Experts of the Committee against Torture Commend Egypt for its Contribution to the United Nations Fund for Victims of Torture, Raise Questions on the Death Penalty and Sharia Law
Experts of the Committee against Torture Commend Egypt for its Contribution to the United Nations Fund for Victims of Torture, Raise Questions on the Death Penalty and Sharia Law
The Committee against Torture this afternoon concluded its consideration of the fifth periodic report of Egypt on its efforts to implement the provisions of the Convention against Torture, with Committee Experts commending the State for contributing to the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture, and raising questions about Egypt’s use of the death penalty and how the principles of Sharia law interacted with the Convention.
Erdogan Iscan, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur, said the Committee commended Egypt for having provided voluntary contributions to the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture. It was essential that the State party maintained a positive approach in this regard.
Bakhtiyar Tuzmukhamedov, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur, said the Committee was aware that there was no universal norm of international law prohibiting the death penalty. What was the total number of capital offenses under current Egyptian legislation? How often did the courts hand down death sentences, and for what crimes? How long was a convicted person likely to stay on death row, and what were the chances of pardon?
Mr. Tuzmukhamedov asked about the balance between the Convention against Torture, or international law, and Islam within the Egyptian constitutional system? The preamble to the Constitution instructed that the reference for interpretation of Islamic Sharia as the principal source of legislation should be found “in the relevant texts in the collected rulings of the Supreme Constitutional Court”. Did the Supreme Constitutional Court have a religious, along with a secular, judicial role? Had the Court ever referred to the Convention and had it ever pondered on the offense of torture from the constitutional perspective?
Responding to questions, the delegation said the Government understood the importance of putting in place a framework regarding the death penalty. There were multiple safeguards in the legislative framework in Egypt guaranteeing that capital punishment was executed in a humane manner, following a fair trial. Egypt still foresaw the implementation of capital punishment in crimes such as intentional murder, abduction and rape. Crimes including the divulgation of State secrets, forming and financing terrorist groups, and narcotic crimes, including the importation of drugs from overseas, also constituted capital punishment crimes. Capital punishment was ruled in a limited number of cases. In 2022, the number people subjected to capital punishment was 56 defendants, out of a population of 110 million.
The delegation said in principle, there was no contravention between Egypt’s commitment to the Convention, and the principles of Islamic Sharia as the main source of legislation. There was no correct interpretation of Islamic Sharia that permitted torture. Maintaining the integrity of the body was one of the five necessities that Islamic Sharia was trying to achieve. Torture was prohibited from a Sharia point of view, as well as a legal point of view. Penalties were only recognised under the Criminal Code and under the Convention, without any contravention by the Sharia. The specialised Court of Cassation had applied the provisions of the Convention and invoked it on many occasions.
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, said that despite the difficult circumstances faced by the country, including illegal migration, human trafficking and terrorism, Egypt had never violated or reneged on its international obligations. There had been allegations in the past that torture was "systematic" in Egypt, but this was groundless. Efforts to prevent torture came from an integrated package of measures aimed at promoting and protecting human rights in Egypt, including the abolition of the state of emergency in October 2021; the launch of the national political dialogue; legislative amendments, including amendments to the Penal Code and the Code of Criminal Procedures to ensure criminal justice; the creation of a political climate through law reforms; and a new civil law to further facilitate the work of non-governmental organizations and legalise their status.
In concluding remarks, Claude Heller, Committee Chairperson, thanked Egypt for the dialogue, saying that many concerns had been voiced as it had been 20 years since Egypt had last come before the Committee. Their presence during this dialogue was very much valued.
Mr. El Bakly said Egypt was committed to providing periodic reports to all treaty bodies on time. Egypt had a plan of action for the upcoming period which could be enhanced with the Committee’s recommendations. He thanked the Committee for the chance to showcase Egypt’s efforts to implement the Convention.
The delegation of Egypt consisted of representatives from the Supreme Standing Committee of Human Rights; the National Coordinating Committee for Combatting and Preventing Illegal Migration and Trafficking in Persons; the Public Prosecutor’s Office; the Cabinet of the Minister of Justice; the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; and the Permanent Mission of Egypt to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
Summaries of the public meetings of the Committee can be found here, while webcasts of the public meetings can be found here. The programme of work of the Committee’s seventy-eighth session and other documents related to the session can be found here.
