The Egyptian Organization for Human Rights
Summary of EOHR's Annual Report
Saturday, 20th June 1998The report records the main developments in the human rights situation in three chapters: Chapter one reviews and evaluates the main legislative developments, judicial rulings and procedures related to human rights. Chapter two documents the major human rights violations, whether committed by governmental or non-governmental bodies. Chapter three covers the EOHR's activities in monitoring, observing and confronting human rights violations and for the promotion and strengthening of human rights principles in Egypt. The year 1997 witnessed a setback in the situation of human rights in many aspects compared with the previous year. The main features of the situation of human rights and basic freedoms in 1997 can be summed up in the following: First: No positive steps were taken towards achieving compliance with human rights standards as stipulated in international treaties ratified by the Egyptian Government. With regards to the legislative structure, 1997 witnessed two negative developments. The first took place on 22 February with the approval by the People's Assembly of the extension of the emergency law for a further three years - from 31 May 1997 to 31 May 2000 - thus imposing the state of emergency for a continous period of 18 years, 7 months and 25 days. The second development was the implementation, starting from October 1997, of a new law organizing the relationship between owners of agricultural land and tenant farmers after the elapse of the five-year grace period. The Government's insistence on enforcing this law raised broad criticism among political and legal circles, which believe that the law does not conform with some provisions of the 1971 Egyptian Constitution and that it is strongly biased in favour of the landowners at the expense of the farmers, who constitute one of the poorest segments in Egypt. The new law frees land owners from previous legislative restrictions imposed to prevent them from exploiting the farmers. It also widens the gap between the different levels of income in Egypt. The new law gave owners the right to expel farmers from the lands, and subsequently from the homes they built in them, by the end of 1997. But it did not stipulate any responsibilities on the part of the State towards the farmers with respect to providing them with alternative lands or homes. Rural areas witnessed strong demonstrations by tenant farmers in 1997 in protest against the Government's insistence on implementing the law. These demonstrations were accompanied by acts of violence which resulted in the death of about 21 people and the injury of many others. Second: The main focus of concern in 1997 were violations of the right to life for reasons that were as varied as the perpetrators. However, the main causes were the fierce confrontation between the security forces and the Islamic militants, the torture and ill-treatment of citizens, the summary executions, and the excessive use of force by the security forces when dispersing peaceful rallies or demonstrations. In this regard, the report records the following: 1. The victims of the violence between the security forces and the Islamic militants increased to 191, ie. a 9% increase from 1996. Of these, the EOHR was able to monitor 174 cases. Islamic militants continued to bear more responsibility for the deliberate killing of police officers and assistants, citizens and tourists. The report affirms that the violence committed in 1997 by the militants entered a new stage that can be described as 'desperate violence'. This was characterized by acts of revenge aimed at killing the highest possible number of people and causing widespread 'havoc' and 'destruction'. Moreover, the methods and timing of their acts revealed a high level of skill and professionalism, a fact that contributed to the increase in the number of victims. In this respect, the EOHR observed the following: Islamic militants continued to kill members of the security forces with the objective of taking revenge and obtaining weapons and ammunition. The report records the killing by militants of 44 policemen in 21 operations concentrated mainly in the Minya and Assiut governorates. Many innocent citizens found themselves victims of violent acts and a direct target for the Islamic militants. The report details the killing of seven citizens on the claim that they had cooperated with the police. Furthermore, 25 Coptic citizens were killed by Islamic militants in four operations, the most heinous of which were the attack on the Mari Girgis Church and the massacre of Bahgoura village. In addition, the report records the killing of 12 citizens during clashes between Islamic militants and the security forces. Attacks against tourists escalated seriously in 1997. A total of 67 tourists were killed in two terrorist attacks: that wich took place outside the Egyptian Museum in Cairo and the massacre of Hatshepsut Temple, in Luxor. The number of tourists killed in these two operations amounts to over two and a half times the total number recorded by the EOHR over the past seven years, during which 26 tourists were killed. Twenty-four Islamic militants were killed in attacks launched by the security forces on their strongholds. The report raises concerns that their killing may have happened as a result of the excessive use of power during their arrest, or the security forces' resort to extra-judicial executions as an alternative to their arrest or as an act of revenge for their actions. The report also records the killing by the police of six Islamic militants as they were carrying out their attacks. 