The ACHPR Must Urgently Deploy a Protection Mission to Egypt

21/07/2014
Press release
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Open Letter to the ACHPR President, Mrs Sylvie Zainabo Kaitesi

Paris, Nairobi, Cairo, 18 July 2014

Madame Chairperson,
Commissioners,

Since the 16th Extraordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) is being held in Kigali (Rwanda) from 20 to 27 July 2014, FIDH would like to alert you to the fact of the alarming rate of the situation of human rights deterioration in Egypt and encourage you to consider the urgent deployment of a protection mission to Egypt, in application of Articles 45.2 and 46 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and Article 81 of the ACHPR Rules of Procedure.

FIDH salutes the position taken recently by the ACHPR concerning the situation in Egypt, namely by denouncing the mass death sentences, by urging the Egyptian authorities “to bring its legal system into compliance with international and regional standards [1] ; “to take the necessary steps to end all acts of intimidation carried out against journalists [...]); to respect and guarantee their right to freedom of opinion and expression, their right to freedom of assembly; ensure their physical integrity and ensure they conduct their activities in a safe and conducive environment [2] , and by condemning the arrest and detention of human rights defenders and calling for their immediate release [3] . Egypt is marked by repeated, ever stronger attacks against fundamental rights and freedoms, and by a poorly functioning judiciary which allows rampant impunity for perpetrators of violence and acts of harassment, including judicial harassment of human rights defenders, journalists, peaceful demonstrators and political opponents. For this reason, FIDH urges you to increase your action by deploying a protection mission to Egypt.

The authorities continue to violate freedom of association, speech and assembly

FIDH is greatly concerned with the increase in the number of arrests, arbitrary detentions, and unfair trials of human rights defenders, journalists, peaceful demonstrators and political opponents; harassments resulting from Egypt’s adoption of, or draft of, repressive laws in violation of its regional and international obligations.

The authorities are targeting human rights defenders. In particular, FIDH would like bring the case of Yara Sallam to your attention. Ms. Sallam is a Transitional Justice Officer at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), a human rights organisation that has been working since 2002 to strengthen the rule of law in Egypt. She was arrested on 21 June 2014 after the police violently dispersed a peaceful rally organised in Cairo to call for the cancellation of law no. 107/2013 on public marches and meetings (the Protest Law – read here). She was remanded to custody and interrogated on the nature of her work at EIPR, and has now has been in prison for close to a month. On 29 June her lawyers’ request for conditional release was rejected and her trial is not expected to take place before 13 September 2014. FIDH urges the ACHPR to take stronger steps to secure her immediate and unconditional release.

This arbitrary arrest and detention is part of an overall effort to impede the actions of anyone who might challenge the regime. For example, on 11 June the South Cairo Criminal Court sentenced Alaa Abdel Fattah, a human rights defender, in absentia to 15 years of prison for having taken part in a peaceful protest. Twenty-four other people, including activists, were sentenced to the same jail term during this proceeding. On 7 April 2014, the Cairo Court of Appeal upheld the three year prison terms for three prominent Egyptian activists – Ahmed Douma, Ahmed Maher and Mohamed Adel – for having organised an unauthorised protest and for having allegedly assaulted a police officer. On 28 April, the Cairo Court for Urgent Affairs ruled to ban the activities of the 6 April Youth Movement, a movement that played a central role in organising the events of 25 January 2011. The charges were “espionage” and activities that distort Egypt’s image abroad. On 20 May, the Sidi Gaber Misdemeanour Court in Alexandria upheld the two year prison sentence and the 50,000 EP (about 7,000 USD) fine against human rights lawyer Mahienour Al Massry and eight other persons, including human rights defenders and activists, for having violated law no. 107/2013 and having participated in a protest on 2 December 2013 without prior authorisation. On 22 May 2014, the police forced its way into the Alexandria office of the Egyptian Centre for Economic and Social Rights (ECESR), and sexually assaulted two women in the office. They also arrested 15 people including two ECESR employees and two minors, and they confiscated office materials and documents. Those arrested were released without being charged. The Cairo Court’s sentencing of 18 Al-Jazeera journalists to jail terms of up to 11 years is also emblematic of the repression to which these individuals are subjected.