The Committee will next meet at 3 p.m. on Thursday, 16 November to conclude its consideration of the fourth periodic report of Slovenia (CAT/C/SVN/4).
The Committee has before it the fifth periodic report of Egypt (CAT/C/EGY/5).
Presentation of Report
KHALED ALY EL BAKLY, Assistant Foreign Minister for Human Rights and International Humanitarian and Social Affairs, Head of the Technical Secretariat of the Supreme Standing Committee of Human Rights and head of the delegation, said that despite the difficult circumstances faced by the country, including illegal migration, human trafficking and terrorism, Egypt had never violated or reneged on its international obligations. The most prominent revelation of the political movement and the broad societal transformations that the country had witnessed since 2011 was the prioritisation of human rights, including in times of emergency, crisis and during the fight against terrorism. The first National Human Rights Strategy 2021-2026 was launched after a consultative process with all stakeholders, and for the first time Egypt allocated an appropriate budget for its implementation. The Supreme Standing Committee for Human Rights, established in 2018, oversaw the follow-up of State institutions to implement the goals in the strategy. Egypt was one of the first States to ratify the Convention without any reservation to its articles and according to the 2014 Constitution, torture in all its forms was a crime that had no statute of limitations.
There had been allegations in the past that torture was "systematic" in Egypt, but this was groundless. Over the past few years, the Government had been developing an action plan to combat and prevent torture.
Efforts to prevent torture came from an integrated package of measures aimed at promoting and protecting human rights in Egypt, including the abolition of the state of emergency in October 2021; the launch of the national political dialogue; legislative amendments, including amendments to the Penal Code and the Code of Criminal Procedures to ensure criminal justice; the creation of a political climate through law reforms; and a new civil law to further facilitate the work of non-governmental organizations and legalise their status. Egypt had a strong legislative framework that criminalised torture in all its forms and an independent judicial system that rejected confessions or evidence obtained under torture. More than 30 proposals for laws and legislative amendments had been put forward, most notably the new draft Code of Criminal Procedure. The punitive philosophy had also been developed and several community correction and rehabilitation centres had been established and modernised in all regions of the country, in line with international standards guided by best practices.
There were many channels of grievance and complaints for citizens and non-Egyptians, including through the Ministry of Interior and the National Council for Human Rights, as well as specialised hotlines. The implementation of accountability was essential to achieving justice, redress and ensuring non-repetition, and the Government had adopted a clear policy to prevent impunity based on adherence to a zero-tolerance policy for torture or ill-treatment. Any allegations, whether directed against law enforcement officials or public officials, were investigated.
Egypt currently hosted more than nine million foreigners, including migrants, resident foreigners, asylum seekers and refugees, who enjoyed their right to freedom of movement and benefitted from various living, medical and educational services like Egyptian citizens. This year, the Government had prepared a draft law on the asylum of foreigners, including the establishment of the "Permanent Committee for Refugees", which would deal with all refugee affairs, including statistical data, and enhance all aspects of support, care and services provided to them.
The judicial system provided remedies to all citizens and non-Egyptians without discrimination, with victims of torture and cruel treatment having the right to file claims for compensation before the competent authorities and courts. The Government had twice made a voluntary contribution to the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture around the world, despite its limited economic means. Egypt had not yet reached perfection but had all the will to keep pushing further and initiate reform.
Questions by Committee Experts
BAKHTIYAR TUZMUKHAMEDOV, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur, expressed appreciation of the efforts invested by the State party in the preparation of the fifth report, albeit it was rather delayed. The Constitution of Egypt asserted that it was consistent with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. However, it did not reveal whether an international treaty would take precedence over a domestic law or judicial decision, should there be a conflict between them. Could the delegation clarify this? Laws regulating human rights were defined as being complementary to the Constitution; would that complementarity be applicable to the Convention against Torture? Did the Constitution guarantee absolute prevention of torture to citizens and foreigners alike, including stateless persons and undocumented migrants?
