Torture in Egypt: UN report

Amid all the fuss about the Goldstone Report and accusations of anti-Israel bias at the Human Rights Council, another damning UN report – this time about Egypt – has attracted zero attention from the world's media.

The report, issued last month, is by Martin Scheinin, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Protection of Human Rights while Countering Terrorism and, according to the source who sent me a link to it, the Egyptian government is "really pissed off" – especially about the parts that discuss systematic torture, secret detentions and extraordinary renditions.

Professor Scheinin visited Egypt last April, mainly to look at the government's plans for ending its exceptional powers under the "state of emergency" (which has been in force almost continuously for more than half a century) and replacing them with an anti-terrorism law. He was not happy with what he found.

The draft anti-terrorism law "appears to include in the definition of terrorism acts that do not entail physical violence against human beings" such as the occupation of buildings, his report says.

The Egyptian authorities also seemed to have a rather wide-ranging notion of what constitutes a "terrorist organisation". "Any anti-terrorism law that is not properly confined to the countering of terrorism is problematic," the report warns.

Professor Sheinin was also troubled by the "highly problematic"Article 179 of the Egyptian constitution (as amended in 2007) which appears to allow detentions, home searches and surveillance or seizure of communications without judicial oversight. Article 179, he says, "carries features of a permanent state of emergency, although under a new name".

In a section headed "Irregular detention facilities and the use of torture during investigation of alleged terrorist crimes", the report speaks of "an alarming lack of judicial oversight" for facilities run by the State Security Investigations (SSI).

Although torture by the security services "appears to display a systematic pattern" and suspects held by the SSI are "at particular risk", it says that "complaints against SSI officers in this regard have produced no results".

Noting "credible indications that Egypt has been one of the most prominent countries involved" in the much-criticised CIA rendition programme, the report says: "The Special Rapporteur regrets that the government of Egypt has not started any meaningful internal investigation into any rendition case, and he is deeply concerned about its passive obstruction of investigations by other countries by refusing to cooperate ..."

Posted by Brian Whitaker, 4 November 2009.