These repeated violations of freedom of association, assembly, expression, and information are supported by a notoriously repressive legislation. The Egyptian authorities have in effect used Law 107/2013 (which authorises the Minister of the Interior to prohibit all demonstrations) to use force to disperse demonstrators and to make arrests based on vague provisions such as “attempts to influence the course of justice” or “disrupting public interests”. This repressive law may be strengthened considerably if the new draft law on associations is adopted by Parliament. Pursuant to the provisions of the draft law, the Ministry of Social Solidarity would be allowed to interfere in the affairs of civil society organisations, in particular by intervening in the composition of their Board or by suspending their activities with administrative decrees. The draft law also contains provisions requiring non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to notify the Ministry of Social Solidarity if they wish to cooperate with a foreign organisation, which could be interpreted to include all interactions with regional and international protection mechanisms such as the ACHPR. The draft also stipulates the establishment of a “coordination committee” composed of government representatives, including representatives of the security forces, which would have extensive discretionary powers to regulate the activities of international organisations operating in Egypt. This committee would have, among other powers, the power to examine registration requests, or control the source of their funding. Furthermore, the draft law authorises State agents to enter the premises of NGOs at any time, whether registered or not, to ensure that they are respecting the law.

These laws and draft laws flout Egypt’s regional and international human rights obligations. They especially disregard the following articles of the African Charter for Human and Peoples’ Rights: 3 (Every individual shall be equal before the law. Every individual shall be entitled to equal protection of the law.); 6 (No one may be arbitrarily arrested or detained.); 7 (Every individual shall have the right to have his cause heard.); 9 (Every individual shall have the right to receive information. Every individual shall have the right to express and disseminate his opinions within the law.); 10 (Every individual shall have the right to free association); and, 11 (Every individual shall have the right to assemble freely with others).

The perpetrators and those responsible for human rights violations continue to enjoy full impunity

With the notable exception of the 16 July conviction by the South Cairo Criminal Court of five men to a sentence of life imprisonment, and of two others to 20 years on charges of “indecent assault” with force, use of force, thuggery, theft, kidnapping and detention on 8 June 2014 in Tahrir Square, impunity for perpetrators of rape and other acts of sexual violence remains the norm. None of the alleged perpetrators of the 250 documented cases of mass sexual assault and rapes committed near Tahrir Square between November 2012 and January 2014 were held accountable. Sexual violence against women in the public sphere has been a long-standing epidemic and hundreds of cases are yet to undergo investigations, prosecutions, and punishment. While the authorities have announced the adoption of a national strategy for combatting violence against women, it has not been made public, and women’s rights groups and civil society organisations have not been consulted. The limited measures taken by the authorities in recent months, which include amendments to the penal code defining sexual harassment, remain woefully insufficient and lack transparency.

Almost a year after the mass killings which cost the lives of hundreds of protestors during the protests following Mohamed Morsi’s overthrow [4], Egyptian authorities have failed in their obligation to hold those police and army officers allegedly responsible for these bloody repressions accountable. Instead, authorities continue to deny all responsibility of the security forces, including the violent repression of the Raba’a and Nahda sit-ins in Cairo which occurred in July and August 2013, and during which security forces are said to have killed almost 1,000 protestors.

In December 2013, the Interim President, Adly Mansour, established a commission of inquiry charged with “gathering information and evidence on the events that accompanied the revolution of 30 June 2013 and its repercussions”. The lack of consultation in the selection process of its members, and the lack of transparency on its activities, creates serious doubts both on the credibility of this commission and on the real will of authorities to shed light on the violence surrounding these events. This credibility may be permanently questioned if the report of the commission of inquiry, which must be delivered to the President next September, is not made public, as happened with the reports of the two commissions of inquiry set up in 2011 and 2012.