What was the balance between the Convention against Torture, or international law, and Islam within the Egyptian constitutional system? Who should be the authority deciding on the compatibility of norms of the Convention, and international treaties in general, with the dictates of Islam? The preamble to the Constitution instructed that the reference for interpretation of Islamic Sharia as the principal source of legislation should be found “in the relevant texts in the collected rulings of the Supreme Constitutional Court”. Did the Supreme Constitutional Court have a religious, along with a secular, judicial role? Did the Court have an opportunity to interpret the applicability of Islamic Sharia after the case of Al-Azhar University which it had decided under the terms of the Constitution of 1971? Had the Court ever referred to the Convention and had it ever pondered the offense of torture from the constitutional perspective? What were the reasons for the enactment of an amendment to the law which authorised the Prime Minister to petition the Court with a challenge to international judgments and decisions? Were there any practices of its application?
Mr. Tuzmukhamedov said the Criminal Code seemed to be focused on the protection of a suspect or an accused from torture. What provisions afforded such protection to a witness in criminal proceedings or to a convicted person already serving a sentence? Was torture a stand-alone offense under Egyptian law, or could it be an aggravation, thus leading to a harsher penalty? Had there been any landmark administrative and judicial action, any complaints, investigations or court cases, when respective provisions of the Criminal Code were applied? Had there been any cases where Egyptian courts invoked the Convention? Were judges in Egypt aware of the Convention, as well as of other international legal sources? Who were the judges, and what was the gender breakdown in the judiciary? How were they trained and appointed to judicial positions? The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers had first requested a visit to Egypt in 1999; would this visit be feasible in the near future?
The Committee was aware that there was no universal norm of international law prohibiting the death penalty. The Criminal Code of Egypt contained multiple articles which prescribed the penalty of death, and quite often that was a mandatory sentence, leaving a judge no choice but to hand down the death sentence. Several crimes under the Anti-Terrorism Act were also punishable by death, thus increasing the number of capital offenses. What was the total number of capital offenses under current Egyptian legislation? What was the breakdown of capital offenses into intentional violent crimes against life and bodily integrity, and crimes against the Government and State security, including terrorism-related crimes? What other capital offenses were there in Egypt? How often did the courts hand down death sentences, and for what crimes? How long was a convicted person likely to stay on death row, and what were the chances of pardon? Regarding the case of Ahmed Saddouma, what was being done to prevent such flagrant miscarriage of justice from ever happening again?
What compensation was a person subjected to torture or human and degrading treatment entitled to? How many civilians and on what charges were tried by military courts during the reporting period? Did the law no. 22 of 2020 amending the emergency law in the wake of COVID-19 pandemic, allow for the transfer of civilians under military jurisdiction? Now that the pandemic had subsided below the threshold of public emergency, would Egypt consider repealing that amendment? How often were civilians incarcerated at military detention facilities, for what reasons and on what grounds?
Could further and up-to-date information be provided on educational programmes developed by the State party to ensure that all law enforcement officials, prison staff and border security service were fully acquainted with the provisions of the Convention? Had Egypt developed any methodology to assess the effectiveness of training and educational programmes in reducing the number of cases of torture and ill-treatment? Could information be provided on the training programmes for judges, prosecutors, forensic doctors and medical personnel dealing with detained persons, including illegal migrants, on detecting and documenting the physical and psychological effects, both primary and secondary, of torture?
Egypt was a major contributor of personnel to United Nations peace operations. What was being done to make personnel aware of the Convention? What measures were taken to guarantee their accountability, including for acts of torture? Could up-to-date information be provided on measures taken by the State party under the Anti-Terrorism Act? How did the Government ensure that anti-terrorism measures complied with all obligations under international law, especially the Convention? How many persons had been convicted under such legislation during the reporting period?
ERDOGAN ISCAN, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur, said the Committee noted that elements and forms of practices that may constitute torture had been incorporated into the legislation in a rather scattered manner. Would the State party consider amending its criminal legislation to incorporate a comprehensive definition of torture, to ensure full compliance with the Convention requirements? What measures and procedures were in place to ensure that, in practice, all detained persons enjoyed all fundamental legal safeguards from the outset of deprivation of liberty? Had there been allegations of non-compliance with the availability of fundamental legal safeguards? Did all places of deprivation of liberty and interrogation rooms include a video monitoring system?
