Egypt presidency accused of ignoring its mission's report on rights breaches

Salma Shukrallah, Thursday 18 Apr 2013

Members of fact-finding committee on post-revolution rights violations by security personnel – appointed by President Morsi last summer – accuse presidency of ignoring their conclusions

Egypt presidency
File photo: Egyptian army military police form a line to clear protesters from the street and enable vehicles to pass in Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo, Egypt, Sunday, Feb. 13, 2011 (Photo: AP)

Leaks from a report prepared by a fact-finding committee drawn up by President Mohamed Morsi last year has brought the issue of rights violations committed by security personnel during Egypt's 16-month post-revolution transitional phase back into the spotlight.

"Excerpts from the report published by [UK daily] The Guardian and [Egyptian daily] Al-Shorouk were leaked by members of the Morsi-appointed fact-finding committee, which finalised the report in February after the presidency ignored it," said committee member and rights lawyer Osama El-Mahdi.

The Guardian and Al-Shorouk have both recently released leaks from the report, which details the military and police apparatuses' role in torturing, kidnapping and killing civilians during and after Egypt's 18-day uprising in January 2011.

"The presidency has ignored the report and its findings," El-Mahdi asserted, adding that some committee members had launched a campaign dubbed 'We will pursue you with the report.' Members of the campaign plan to hold a press conference on Saturday evening at the Tahrir Lounge in downtown Cairo.

The recent leaks led Defence Minister Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi to state, following a meeting with President Morsi last week, that the military had not killed – or given instructions to kill – any civilians since the revolution.

"Since the first day of the January 25 Revolution, the army has not killed anyone or ordered anyone killed," said El-Sisi who warned of the existence of a "conspiracy" aimed at tarnishing the image of Egypt's armed forces.

While police and army violations have been reported by activists, the fact-finding report is the first of its kind to be compiled by a committee appointed by the president.

"The significance of the report is political," said Aida Seif El-Dawla, rights activist and head of the Cairo-based Nadim Centre for the Rehabilitation of Torture Victims. "Violations aren't being documented by NGOs that no one ever listens to, but by a committee officially appointed by the president."

The committee, she added, also includes officials, "so it has access to a wider range of witnesses that NGOs didn't have access to."

Drawn up by Morsi immediately after he began his presidential term last July, the committee was tasked with documenting all violations committed by police and military personnel since the 2011 uprising.

The committee – which consists of judges, rights lawyers and victims of rights abuses – boasts a general-secretariat and several sub-committees, each specialising in a particular event.

"There's a sub-committee devoted to the [November 2011] Mohamed Mahmoud clashes with police, and another devoted to the [October 2011] Maspero clashes with the army, and so on," El-Mahdi explained. "Each subcommittee includes a judge, a rights lawyer and one of the incident's victims."

According to El-Mahdi, the report includes victims' firsthand accounts of police and military violations; evidence against culpable security personnel; and recommendations for ending the practice of trying civilians in military courts, reforming Egypt's police apparatus and drafting new legislation to prevent future violations.

The presidency has merely settled for referring the report to Egypt's Public Prosecution, El-Mahdi asserted, "which has so far failed to act upon it."

"We [committee members] also asked the presidency to publish the report while leaving names of the accused and witnesses anonymous, but again we were ignored," he added.  

Another committee member, lawyer Mohsen El-Bahnasi, said that, even though the presidential decision to form the fact-finding committee didn't define the president's responsibilities once the report is finalised, we expected him to follow up on it – but he hasn't."

El-Bahnasi added: "Like all the complaints filed against officials, we expect the report to continue being ignored. Therefore, we'll continue to exert pressure and leave the door open for more leaks."

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