The appointment of a civilian judge, to investigate complaints made against senior military figures, is a step towards holding the former ruling military council accountable, said Human Rights Watch on Friday.
The Cairo Appeals Court appointed judge Tharwat Hamad on 15 October, to investigate complaints against former Supreme Council of Armed Forces Chairman Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, his deputy Lieutenant Sami Anan and Military Police Chief Major General Hamdy Badeen – accusing them of corruption and killing protestors.
The public prosecution received 136 complaints against Tantawi and Anan, all of which have now been referred to Hamad.
Military courts have previously exclusively handled complaints against military commanders. No military commanders have been convicted in any cases of wrongdoing regarding the transitional period following former President Hosni Mubarak’s ouster when SCAF led the country, which saw hundreds of protestors killed and thousands injured.
“Over the past year and a half, the military has been getting away with murder, torture, and sexual assault, because military investigators were unwilling to seriously investigate their own,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “If backed by full support from the political authorities, this civilian investigation could become the first serious step toward reversing the impunity the military has enjoyed so far.”
The military judiciary has only investigated two specific cases of reported abuses. It has ignored countless others, including a case in which video evidence shows military police beating and kicking women on December 16, 2011, including one veiled woman who lay on the ground with her torso exposed, while six military police officers beat and kicked her. There has been no investigation of the torture of protesters in March 2011 in downtown Cairo at Lazoghli, or in May 2012 at Abbasiya.
The two cases investigated were that of the sexual assault of women protesters in March 2011 in a military prison under the guise of “virginity tests”, and the killing by the military of 27 protesters in front of the Maspero building in October 2011.
A military court acquitted the only officer charged in the virginity tests case on 11 March 2011. The military prosecutor summoned no witnesses for the prosecution to establish the charges under which he had referred the case to court, nor did he challenge apparently inconsistent testimony by defence witnesses.
Despite statements from senior military leaders including current Minister of Defence and Commander-in-Chief General Abdel Fatah Al-Sisi, conceding that the incident had taken place, the trial did not examine who ordered the tests.
Regarding the killing of 27 Coptic protesters at Maspero in October 2011, only three low-level soldiers were brought to trial by military prosecutors, over the killings of 14 protesters. There was no investigation into who commanded the military’s deployment that day, or of which military officers were responsible for the shootings. On 3 September, a military court sentenced the three soldiers to prison terms ranging from two to three years for involuntary manslaughter.
The public prosecution ordered a parallel civilian investigation of the same case, which led to no military officers being charged and several activists on the scene being charged with killing their fellow protestors. The investigation judge at the time was also Tharwat Hamad.