Despite the legal provisions, the Committee had received reports of the widespread use of arbitrary detention without charge or judicial oversight and without being afforded fundamental legal safeguards. The Committee was informed of alleged prolonged pre-trial detention, enforced disappearances and torture or ill-treatment by police and national security officers, intelligence and military personnel as well as prison guards, in contravention of domestic legislation and international law. Could the delegation comment on these allegations? The State party stated that, during the past five years, the Government provided explanations on 317 cases of enforced disappearances. However, the Committee received reports alleging that over 4,000 enforced disappearances had taken place during the same period. Could the State party comment on this allegation?
Could the delegation comment on allegations of ill-treatment in the new facility of Badr Rehabilitation and Correctional Centre? It had been established that prolonged solitary confinement, especially of vulnerable groups, was in contravention of the Convention. Nevertheless, despite international restrictions, it was regretful that individuals in incarceration settings were still repeatedly placed in solitary confinement. Could the delegation inform the Committee of the incommunicado detention regime in law and practice? Did the State party consider abolishing incommunicado detention? Could the Committee be updated regarding the current practice of solitary confinement and supply statistical data on the practice of solitary confinement? Had the Nelson Mandela Rules and the Bangkok Rules been incorporated in legislation and training programmes?
It was understandable that the State party had to develop a commensurate legislative framework to ensure effective tools in combatting terrorism. However, this needed to be compliant with the rule of law. It was indicated that law enforcement agencies had powers applicable only in the event of a terrorist crime being committed. For example, the authorities had the right to hold suspects in terrorism cases for up to 14 days. What steps had been taken to strictly define terrorism, to ensure that anti-terrorism legislation was not used to restrict the rights enshrined in the Convention? The United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders had called for the release of several human rights defenders in Egypt. Could the State party respond to this?
The Committee welcomed the establishment of the National Council for Human Rights, as well as the amendment introduced under the act no. 197 of 2017, aimed at bringing it into line with the Paris Principles. Was the Council allocated adequate resources to fulfil its mandate in an independent and effective manner? Did it enjoy financial independence? Was the Council able to conduct unannounced visits with unhindered access to all civilian and military places of deprivation of liberty? Were the conclusions and recommendations of the Council given effective consideration by the authorities? Could the State party provide additional information on interrogation rules, instructions, methods, practices or arrangements for custody as well as the frequency with which these were reviewed?
The Committee commended the State party for having provided voluntary contributions to the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture. It was essential that the State party maintained a positive approach in this regard. Could the State party provide updated information as well as statistical data on redress and compensation measures, including the means of rehabilitation ordered and provided to the victims of torture and ill-treatment or their families? While commending the State party for providing a coherent legislative framework, the Committee requested information on the number of cases in which defendants alleged that their confessions were extracted under torture? Had they been investigated? What sentences were handed down to those found guilty and the redress and compensation granted to victims?
A Committee Expert asked if legislation would be adopted for the superior liability of torture? On the specific case of an Italian national who was reportedly tortured and murdered in Egypt in 2016, what steps had the Government taken to cooperate with the Italian courts? What steps had the Government taken to comply with its obligations under the Convention with connection to this case?
Another Expert asked where the role of attorneys fit into the State’s national action plan? Lawyers played a key role and could enable victims to act to reclaim redress. Were there any mechanisms that allowed all persons deprived of their liberty to have access to an attorney immediately? When lawyers represented those who had been victims of violence at the hands of authorities, could they face pressure. Could the delegation comment on this?
One Committee Expert said the Committee was aware of positive initiatives taken to improve the situation of women in detention at a legislative level, which was commendable. Why had the number of women in prisons increased? What alternatives to detention were available for women in Egypt? What measures had been taken to reduce the number of women in detention? What actions had been taken by law enforcement bodies to prevent abuses, including sexual violence, of women in detention? Could more information be provided about the situation of convicted mothers with children? How many children were in the juvenile centres across the country? Were minors subjected to solitary confinement? Was there a complaint mechanism available for minors in the institutions in which they were detained?
