Egypt: UN Committee Against Torture Releases Concluding Observations Following Review
The UN Committee against Torture, which is responsible for monitoring the implementation of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment by its States Parties, has published its concluding observations following the review of Egypt during its 78th session which took place in Geneva from 30 October to 24 November 2023.
On the occasion, the Egyptian delegation had submitted, its fifth periodic report, 20 years overdue, in an attempt to answer the many questions of the United Nations independent experts.
During the debate, the Committee's experts did not fail to refer to documented information from independent NGOs, including Alkarama, concerning the widespread use of torture and other ill-treatment, the practice of enforced disappearance and arbitrary detention. The independent experts also addressed the inhumane conditions of detention in Egyptian prisons as described by Alkarama in its report submitted to the Committee.
Conditions of detention in Badr prison
In its report to the Committee, Alkarama drew the attention of experts to the deplorable conditions of detention in Egyptian prisons through the concrete example of the Badr "rehabilitation centre".
Although a UN expert reminded the Egyptian delegation of this reality by listing the deaths that occurred in the centre, the delegation refused to admit any causal link between the conditions of detention and these deaths.
At the end of the review, the Committee expressed concern "at reports indicating overcrowding and poor material conditions of detention in places of deprivation of liberty, such as the Badr Rehabilitation and Correctional Centre, in particular (...)".
Like Alkarama, the experts recommended that Egypt ensure conditions of detention in accordance "with the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners (the Nelson Mandela Rules), including at the Badr Rehabilitation and Correctional Centre".
Experts note widespread use of torture
In its report to the Committee, Alkarama stressed that torture in Egypt remains widespread. Referring to the investigation procedure initiated by the Committee at its request in March 2013, Alkarama reminded the experts of Egypt's refusal to cooperate and implement the recommendations made with a view to the total eradication of torture. In his oral intervention before the Committee, Rachid MESLI, Alkarama's Legal Director, stressed that the situation in Egypt has not only not changed since the final recommendations made in 2017, but that it has deteriorated significantly since General Al Sisi's military coup in 2013.
During the open debate, a member of the Committee reminded the delegation of Egypt that, in its 2016-2017 annual report, the Committee had already noted "well-founded indications of the systematic use of torture on Egyptian territory" and had noted that the Government had "rejected the Committee's recommendations that it immediately end the practice of incommunicado detention [and] establish an authority to investigate allegations of torture, enforced disappearance and ill-treatment."
However, Mr. Khaled Aly El Bakly, Assistant Foreign Minister for Human Rights and International Humanitarian and Social Affairs of Egypt, Head of the Technical Secretariat of the Supreme Standing Committee of Human Rights and head of the delegation, expressed, against all evidence, Egypt's refusal to recognize the widespread practice of torture and ruled out the possibility of speaking about a "systematic torture" in Egypt.
The UN Committee nevertheless recalled and reiterated the previous recommendations made at the end of the investigation procedure initiated by Alkarama, adding that Egypt must ensure "all complaints of torture and ill-treatment are investigated in a prompt, effective and impartial manner by an independent body".
Committee calls on Egypt to investigate cases of enforced disappearances
In its report to the Committee, Alkarama also raised the issue of enforced disappearances and incommunicado detention through several documented cases of victims and highlighted Egypt's denial and unwillingness to collaborate with the relevant protection mechanisms.
During the review, the Egyptian delegation persisted in denial, stating that the figure mentioned by one expert of 4000 enforced disappearances was far from the official number of 890 cases recorded by the authorities. The delegation also criticized these allegations which, according to it, would "damage the reputation of its country".
However, the Committee called on Egypt to "explicitly criminalize enforced disappearances and ensure that all cases of enforced disappearance are investigated thoroughly and impartially, that those responsible are prosecuted and, if they are found guilty, that they receive punishment commensurate with the crime."
Experts recommend revision of anti-terrorism law
Under the pretext of combating terrorism, Egypt regularly uses the Anti-Terrorism Law, which vaguely defines the concept of "terrorism", thus broadening its scope to include different types of activities that are in fact non-violent acts of a political nature.
In its report to the Committee, Alkarama had illustrated with documented cases the abusive use of anti-terrorism legislation by the Egyptian authorities to repress political dissent.
During the review, the experts asked the delegation whether any measures had been taken to strictly define terrorism in order to ensure that counter-terrorism legislation was not used to restrict the rights enshrined in the Convention against Torture.
The delegation of Egypt referred to the fact that "the definition of terrorism in Egyptian law is aligned with that adopted by other countries" and that "persons accused of terrorist acts enjoy the same procedural guarantees as other defendants, including with regard to the inadmissibility of evidence obtained under torture".
This is far from convincing for those who are familiar with the reality of judicial practice in the country, which has led experts to call on Egypt to review its legislation to ensure its compliance with the Convention and international standards, and to ensure that it is not used to restrict the rights enshrined in the Convention.
The State party has until 24 November 2024 to provide the Committee with information on the implementation of its recommendations.
Alkarama will ensure follow-up by submitting a report to the UN Committee in order to verify that these recommendations are effectively implemented.