingly calls on the parliament to amend the relevant articles in the Penal Code, in particularly articles 126, 128, and 129, so that they are in line with the jurisprudence of the Committee Against Torture. Furthermore, FIDH reminds the authorities that they should open independent and impartial investigations into allegations of torture from the Mubarak era until the present day. FIDH stresses that the prosecution of police officers allegedly accused of torture is an essential step for Egypt to break away from the long history of rampant torture during the Mubarak era, and that victims of torture must be able to obtain full redress. FIDH also recommends that NGO working on torture related issues are allowed to pay unannounced visits to places of detention and prisons so as to examine the conditions of detention.

Recommendations:

FIDH urges the Parliament to:

  • Amend the existing law on association in order to guarantee freedom of association in accordance with Egypt's international obligations, and to replace the existing regime of prior authorization by a declaratory regime, specifying the permissible limitations and subjecting them to judicial review;

  • Amend the Code of Military Justice to limit the jurisdiction of military tribunals to only military personnel charged with offenses of a military nature;

  • Immediately and completely lift the state of emergency;

  • Amend the law no. 156 of 1964 which grants the Minister of Interior the right to order the use of live ammunition for the dispersement of protests and sit-ins;

  • Repeal the law banning protests and strike (law no. 34 of 2011) that was issued by SCAF in April 2011;

  • Adopt a definition of torture in full compliance with the definition in Article 1, paragraph 1, of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT);

  • Amend articles articles 126, 128, and 129 of the Penal Code, so that they are in line with the jurisprudence of the Committee Against Torture.

FIDH further urges the Egyptian authorities to:

  • Ratify the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights aiming at the abolition of death penalty;

  • Ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or degrading Treatment;

  • Ratify the Rome Statute establishing the international Criminal Court;

  • Ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.

FIDH reminds the Parliament that Egypt must ensure that its own domestic law and practice are consistent with what is required by the treaties it ratified; members of Parliament should therefore consider the best way of giving effect to the rights guaranteed by those Conventions in domestic law.

Finally, Egypt should also invite the UN and African special procedures and review past recommendations made by special procedures in order to prioritize their implementation as part of the transition.


Footnotes

[1] FIDH Press Release, "The Egyptian Army crushing protesters: FIDH is calling for an independent commission of inquiry!", 12 October 2011, http://www.fidh.org/The-Egyptian-Army-crushing

[2] FIDH Press Release, "Egyptian Police disproportionate use of force: Deja Vu of January 28th?", 21 November 2011, http://www.fidh.org/Egyptian-Police-disproportionate

[3] CIHRS Press Release, "Continued Militarization: Increased Violence Against Women Human Rights Defenders During Dispersal of Cabinet Sit-in", 19 December 2011,

http://www.cihrs.org/?p=546&lang=en

[4] Al Masry Al Youm (Arabic),7/2/2012, http://www.almasryalyoum.com/node/64431

[5] Ahram (Arabic), New Injuries around Ministry of Interior, 8/2/2012, http://gate.ahram.org.eg/News/169860.aspx

[6] Joint Statement, "Egypt : attack on human rights organizations and civil society", 2 January 2012, http://www.fidh.org/Egypt-attack-on-human-rights

[7] Amnesty International, "Jailed Egyptian blogger Maikel Nabil Sanad is a prisoner of conscience who should be released", 14 December 2011, http://www.amnesty.org.uk/news_details.asp?NewsID=19861

[8] OBS-EMHR Press Release, "Detention of blogger Alaa Abd El-Fattah extended", 30 November 2011, http://www.fidh.org/Detention-of-blogger-Alaa-Abd-El

[9] "Revolutionary figures remain targets for military", Ahram Online, 10 January 2012, http://english.ahram.org.eg/News/31313.aspx

[10] Hisham Mubarak Law Center, http://hmlc-egy.org/node/1760

[11] http://www.achpr.org/english/_info/news_en.html

[12] Hisham Mubarak Law Center, http://hmlc-egy.org/node/1760

[13] FIDH Report , The Price of Hope, Human Rights Violations during the Egyptian Revolution, May 2011, http://www.fidh.org/The-Price-of-Hope-Human-Rights

[14] Human Rights Watch, The Road Ahead, http://www.hrw.org/reports/2012/01/16/road-ahead-0

Search Refworld

Countries