A Committee Expert said Egypt had demonstrated a positive and open attitude in recent years. There were concerns expressed by the International Labour Organization about child labour. The Committee welcomed actions taken by the State party to combat human trafficking, like the adoption of national strategies. What were the recent steps taken to ensure the effective enforcement of law 64? Did victims of trafficking have access to effective remedies and reparations? Had the State party taken specific measures to combat trafficking for the removal of organs? The Government had been recommended to amend legislation to ensure children who were victims of prostitution were not criminalised? How were children who had been removed from the streets provided with assistance and socially integrated into education?
Responses by the Delegation
The delegation said all practices of torture, according to the Convention, were criminalised by Egyptian legislation. The Egyptian law prohibited torture and all related practices. Torture was an individual crime and not an aggravating circumstance. No circumstance could be invoked to justify torture. Procedures had been taken against those who extracted confessions under torture.
The Convention was now an integral part of the legal system of Egypt, and such legislation took supremacy over domestic legislation. Concerning Sharia law, the Supreme Court of Egypt had indicated in a number of rulings that Islamic Sharia was the definitive text in terms of its meaning and interpretation. As such, it was the inalienable principles which did not need interpretation, including on the principles of justice and equality. The Convention had been invoked directly in a number of rulings, notably one in 2018. Legislative architecture combatted all forms of torture. As 85 years had passed since the adoption of the Penal Code, Egypt was considering restructuring the legislative system to bring it in line with its international obligations.
The Government understood the importance of putting in place a framework regarding the death penalty. Cultural heritage could sometimes lead to certain types of murder, including revenge killings, particularly in rural areas of the country. There were multiple safeguards in the legislative framework in Egypt guaranteeing that capital punishment was executed in a humane manner, following a fair trial. Several comparative regulatory frameworks were implemented in other crimes which were considered a threat to citizens. Egypt still foresaw the implementation of capital punishment in crimes such as intentional murder, abduction and rape. Crimes including the divulgation of State secrets, forming and financing terrorist groups, and narcotic crimes, including the importation of drugs from overseas, also constituted capital punishment crimes. Generally speaking, judges leant towards a prison sentence rather than capital punishment. Capital punishment was ruled in a limited number of cases. In 2022, the number people subjected to capital punishment was 56 defendants, out of a population of 110 million.
An authority looked into the affairs of judges from appointment to retirement. This guaranteed the independence to the judicial body and precluded the possibility of conflict of interest. About 440 training sessions had been conducted benefitting the judiciary, including on topics such as fair trials and bodily harm.
The Committee had confirmed in concluding remarks, following the review of the last report, that among the main challenges hindering the implementation of the Convention was the state of emergency in the country. The Government believed that the state of emergency had been executed in proportion to the situation. It should be noted that in October 2022, the state of emergency was brought to an end, to ensure Egypt was fully compliant with the Convention.
The Public Prosecutor’s Office was among the most important judicial apparatuses which worked on the promotion and protection of human rights. The Office undertook criminal measures as necessary, conducted investigations, collected evidence, and interrogated potential culprits. The law on judicial power in Egypt stipulated that the Prosecutor’s Office was the representative of society in criminal cases. The Prosecutor’s Office was completely independent and was the public representation and accusing power. In every court, there was a representative of the Public Prosecutor’s Office, which delivered its work free of charge and was guaranteed to all.
Defendants remained innocent until convicted, and the right to defence was ensured, in line with international standards. The Prosecutor General investigated all allegations of torture and ill-treatment, being the independent, objective investigating authority. The prosecution received all relevant reports of allegations of torture. If an accused was an alien or a person with a disability, then a translator would be provided. Investigations would be undertaken under the oversight of the Public Prosecutor.
The delegation said Egypt had an approach to trafficking at the State level. Egypt had promulgated the law of 2010 and organised activities to ensure its full implementation. Egypt had a police academy, a police centre and a prosecutors’ centre which all provided training to law enforcement and justice personnel, with the aim to provide ongoing training throughout the course of the year. Airport staff, healthcare staff and social welfare staff also received training. An informative film on trafficking in persons had been produced as part of a campaign to provide information for Egyptians and foreign nationals. There were around 2 million foreign nationals in Egypt and the Government wanted to ensure they were protected from all forms of exploitation; 442 suspects were arrested on charges of trafficking between 2022 and 2023.
