Wednesday, March 08, 2006

State Department Bashes Egypt's HR Record

The State Department report on Egyptian human rights abuses, came out today. It is a strong one, but with one gaping and significant hole.

As in past years, the report strongly condemns a range of human rights abuses in Egypt. These include torture, deaths in detention, harassment of political opponents and religious and social minorities, limits on freedom of speech and association and issues of impunity related to security forces and police. On these issues, the State Department report is comprehensive and strong. These issues mirror the concerns of Amnesty International.

But there is one a worrisome gap in the report on abuses coming out of the war on terror. Amnesty International has increasingly been concerned that the U.S. government has stood by and in several incidents actively encouraged human rights abuses by Egyptian officials in the war on terror. This is particularly true on the issue of renditions. Here are four cases that Amnesty has raised in this capacity. None of these are mentioned in the State Department report:

Abdulsalam al-Hela: Abdulsalam al-Hela a 34-year old businessman from Sana’a, Yemen. Abdulsalam al-Hela was abducted in Egypt and held in secret detention in Afghanistan before being transferred to Guantánamo Bay, where he remains to this day.

Abu Omar (formerly known as Osama Nasr Mostafa Hassan): according to reports allegedly he was abducted on a street in Milan and allegedly driven to the US air base in Aviano, Italy, where he was interrogated and drugged before being taken to the US military base in Ramstein in Germany. From there he was flown to Egypt, where he was allegedly tortured, including with electric shocks. Although released in 2004 he was rearrested and remains held in an unknown place of detention, there are substantiated reports that he may again be currently detained in Damanhour prison, Egypt, where he may be at risk of torture or ill-treatment.

Mamdouh Habib, Arrested in Pakistan and transferred to Egypt, where he was tortured, then transferred to Guantánamo Bay. After almost three years in Guantánamo, Mamdouh Habib was released on January 28, 2005 and sent to Australia.

Ahmed Agiza and Muhammad El-Zari: Two Egyptian asylum-seekers, Ahmed Hussein Mustafa Kamil ‘Agiza and Muhammad Muhammad Suleiman Ibrahim El-Zari, were deported from Sweden to Egypt in December 2001. The men were bundled onto a US government-leased plane by masked US security agents who had reportedly hooded, shackled and drugged them. The Swedish authorities said they had obtained ‘diplomatic assurances’ from the Egyptian authorities that the two men would not be harmed. They were held incommunicado for five weeks before Swedish diplomats visited them and were allegedly tortured in Egyptian custody.

Obviously, these are just the cases we know of. The secrecy involved in the war on terror can lead us only to guess how many other cases there are. We believe that the failure of the report to stand up to the abuses in the war on terror, even if the U.S. government is complicit, will undermine the credibility and effectiveness of the report. It is hard to condemn torture by Egyptian officials, as the State Department report does, if on the other hand, we are turning over prisoners to them to be tortured. If we are arranging for the secret detention of prisoners, it is hard to condemn the Egyptians for doing the same.

One last issue: The State Department, as in the past, is again quiet on the issue of the death penalty in Egypt. AI believes the death penalty is a human rights abuse and calls upon all nations to end capital punishment.


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