Three weeks ago, I briefly reviewed here “Nostalgia for the Light,” Patricio Guzmán’s wonderful documentary about mass murders and forced disappearances in Chile under Pinochet. I was deeply touched by Guzmán’s sensitivity in showcasing the suffering of victims’ families and their relentless efforts to find out what had happened to their loved ones.
My intention was to draw a comparison with our own cases of torture under Mubarak and to highlight the importance of transitional justice without which, I tried to argue, we will not be able to turn over the leaf of the past, and look forward to a promising future where justice and security prevail.
After my article was published, I received many responses from readers who objected to the implicit comparison between Pinochet and Mubarak. The number of those who disappeared or were tortured or killed in Mubarak’s prisons could never be compared to the countless desaparecidos or the tens of thousands who died in Pinochet’s jails. My response was and will always be “Go and say this to a son who believes his father died unjustly in prison, or to a mother still looking for her missing son.”
On the social level, I am truly shocked by the Muslim Brotherhood’s wanton neglect of the whole issue of transitional justice, and their complete disregard for healing the wounds inflicted during 30 years under Mubarak. I was further appalled to learn from the leaked report of the fact finding mission established to investigate human rights abuses during the early months of the revolution that Egypt did have its share of desaparecidos and not only before the outbreak of the revolution, but also after it.
What was also appalling was media coverage of leaks from that report. Since Al-Shurouq newspaper began publishing these leaks in March, followed by the British Guardian newspaper, news articles and television coverage of these excerpts has not stopped.
It is noteworthy that with very few exceptions, most notably the programme Baladna bil Masry anchored by Reem Maged, most commentaries did not deal with the content of the report, but rather the circumstances surrounding leaked excerpts. Are these genuine copies or mere fabrications? Who leaked the information and why? Is this not part of a conspiracy to damage the reputation of the army and undermine the people’s confidence in it? And to what extent does publishing this report in this timing reflect current tensions and distrust between the Muslim Brotherhood and the army? These are some of the questions raised by the media on this delicate matter.
By contrast, I would have liked to read an attempt to place the report in the context of larger efforts by human rights groups to document flagrant abuses by the police and the army. It is not a matter of a news scoop by the Guardian or how clever Al-Shurouq was in obtaining excerpts of the report, or even the circumstances of the news leak.
In fact, since the start of the revolution in January 2011, human rights groups have not stopped documenting police and army violations of the law, as well as of basic human rights. These groups include No to Military Trials; Kazeboon (Military Liars); Mosireen (We are adamant); the Nadeem Centre for Rehabilitating Victims of Violence and Torture; the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights; Human Rights Watch and others. They published many reports and testimonials about killings, torture, disappearance and rape committed with impunity by the police and army since the start of the revolution.
Second, most of the media covered the fact-finding mission report without giving due attention to the nature of the committee and its report. This is an official committee created by Presidential Decree No 10 for 2012. It is a committee that included judges, an assistant prosecutor general, an assistant to the minister of interior, the chairman of the National Security Authority at the General Intelligence, along with human rights lawyers and relatives of victims.
The committee’s mandate included gathering data and evidence about the death and injury of demonstrators between 25 January 2011 and 30 June 2012, as well as “reviewing all procedures by the state’s executive agencies, and investigating how cooperative they were with the judiciary on this matter. Also, pinpointing any deficiencies at these agencies if they exist.”
Thus, this is an official committee formed by the president himself, so it is difficult to accuse it of treason, conspiracy or any of these false accusations usually directed at independent human rights organisations. The commission was able to identify 19 individual cases where the police or army resorted to excessive force or other abuses against demonstrations. These vary from killing to incitement to kill or kidnapping.
The commission also significantly concluded the Ministry of Interior and Military Intelligence did not cooperate, and concealed key information and evidence in cases currently reviewed by courts.
One of the most heinous acts recorded by the commission is how an army doctor at Kobri Al-Qobba Military Hospital gave orders to his subordinates to operate on demonstrators from the Abbassiya clashes without anaesthesia or sterilisation.
These are serious and horrible findings, and the president — who formed this committee himself at the beginning of his tenure — should have taken this report seriously and initiated legal action against those found responsible by the committee for these terrible abuses. According to the commission’s official website, the committee submitted a report to the president at the end of December, 2012, which he then referred to the prosecutor general who formed an investigation team of 20 district attorneys. On 21 January, the commission announced it had uncovered “14 new incidents” that prosecutors are investigating “with strict confidentiality.”
Ever since then and until Al-Shurouq published excerpts of the report last month, we had not heard anything about this commission or its findings. No police officers or military commanders who were implicated in these crimes have been investigated, nor has there been an investigation into why the Ministry of Interior and General Intelligence have refused to cooperate with the commission and the judiciary.
The media did not focus on ominous Article 198 of the constitution banning investigations of the armed forces except by military justice. This gives legal cover for abuses by members of the armed forces.
It is also unusual that although President Morsi formed the commission himself, he is now disinterested in it and its findings. He has not uttered a single word about these important findings, and when some reporters attempted to find out his opinion about the report, the presidency said he had not read it. It makes one wonder whether traveling to Pakistan, for example, to receive an honorary doctorate is more important to the president than reading this critical report.
The silence of the Muslim Brotherhood about the fact finding report undermines their claims that they are concerned about freedom and justice. For what bigger mockery to these two sublime values can there be than when their president ignores the findings of the commission he himself created to uphold freedom and achieve justice?