HRW report criticizes performance of Egypt’s military council

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CAIRO: The year 2011 saw “no improvement” in the protection of human rights since the fall of Hosni Mubarak, according to a report released by a leading international watchdog Sunday.

Human Rights Watch (HRW), during the launch in Cairo of its “2011 World Report,” was critical of the conduct of Egyptian security forces, which are accused of killing hundreds of protesters since the fall of Mubarak.

The 676-page report detailed human rights abuses in 90 countries worldwide.

Kenneth Roth, HRW’s executive director, told reporters that the performance of the army and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), after showing respect for human rights in refusing Mubarak’s orders to fire on protesters in Tahrir Square, had taken “a very disturbing turn” in their treatment of civilians.

“The Egyptian military seems determined at this point to carve out an exception to democratic rule for its area of power and interest,” he said. “We’ve seen a continuation of the excessive use of military force, highlighting the urgency of police reform, and stressing that lethal force should only be a last resort…rather than something that is used quite quickly when warnings are given.

“There are rules to be followed under international law, which the military and its surrogates have not been following,” Roth added.

HRW has criticized investigations into successive instances of violence by security forces on peaceful protestors, including the Cabinet clashes in December that killed 17, the November fighting in Mohamed Mahmoud Street that left over 40 people dead and the attack on demonstrators outside Maspero in October, during which 27 people died.

The group claims that military probes into events would produce “a conflict of interest likely to reinforce military impunity.”

Coming just one day before parliament sits for the first time, and three days ahead of the anniversary of Jan. 25, HRW’s call for an end to military trials and Emergency Law echoes that of several protest movements, which are expected to return to Tahrir Square in their thousands this week.

The SCAF over the weekend ordered the release of nearly 2000 prisoners held in military prisons, including prominent activist and blogger Maikel Nabil, who was arrested in March and charged with criticizing the army.

“This is clearly an attempt [by the SCAF] to contain public anger and especially the core activists that have been campaigning for the release of Maikel Nabil,” Heba Morayef, HRW’s Egypt researcher, told Daily News Egypt.

“I was very happy to hear his name included but I am waiting to hear if other political prisoners will also be included because there are cases of people being convicted unfairly after being peaceful demonstrators.

“Regardless of whether or not [SCAF] keeps releasing political prisoners, it’s important to actually release or retry all of those sentenced in military tribunals and to reform the justice system because it’s been a disastrous situation this year,” she added.

Morayef was also critical of the December raids by security forces on the offices of several NGOs, which were accused of operating without necessary legal documentation.

“It’s a massive threat [to accountability]. These raids were not about getting information, the only reason the investigation is taking place is because of [NGOs’] activities,” she said. “These are the groups that have been going to the morgues and documenting the excessive use of force and extrajudicial killings and the prosecution of the military. It is not coincidental.”

HRW announced several recommendations for the People’s Assembly to adopt, including legislation protecting freedom of speech and outlawing the use of torture.

The international watchdog also said that the West must lift its aversion to Islamist parties in the wake of the Arab Spring in order to prevent human rights abuses.

“Islamist parties have proven to be generally popular in the Arab world. Ignoring that popularity would neglect democratic principles,” Roth said.

He added that the 2011 uprisings in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Syria, Yemen and Bahrain meant global superpowers could no longer ally themselves with authoritarian regimes renowned for abusive and illegal security tactics.

“The people driving the Arab Spring deserve strong international support to realize their rights and to build genuine democracies,” Roth said. “Loyalty to autocratic friends shouldn’t stand in the way of siding with democratic reformers. International influence is also needed to ensure that the new governments extend human rights and the rule of law to all, especially women and minorities.”

Results released over the weekend showed that Islamist parties had won nearly three-quarters of seats in Egypt’s recent People’s Assembly elections.

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