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Amnesty International, Human Rights watch urge Al-Sisi to address ‘rights crisis‘

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Statement tells new president not to “ignore worst situation in decades”

President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi (AFP PHOTO/STR )

President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi
(AFP PHOTO/STR )

Prominent international rights groups Amnesty International (AI) and Human Rights Watch (HRW) released Monday a strongly worded joint statement calling upon President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi to address ongoing human rights abuses in Egypt, urging the newly-inaugurated Al-Sisi “not to ignore the worst situation [in Egypt] in decades”.

The extensively detailed report opens by condemning “Egypt’s dismal human rights record” since Mohamed Morsi’s 3 July ouster, during which Egyptians witnessed “the worst incident of mass unlawful killings in Egypt’s recent history”, “unprecedented large-scale death sentences”,  and “mass arrests and torture that harken back to the darkest days of… Hosni Mubarak’s rule”.

AI and HRW also note the “extensive restrictions on freedom of association, expression and assembly” alongside violations against women and refugees paired with “rampant impunity across the board for serious human rights abuses”.

The groups then beseech former Minister of Defence Al-Sisi to order the release of “anyone held solely for exercising their rights”, amending or repealing 2013’s “restrictive” Protest Law, and ordering security forces to halt using firearms against protesters.

“Instead of addressing the urgent need for reform, Egyptian authorities have spent the last year engaging in repression on a scale unprecedented in Egypt’s modern history,” said Hassiba Hadj-Sahraoui, deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International. “Now that President Al-Sisi has formally taken the reins of power, he should put an end to these rampant abuses.”

After a seven-page detailed list of examples of violations including mass arrests, torture, mass killings and violations against women and refugees, the two groups give eight recommendations to address “serious human rights concerns”.

Among the recommendations are: an independent, impartial investigation into unlawful use of force; ordering security forces to end unlawful, excessive use of force by following UN guidelines on the use of force; the immediate and unconditional release of those detained for exercising their right to freedom of expression, association and assembly; a justice ministry review to ensure detainees are afforded their full due process rights and visits from lawyers and families; identifying security officials alleged to be responsible for torture and ill-treatment of detainees; the creation of a public registry with the names of all those arrested since 3 July 2013 complete with their place of detention and charges against them; the amendment or repeal of 2013’s Protest Law; and ensuring banned organisations’ right to appeal their closure or designation as a terrorist organisation.

Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch noted the severity of the above accusations, saying “Egypt’s allies should impress upon Egypt that the world will not accept foot-dragging or purely cosmetic changes. If Egypt doesn’t carry out credible investigations into the illegal killings and torture, the mechanisms of the UN Human Rights Council should be used to pursue an international investigation.”

Both rights groups, alongside local NGOs have been increasingly vocal lately as former Minister of Defence Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, who gained large amounts of popularity after his announcement of Mohamed Morsi’s 3 July ouster, was elected president by a 96% margin.

During May’s elections, Human Rights Watch released a statement making note of the “repressive environment that severely undermines the fairness” of Egypt’s second presidential elections in as many years. “The mass arrests of thousands of political dissidents, whether Islamist or secular, has all but shut down the political arena and stripped these elections of real meaning,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The presidential election cannot mask the ongoing brutal crackdown on peaceful opposition.”

Amnesty International released a joint statement with the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights and the Nadeem Centre for Rehabilitation of Violence and Torture calling an end to enforced disappearances, torture and arbitrary detention at Al-Azouly Prison, a secret military prison in Ismailia that houses an estimated 200-400 detainees.

First hand testimony of crimes committed within the prison “are practices associated with the darkest hours of military and Mubarak’s rule,” according to Hassiba Hadj-Sahraoui, deputy director of Middle East and North Africa department at Amnesty International.

There are no official records of the Al-Azouly detainees, who are frequently accused of terrorism-related offenses. Family members search local police stations, the National Security Agency, and prisons for their relatives. Some go to the prison sector of the Ministry of Interior, submit complaints to the general prosecution and the National Council for Human Rights.

“All their efforts were unfortunately in vain,” the EIPR and Nadeem Centre statement reads, “as they were met with silence or denial of any knowledge of the fate and whereabouts of the disappeared persons.”

Wiki Thawra, an initiative run by the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights, said that over 41,000 people have either been arrested or faced criminal charges relating to protests since Mohamed Morsi’s 3 July ouster.


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