Hotlines were in operation, which helped women and children who were victims of trafficking to report cases. Complaints triggered the national referral mechanism. There were several steps within the process, including ensuring that the needs of victims were met and that they were referred to shelters. There were special shelters for women and children who had experienced trafficking. Protection was an important part of the care for victims of trafficking. A fund was being developed to support victims of trafficking. Police services investigated and prosecuted the perpetrators of illegal organ trafficking and sanctioned those involved in these crimes. Prostitution was considered trafficking; any person exploited in prostitution was considered to be a victim. The sexual exploitation of children was prohibited in the Penal Code. The Special Rapporteur on Torture, who visited Egypt in 2010, had focused on the issues of the sexual exploitation of girls due to transactional marriage, child labour and domestic work.
Regarding the Italian citizen, allegedly tortured to death, the Public Prosecutor issued a judicial order that there was no room for a civil case on his torture and detention. Allegations had been levelled against four officers but there was no evidence against them. Investigations showed that the victim was exposed to theft under coercion before his death. The Public Prosecutor’s Office in Egypt, with its Italian counterpart, had engaged in 15 bilateral meetings throughout the investigation, and had issued a joint media release. The Egyptian authorities had issued a report on what had led the Public Prosecutor’s Office to reach the outcomes it had adopted.
The Public Prosecutor’s Office in Egypt conducted inspections in all health and correction and rehabilitation centres across the country. No inmate was placed in detention without legal grounds. The Prosecutor’s inspectors had access to all places of detention, and regularly visited and conducted inspections, meeting with and interviewing inmates and listening to any complaints they had. The Public Prosecutor had conducted inspections in two places of detention in the past month. The inspection committee also examined the living circumstances of detention facilities during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Pre-trial detention was subject to the investigation officer and the duration was dependent on several factors. These included the charges levelled, the reasons for detention, and the name and capacity of the party who ordered the detention. There was an alternative to pre-trial detention, which included a form of house arrest, or regular visits to a police station to check in. There were many safeguards surrounding pre-trial detention. There were rules regarding the maximum duration for pre-trial detention, specified based on each crime. No one was detained outside this legal realm.
A social media video had been released by detainees alleging that they had been tortured by a police officer. The Public Prosecutor’s Office immediately launched an investigation, which eventually proved the invalidity of the clip. The investigation proved that the detainees self-harmed and filmed themselves on their phone. This showed that the Public Prosecutor’s Office took all allegations of torture in places of detention very seriously. Investigations were promptly started, based on an issue, or on complaints received, including from United Nations mechanisms. Investigations were carried out into all deaths which took place in police stations or in places of detention by the Public Prosecutor’s Office. Since March 2020, till the present day, 22 inmates had died and the Public Prosecutor’ Office was informed about these cases.
In principle, there was no contravention between Egypt’s commitment to the Convention and the principles of Islamic Sharia as the main source of legislation. There was no correct interpretation of Islamic Sharia that permitted torture. Maintaining the integrity of the body was one of the five necessities that Islamic Sharia was trying to achieve. Torture was prohibited from a Sharia point of view, as well as a legal point of view. The national criminal system, including combatting torture, was an objective, manmade legislation which had used historical European text, and did not recognise bodily harm. Penalties were only recognised under the Criminal Code and under the Convention, without any contravention by the Sharia. Egypt had acceded to the Convention without reservation, meaning it did not contravene any principles of the Sharia, otherwise Egypt would have made a reservation on it. The specialised Court of Cassation had applied the provisions of the Convention and invoked it on many occasions. The Supreme Constitutional Court took into account the commitments made by Egypt under the Convention.
