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DIGNITY calls upon Egypt to open dialogue

Published 03.10.2017
In August 2017, the United Nations reached “the inescapable conclusion that torture is a systematic practice in Egypt”. DIGNITY calls upon Egypt to open dialogue. To stop dismissing the voices of the international community and acknowledge that there is a serious problem that needs to be addressed.

In August 2017, the United Nations reached “the inescapable conclusion that torture is a systematic practice in Egypt”. These are the words of the most representative and reliable body focusing on torture and ill-treatment of the whole international community, the UN Committee Against Torture (CAT).

These words are heavy and cannot be dismissed.

The CAT ‘s trustworthiness is beyond discussion – the CAT treats all states parties to the UN Convention Against Torture the same apolitical way. The CAT is made of experts from all over the world – from the North to the South, from the East and the West of the globe. 

The CAT reached its conclusion after a process of inquiry covering 2012-2016. Not a short period.  The Committee’s request to conduct a country visit that received no affirmative response by Egypt. The CAT proceeded with the confidential inquiry without a visit. The Committee concluded that torture is a systematic practice in Egypt and issued recommendations to Egypt, among others, to “immediately end the practice of torture and ill-treatment in all places of detention; to ensure that officials at the highest level publicly condemn torture and ill-treatment by State agents and adopt a zero-tolerance policy; and to prosecute perpetrators of torture, including those with command or superior responsibility.”

The Committee’s words would be enough to alarm Egypt’s authorities as well as the international community; but the Committee is not alone. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Al Karama International and several human rights groups from the Middle East and North Africa region and from Egypt itself have documented a systematic use of torture for several years. Direct testimonies by victims are many. Torture was systematic in Egypt before 2011 and continued be a systematic practice after. What is particularly alarming today, compared to before 2011, is that the number of persons deprived of their liberty has doubled and prisons (official and non) and police stations is where torture takes place.

But today DIGNITY is not interested in debating whether torture is systematic or not as after the CAT’s report we simply have a bold official answer.

Today we want to move beyond, we call upon Egypt to open to dialogue. To stop dismissing the voices of the international community and acknowledge that there is a serious problem that needs to be addressed.

The pressure raised by terrorist groups is no excuse. Filling up prisons and torturing political and human rights activists will lead to further radicalization, which will serve in return only more terror.

Addressing the systematic use of torture and the use of detention as a means of ill-treatment is necessary to the medium and long-term stability of Egypt. The opposite will nurture the way to unpredictable scenarios of new revolutions and/or public violence.

Opening to dialogue does not constitute a simple task. It is a complex series of actions that would entail a dramatic change of direction by Egypt. Opening to dialogue it means timely interaction with the relevant UN mechanisms, including inviting the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture to Egypt to receive its support and recommendations on the way forward. It means making timely report to the treaty bodies, firstly the CAT. It means allowing civil society, national and international, to thrive in the country and seek their support for services such as legal aid and clinical rehabilitation to victims and for the general development of technical skills on how to investigate torture and prevent it from happening. It means empowering the National Council for Human Rights with independent experts that can lead a constructive dialogue on how to monitor and improve conditions of detention.

Above all, opening to dialogue means a public acknowledgement followed by a declaration of commitment to change, which would open for a nationwide reconciliation process between the State and all its citizens.           

On September 22nd DIGNITY sponsored a side event to the 36th session of United Nations Human Rights Council to provide complementary information to the special inquiry procedure ran by the CAT with focus on Egypt. By the end of the event these were the recommendations issued by the participating organizations, Amnesty International, CIVICUS, El Nadeem Center, Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedom Europe:

Egypt’s dialogue with the UN Committee against Torture

  • Take prompt and tangible actions to implement the recommendations of the UN Committee against Torture in the inquiry report that were accepted by Egypt.
  • Reconsider the recommendations of the Committee that were rejected – such as to immediately end the use of incommunicado detention; create an independent authority to investigate allegations of torture, enforced disappearance and ill-treatment; and restrict the jurisdiction of the military courts to offences of an exclusively military nature.
  • Submit the due national report to the UN Committee against Torture so that the dialogue about the implementation of the standards of the UN Convention against Torture can begin.
  • Accept the mandate of the UN Committee against Torture to receive individual complaints (Article 22 of the UN Convention against Torture)

Egypt’s dialogue with civil society

  • Create an enabling environment for human rights organisations working for the legal and medical support of victims of torture.
  • Grant regular access to independent civil society organizations active in the field of health rights.

Improve Medical Support in Prisons

  • Grant regular and unannounced access to prison inspection to the National Human Rights Council, as well as to independent civil society organizations active in the field of medical and health rights.
  • Grant the doctors' syndicate direct supervision of performance of prison doctors.
  • Incorporate psychological health care in medical services in prisons.
  • Ensure independence of prison doctors from prison and security authorities.

Egypt’s fulfilment of international standards

  • Immediately end the practice of torture and ill-treatment in all places of detention.
  • End the practice of solitary confinement in violation of the Standard Minimum Rules for Prisoners (Mandela Rules)
  • Ensure the prompt, impartial and full investigation of all allegations of torture and ill-treatment.
  • Ensure that the office of the public prosecution conducts regular visits to prisons as a way to preventing ill-treatment.

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