By Tim Nanns
In its latest report on Egypt, released Monday, Human Rights Watch (HRW) once again accuses Egyptian security forces of being involved in conducting forced disappearances, under national and international law, and state prosecutors of failing to properly investigate complaints over such cases.
HRW lists several cases of alleged forced disappearances, such as the case of Islam Ateeto, who was killed on 20 May. Security forces claimed he was killed during a shootout after he opened fire on them near his ‘hideout’ close to Cairo’s Fifth Settlement. Footage collected by his family and fellow students however indicated he had been arrested at his university following an exam.
The report also relies on information by the state-affiliated National Council for Human Rights (NCHR), which had verified nine cases of forced disappearances by 31 May and had 55 cases under review by 9 June. It also features findings by Egyptian organisation “Freedom for the Brave”, which claims to have documented 164 such cases, with 66 cases in which the whereabouts of those vanished remain unknown.
The picture painted by HRW hints towards a widespread practice, with some detained persons like Ateeto, and the likewise mentioned Sabry Al-Ghoul, dying under mysterious circumstances. Often the death is blamed on “acute circulatory failure”. Others, like the disabled Esraa Al-Taweel, vanished and could only be tracked down by concerned family members investigating their whereabouts.
Ragia Omran of the NCHR confirmed to Daily News Egypt that there were cases of forced disappearances, many traced back to security forces. She stated that these were especially problematic, since in such cases families were often left “anxiously” wondering where their relatives had gone.
Mohamed Lotfy, founder of the independent Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms, is quoted by HRW as saying: “What is the use of receiving and reviewing complaints, while no one is answering them back.”
Egypt is a party in several international conventions prohibiting many practices that are integral parts of defining forced disappearances, such as prolonged detention without being charged and failure by security forces to inform close relatives of the whereabouts of their family member.
Moreover, Egypt’s penal code itself prohibits detaining individuals for longer than 24 hours without raising charges, while a judge is allowed to prolong the detention only after four days from the arrest.
HRW, among other human rights organisations like Amnesty International, is locked in a struggle with Egyptian authorities over its reports. The Foreign Ministry criticised HRW for its “non-objective reports consistently issued for Egypt since the 30 June revolution”.