These acts violate articles 2 (non-discrimination); 3, 4 (every human being is entitled to respect for his life and the integrity of his person); and 7 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

The recent mass death sentences and executions illustrate the dysfunctional administration of justice

On 24 March 2014, after unfair proceedings, the Minya Criminal Court, Southern Egypt, sentenced 529 people to death, including 387 in absentia, for acts of violence perpetrated against a police station in Adwa in August 2013 which led to the death of one police officer. The Minya court rendered its decision after only two hearings during which the rights of the defence were regularly violated. For example, neither the lawyers nor the accused in custody were allowed to attend the second hearing, and the judicial authorities made no effort to establish individual criminal responsibility of each of the accused.

On 28 April 2014, an Egyptian court sentenced 638 alleged supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, including its Supreme Leader, Mohammed Badie, to death. The same court also upheld death sentences against 37 of the 529 persons previously convicted by the Minya court on 24 March. Those whose death sentences were not upheld were instead sentenced to life imprisonment. On 28 April, the Egyptian court also initiated proceedings to sentence 683 men to death. The charges against the defendants, most of them were tried in absentia, included the killing of a police officer, in connection with the violence following the removal of Mohamed Morsi in August 2013. On 21 June, the Minya Criminal Court upheld the death sentences of 183 Muslim Brotherhood supporters, including that of Mohamed Badie. These mass convictions reflect the use of the Egyptian judiciary to repress dissenting voices.

On 16 June 2014, three men and one woman were executed in Assiut public prison after being convicted of murder and theft. On 19 June, four other men were executed, one in Cairo’s Appeal Prison, another in Wadi-al Natrun prison, and two others in Borg Al Arab prison in Alexandria after their convictions for murder. These are the first documented executions in Egypt since October 2011.

These acts are in violation of articles 4 and 26 (Independence of the Courts) of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

Recommendations

While the new Egyptian Constitution, adopted in January 2014, contains clauses about protecting basic human rights, recent developments have shown that the country’s authorities continue to disregard their responsibilities and obligations. The African Commission must be more proactive regarding the Egyptian situation and take every measure necessary to:

- Deploy a protection mission to this country immediately, in accordance with Articles 45.2 and 46 of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, and Article 81 of the ACHPR Rules of Procedure. This mission should be composed of the Commissioner in charge of the Egyptian situation, the Chair of the Working Group on the Death Penalty, and Extra-Judicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions in Africa, the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders, the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information, as well as the Special Rapporteur on Rights of Women. Such a protection mission would enable the ACHPR to meet with the Egyptian authorities and remind them of their obligations under the African Charter. In particular, the ACHPR could urge the authorities to:

  • Proceed with the immediate and unconditional release all human rights defenders who are arbitrarily detained;
  • Put an end to the harassment, including judicial harassment, of human rights defenders, journalists, peaceful demonstrators, political opponents and other voices contesting the regime, and guarantee their rights to freedom of association, assembly, expression and information;
  • Revoke Law 107/2013 regulating demonstrations and public meetings and put an end to the arbitrary arrest and detention of peaceful demonstrators under the provisions of this law;
  • Implement the provisions of ACHPR’s Resolution 281 on the right to peaceful demonstrations;
  • Refrain from adopting an association law containing provisions that contradict rights guaranteed by the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights and the new Egyptian Constitution. Ensure that all civil society organisations are involved and consulted in the drafting process of the new law on associations;
  • Fight against impunity for those responsible of human rights violations, in particular the perpetrators of and those responsible for ordering mass killings, including state officials, as well as perpetrators and those responsible for violence against women, especially sexual violence;
  • Abolish the death penalty for all crimes, impose an immediate moratorium on death sentences and executions, and ratify the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) ;
  • Adopt national strategies in order to effectively combat all forms of violence and discrimination against women and ensure an appropriate and effective consultation with women’s rights organisations and other civil society groups;
  • Ratify the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance, the Protocol to the African Charter on the creation of the African Court on Human and People’s Rights by citing Article 34.6 allowing NGOs and individuals to bring cases to the Court and the Protocol to the African Charter of the Rights of Women.
  • We respectfully await, Madam Chairperson and Commissioners, your response and follow-up to this letter. We also would like to inform you that the contents of the letter will be made public.

cc. to all Commissioners

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