Human rights in Egypt have been a source of controversy for years, but reports on deteriorating conditions and state violations have increased since the inauguration of President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi in 2014.
A delegation from the group, the Front to Defend Freedoms, sat with MPs on Wednesday to communicate their views on current human rights conditions and open a dialogue on possible improvements through better legislation.
The delegation was invited by the parliamentary committee of human rights to widen the scope of discussion on questionable practices, such as unfair trials, the inhumane treatment of detainees, the increasing number of torture cases, the degradation of prison healthcare, the prevention of prison visits, and the use of penalties that do not abide by prison laws and regulations, i.e. extended remand periods and solitary confinement.
The widely debated issue of enforced disappearances received a large share of attention by meeting attendees, which included MPs and two deputy ministers of Interior, namely Adel Hassan, from the department of legal affairs, and Salah Fouad, deputy minister of interior for the department of human rights.
“The problem of enforced disappearance was addressed to clearly differentiate between the crimes of unlawful detention and the international crime of enforced disappearance, with provided examples on cases where citizens have disappeared amid denial of their presence by the Ministry of Interior,” read a statement by the Al-Haqanya Law Centre. The centre’s director, Mohamed Abdel Aziz, is also a human rights lawyer and was among the delegation’s attendees.
During the meeting, Fouad presented an opposing view, shooting down claims of enforced disappearances. Local media reported that Fouad said the ministry has examined hundreds of reported cases by human rights NGOs and there have been plausible reasons for the disappearance of some people, such as those who have chosen to immigrate illegally.
According to Al-Youm Al-Sabea newspaper, Fouad said the Muslim Brotherhood takes advantage of these types of cases to promote the presence of crimes against humanity in the international community. He reportedly added that the increasing number of reports on disappearance cases has put a logistical strain on the ministry because in most cases there is not enough information provided by friends and families of the loved ones to follow up on the claims.
In January, the state-affiliated National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) addressed the ministry regarding complaints about claims of enforced disappearances, to which the Ministry of Interior responded by revealing the whereabouts of 99 names held in various detention facilities, pending legal cases.
NCHR member Nasser Amin, who has been tasked with the file on enforced disappearances, told Daily News Egypt that the council verifies information provided by the ministry. As a result, many cases have been modified to reflect “illegal detention” or “extra-judicial arrests”, rather than enforced disappearances, regardless of whether or not their families knew their whereabouts.
The Front to Defend Freedoms has been critical of such a response by the NCHR, saying that civil society workers put a lot of effort into developing legislations that ought to improve the situation. It stressed the state’s role in protecting its citizens from violence, rather than being the “perpetuator” of human rights abuses.
The delegation further stated several demands, such as pardons for prisoners of conscience, the signing of the UN International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances, and guarantees of social and economic rights including syndical freedoms and workers’ rights.
Members of the delegation said they were initially invited to discuss these issues with the parliamentary committee last week, but the delegation was denied entry by parliament security upon arrival, on the grounds of not holding the necessary permits.
The delegation included Hala Fouda, head of the freedoms committee at the Egyptian Social Democratic Party (ESDP), Elham Aidarous, founding member of the Bread and Freedom Party, and Taha Tantawy, member of the Socialist Popular Alliance Party (SPAP).
The human rights committee is headed by MP Anwar Sadat. On Wednesday, Sadat said he called on the Ministry of Interior to seriously consider confiscating weapons from off-duty police conscripts.
“The ministry believes such a step could reduce ongoing violations, which have been increasing. Although this step is not the best solution – especially given terrorism and their need for safety –their safety would be ensured if they receive proper training and rehabilitation, in addition to reinforcing strict and fast penalties in cases where they commit violations,” Sadat said Wednesday.
The MP did not rule out the fact that violations could still be committed by on-duty policemen.