Monday, July 10, 2006

Abusing Emergency Powers in Egypt

Amnesty International today called on the Egyptian government to ensure that a new law on terrorism currently being drafted does not entrench powers that have facilitated torture, unfair trials and other grave human rights violations under Egypt’s long running state of emergency.

The organization sent a memorandum to President Hosni Mubarak highlighting its concerns about secret detentions and enforced "disappearances", torture and ill-treatment of detainees, unfair trials before special and military courts, the death penalty, and the impunity accorded to state officials responsible for perpetrating torture and other human rights violations. The organization said that these violations have been committed under powers conferred on state officials under the state of emergency, which has been continuously in force since 1981. It was most recently renewed in April 2006 for a period of two years or until the new anti-terror law is in place.

The memorandum also describes the cases of people forcibly returned to and detained in Egypt in the context of the so-called war on terror, under the US government’s unlawful renditions policy, on the basis of "diplomatic assurances" or by other Arab governments. Many of these suspects have effectively "disappeared" since their return to Egypt; the authorities have not acknowledged holding them or disclosed their identities, nor divulged the legal reasons for their detentions or where they are being held.

In its letter to President Mubarak, Amnesty International said it recognized the threat posed to Egypt by terrorism and utterly condemned the recent bomb attacks carried out at Taba, Sharm el-Sheikh and Dahab which targeted civilians, causing many deaths and injuries. In combating terrorism and in carrying out their responsibilities to maintain public safety and punish crime, however, the Egyptian authorities must abide by their obligations under international human rights law, including the absolute prohibition on torture. The new law against terrorism should be formulated taking these obligations into account. It should not entrench the abusive powers of the government’s state of emergency and lead to a perpetuation of the gross abuses which have occurred under it. Other laws -- such as those restricting press freedom and the activities of non-governmental organizations -- should also be amended and brought into conformity with international human rights law.

Amnesty International made this call ahead of an international conference on "Terrorism: the Legal Challenges", which will be held on 8-9 July in Cairo under the auspices of the Centre of Parliamentary Studies of the People’s Assembly, Egypt’s Parliament.


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