2. Although based on the information available at the EOHR there were no cases of death in prisons as a result of torture, complaints of torture and ill-treatment in police stations continued, to the extent that three people died in circumstances that indicated that their death may have occurred as a result of torture. Complaints also continued about the deliberate deprivation of medical care by the prison authorities, which was the reason behind the death of four detainees. The report also demonstrates the spread of grave contagious diseases which seriously jeopardize the lives of prisoners and detainees. 3. Military courts continued the issuance of arbitrary death sentences following summary procedures. These courts constitute a source of violations of the right to life as military trials lack the minimum guarantees required for a fair and impartial trial recognized in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. In 1997, military courts ruled in five cases, issuing the death penalty for 13 defendants. Of these, ten have already been executed, one is pending, and two are fugitives. 4. The security forces increased the use of weapons to disperse peaceful gatherings and demonstrations, particularly those carried out by tenant farmers in protest against the application of the new law. The excessive use of fire weapons resulted in the killing of four citizens by the police. In addition, 18 others were killed during clashes between land owners and tenant farmers. Third: The right to freedom and personal safety did not see any improvement in 1997. On the contrary, it was subjected to gross violations by the security forces, who, following any act of violence, arrested and detained hundreds of people on no legal grounds. The practice of 'recurrent detention' continued to be used against thousands of members, or suspected members, of the Islamic groups. The use of random arrest and detention was also widespread, even against members of the non-violent and banned Muslim Brotherhood and those from the different political trends, such as independents, Nasserists, leftists or liberals. Fourth: Involuntary and coercive disappearance remains one of the discouraging aspects that taint the human rights situation in Egypt. The report documents nine new disappearances in 1997, in addition to 12 cases that were monitored by the EOHR in 1996 but were not yet clarified. Fifth: Freedom of opinion and expression continued to be a target of attacks in 1997. The report records the arbitrary detention of many people merely for their peaceful protest against Law 96 of 1992, which reorganizes the relationship between owners of agricultural lands and tenant farmers. It also records the confiscation and seizure of several newspapers for reasons related to freedom of opinion and expression and the freedom to legitimate criticism. Moreover, more writers and thinkers were declared infidels because of their opinions and beliefs. In this respect, writer Alla Hamid, author of the novel "The Bed", received a final ruling sentencing him to one year in prison merely for the opinions and beliefs included in the novel. Sixth: The referral of civilians to military courts continued to be a focus of grave concern for the EOHR as these trials lack all constitutional and international safeguards for a fair and impartial trial. In 1997, the President of the Republic referred five lawsuits, involving 213 defendants, to military courts. Thirteen of these (6.10%) received the death penalty, raising the number of death sentences issued by military courts over the period from December 1992 to December 1997 to 83, of which 60 were already executed. Supreme State Security Courts for Emergency remained also an additional source of violations of the rights to life and to a fair and impartial trial, as they lack internationally recognized standards such as the defendant's right to be tried before a competent judge and the right to appeal to a higher court. In 1997, these courts issued seven death sentences in two lawsuits related to cases of violence and terrorism: the Assuit Organization Case, and the Tamma Organization Case. Seventh: The year 1997 witnessed an escalation in the violation of the rights to peaceful assembly and strike. This was particularly manifested in the excessive use of force by the authorities when dispersing peaceful gatherings and demonstrations staged by farmers in rural areas in protest against the implementation of Law 96 of 1992, as well as peaceful workers' strikes organized to demand better wages. Eighth: The political parties committee continued to reject applications for the establishment of new political parties. In addition, the local councils elections, held in April 1997, reflected the Government's insistence on concentrating all political activity in the hands of the National Democratic Party (NDP). The Government adopted the same undemocratic methods used during the November 1995 parliamentary elections and neglected to observe the necessary neutrality. On the contrary, they took numerous arbitrary measures aimed at securing the victory of the National Democratic Party. During the local elections, people were clearly reluctant to cast their vote and the percentage of candidates from parties and trends other than the NDP was extremely low. In addition, the electoral process was held in the absence of full judicial supervision. * * * To conclude, the EOHR presents this report in the hope that it will spur civil society institutions and other active forces to join efforts to improve the situation of human rights in Egypt by confronting any human rights violation, regardless of the identity of the perpetrators or the victims. Through this report, the EOHR also appeals to the authorities to amend the laws that are in non-conformity with international human rights standards, and to put an end to all security measures and practices that run counter to Egypt's commitments as a state party to international human rights standards.
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