The accession to international instruments was a matter of sovereignty. Each State had a right to adopt its own position, depending on its specific situation. This situation was not set in stone; Egypt periodically revised its positions regarding the international treaties and the reservations it had issued. There was no clear hierarchy relating to the accession to the Optional Protocol. There were many mechanisms in Egypt which carried out the role of oversight and monitoring. The alleged figure of enforced disappearances had been inflated and was not in line with the data put forward by the Working Group on enforced or involuntary disappearances. Since 1980, there had been no more than 892 reported cases; 480 had been clarified by the Government and 421 by other parties. All absences were not tantamount to enforced disappearances; disappearance was sometimes due to forced migration or belonging to terrorist groups. Work was being stepped up with the Committee on Enforced Disappearances in this regard. Egypt was prioritising working with the Special Procedures to continue to work towards its human rights commitments.
Centres had been established which offered numerous health services. Thirteen dispensaries were available for those with HIV/AIDS. Breast cancer screening was provided to women. As part of measures to combat overcrowding, Egypt had been able to free over 5,000 women imprisoned for debt, and their debt was paid as part of a women’s empowerment plan. These women received psychological support, allowing them to reintegrate back into society. Children under the age of 15 could not be imprisoned. Egypt prohibited adults and children from being held together and there was a sanction provided in law should this situation occur.
The National Human Rights Council could carry out inspections in places of detention and meet with detainees. Since 2004, it had enjoyed an A status and the Government was committed to ensuring it was fully independent in its operations. Training was provided to personnel in peacekeeping missions, including on the Convention. Any incidents could lead to the individuals being expelled from such missions. Children could never be enrolled in the army; anyone in the army needed to be over the age of 18. The delegation pointed that these allegations contradicted with Egypt’s efforts at the national and international levels to protect children’s rights. There were no “militias” in Egypt, and Egypt had firmly stated its position against this phenomenon in all international bodies.
The crime of torture could occur following an order given. Subordinates carrying out acts of torture were contravening the law, even if obeying an order. Egyptian law criminalised the supervisory authorities in committing acts of torture, and criminalised passive conduct. The superior as well as the subordinate would be held responsible. Cases of compensation for torture were guided by the principle of collecting evidence. Victims of ill-treatment and torture could file a civil case even without filing a criminal complaint.
Defendants in counter-terrorism cases were ensured the same right to defence, and any evidence obtained under torture or duress was dismissed. The maximum duration of a defendant before being presented to the Prosecutor was 24 hours, and this was applied to all crimes, including terrorism-related crimes. Lawyers were provided with various safeguards, including the prohibition of any inspection of a lawyer’s office unless requested by the Public Prosecutor. Trials without proper legal representation had been annulled. The Code of Conduct for Prosecutors inscribed that any defendant needed to be accompanied by a lawyer. Civilians could be tried before a military court in Egypt as an exception in cases of assault against military facilities or forces. Any such trial before the military justice system involved all the safeguards of a fair trial, including the right to a lawyer, the ability to appeal, and the inadmissibility of evidence collected under duress.
Questions by Committee Experts
BAKHTIYAR TUZMUKHAMEDOV, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur, asked for further clarification with respect to the Convention in the Egyptian legal system. What made the Convention prevalent in comparison to ordinary laws? Was it a law complementary to the Constitution? What specific measures were provided for in Egyptian legislation that all acts of torture were punished by appropriate penalties, including those which did not encompass physical abuse? How many police, national security and military personnel had faced investigations for alleged torture during the reporting period? How many of those investigations resulted in administrative action and what sentences were imposed? How many persons were currently incarcerated on death row and how many had filed for appeal? Had Egypt developed any methodology to assess the effectiveness of training programmes in reducing torture and ill-treatment? If so, could best practices be shared?
ERDOGAN ISCAN, Committee Expert and Country Co-Rapporteur, asked if the State party could respond to allegations of unnecessary use of force during large-scale demonstrations in recent years. Could data on the use of weapons, equipment and devices capable of inflicting torture and ill-treatment be provided? Gender-based violence was among the gravest human rights violations, and combatting this must be at the top of the agenda. Could the delegation provide the measures taken to prevent and combat all forms of violence against women? Egypt was commended for its continued commitment to hosting refugees and asylum seekers, and for its efforts to preserve the rights of refugees, migrants and stateless persons. Did the State party allow access to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees for all individuals in need of international protection, including those who were detained, to submit their claim for refugee status? Were they allowed to stay in the country until the claim was assessed? Could data on the number of asylum applications be provided as well as the number of people expedited to their country of origin?
A Committee Expert said reports had been received that Egyptian laws did not explicitly prohibit violent discipline of children at schools. What provisions were in the law and what was the situation in practice? Had the State party taken legislative measures to explicitly prohibit corporal punishment in all settings? What measures had been taken to investigate cases of corporal punishment and encourage non-violent discipline towards children in the country?
Responses by the Delegation
The delegation said that Egypt hosted over 410,000 asylum seekers registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and over 9 million refugees and migrants. The Constitution granted rights to all foreigners. The Government had drafted a bill to develop a standing committee to address all issues to do with refugees. Non-refoulment was not applied, in line with the provisions of the Convention. Refugees on Egyptian territory were not expelled. If a refugee threatened the nation’s security, together with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Egypt would find them a third country. Appeals mechanisms were provided to refugees. Egypt upheld the rights of refugees and asylum seekers in line with the Convention.
The legal framework regulated the use of force by law officials to disperse crowds of more than 50 people. Tear gas and water cannons could be used in some cases, with the aim to maintain the integrity of individuals. In cases of violent acts, security forces used force, including rubber bullets.
The legal framework of Egypt covered all forms of violence against women. This could include harassment, rape or assault. A template for a national referral system for violence against women had been developed. There had been 31 units created in various universities with dedicated clinics. Three forensic medicine units had been established to treat women who had been subject to indecent assault or rape. The complaints office had accompanied women in 10,000 cases, reaching favourable verdicts. The law on children prohibited the subjection of child to any punitive bodily measures, or harmful intervention. If any such cases occurred, children would receive assistance through a dedicated hotline. The Public Prosecutor’s Office would be notified of each complaint.
The provisions of the Convention covered all citizens, irrespective of their faith or religion. The training programmes for judges benefitted from an evaluation assessment, including a survey and looking at the repercussions of the training in the workplace. The training programmes for law enforcement personnel were evaluated by academic and scientific committees, within the institutes, and had come back positive based on the trainings delivered.
The Egyptian Government interacted positively with the Special Procedures and the Committee in a framework of transparency. At the national level, the Egyptian Government had boosted the pillars aimed at combatting practices which might be in violation of the Convention. This included instigating measures to make sure that torture did not happen, including issuing letters to detainees, informing them of all of their rights and ensuring judicial inspections in places of detention. Several procedures had been adopted to counter ill-treatment and torture in all its forms, through advancing the complaints mechanism. This was in addition to a speedy trial for anyone involved in torture and ill-treatment.
The Government recognised that there were violations, reflected in some individual cases of torture. The Government had taken all necessary relevant measures so that these violations would remain as individual cases which would be strictly addressed. Egypt looked forward to making use of the esteemed legal experience of the Committee.
AHMED IHAB ABDELAHAD GAMALELDIN, Permanent Representative of Egypt to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said Egypt aimed to establish a culture for protecting human rights, as well as the mental and physical wellbeing of citizens as a compass for the societal value system, rather than being merely an international commitment. The complete prohibition of torture was a main objective for the Egyptian Government. While there had been a number of individual and isolated occurrences of violations, criminal and administrative accountability measures had been strictly put in place. Egypt had taken all effective measures to ensure that judges exercised their roles in an independent and objective manner, through strengthening the legal system and the various redress mechanisms, and integrating the Convention as part and parcel of the legal system of Egypt. Egypt took pride in the progress achieved over the past years, after two revolutions centred around human rights. Civil society organizations were a key partner in promoting and protecting human rights. Human rights protection was a continuous and cumulative process, and required increased efforts to overcome existing challenges and shortcomings.
CLAUDE HELLER, Committee Chairperson, thanked Egypt for the dialogue, saying that many concerns had been voiced as it had been 20 years since Egypt had last come before the Committee. Their presence during this dialogue was very much valued.
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, said Egypt was committed to providing periodic reports to all treaty bodies on time. Anonymous sources had conflated some numbers provided to the United Nations to undermine the efforts of the State to uphold human rights. Egypt had a plan of action for the upcoming period which could be enhanced with the Committee’s recommendations. Mr. El Bakly thanked the Committee for the chance to showcase Egypt’s efforts to implement the Convention.
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