Press Statement: Guernica 37 Instructed by Egyptian Revolutionary Council to Petition the UN
LONDON, 23 March 2020 – The International Legal Team instructed by Dr. Maha Azzam, the Head of the Egyptian Revolutionary Council (ERC), issued the following statement expressing grave concern over the safety of political detainees in the prisons in the Egyptian Arab Republic who continue to be detained in conditions that are in fundamental breach of basic and universally recognised standards.
Dr Maha Azzam, Head of the ERC, has appointed Guernica 37 International Justice Chambers to present an investigative report to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms. Michelle Bachelet Jeria; the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, Dr. Agnès Callamard; the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, Mr. Nils Melzer; and the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, appointed by the United Nations Human Rights Council seeking the intervention of the Special Procedures Mandate Holders to demand for the release of political detainees in Egypt. With the spread of the Coronavirus (Covid-19), the total lack of healthcare provision, along with severe overcrowding and lack of sanitation, the continued imprisonment of these dissidents amounts to torture as a matter of international law, and should an extrajudicial killing by the State where there is the inevitable loss of life.
Recently, a letter was smuggled out of a Cairo prison detailing the most appalling prison conditions, where detainees are subjected to handcuffed without air, daylight, proper sanitation, family or legal visits, food or necessary medical care. Earlier this month, detainees started to display symptoms consistent with Covid-19: coughing, high temperature, cold, and pneumonia. Panic and anxiety broke out in prisons where health deteriorates rapidly, and no medical care is provided. Detainees appealed for the help of the prison administration and officials; however, these appeals were met with a deliberate and sickening disregard, and prison officials failed to act. None of those detainees displaying symptoms have been admitted to hospital nor have they been seen by a doctor. There is a state of fear and terror amongst prison officers and medical staff have refused to enter the prison block. Against this culture of deliberate disregard for the safety and well-being of detainees it is only to be expected that there will be a significant loss of life if the authorities fail to take urgent action.
It is an established principle of international law, that the withholding of necessary medical care amounts to torture for which the authorities will be held responsible.
It has been reported that Iran, Bahrain and Jordan have released detainees to prevent a humanitarian crisis, yet the Sisi Regime in Egypt still refuses to take any action. It must therefore fall on the international community to intervene in circumstances where there are tens of thousands of detainees being held in conditions that UN human rights experts have already stated that there is credible evidence to suggest that gross human rights violations may be a reality for the thousands of detainees across the State “many of whom may be at risk of death” and urged the authorities to “reverse what appears to be deeply entrenched practices” on people’s right to a life free of torture, ill-treatment, and the right to due process and medical attention. As the UN experts stated, these violations place detainees at risk of death or “irreparable damage to their health”, thus, the experts have already called for an effective and impartial investigation into those prisoners who died in custody since 2012.
We now call on those UN human rights experts to launch, without further delay, a full investigation into the abusive and unlawful practices in Egyptian prisons and demand that detainees are provided with proper medical care, and those at risk are released immediately from detention before there is a catastrophic loss of life.
In addition, Guernica 37 has further been instructed to present an investigative file to the UN Special Procedures with regards to the recently circulated video showing the brutal desecration of a dead body by an Egyptian military official. This is a repeat of what was reported by Amnesty International in 2017 and demonstrates once again the total indifference for life and the total disregard for the rule of law.
Once again, we remind the Egyptian State Authorities that there is an obligation to respect, and refrain from breaching, any and all the rights secured by international human rights law (negative obligation) and to ensure their protection to all individuals within their territory (positive obligation). Accordingly, the State may be held responsibility for committing breaches of human rights and for failing to prevent others from taking any action that violates human rights or fundamental freedoms, such as arbitrary arrest and arbitrary or incommunicado detention; acts of torture or inhuman or degrading treatment; and extra-judicial execution by agents of the State; including police, military, intelligence operatives or other public officials.
The failure to secure and protect the rights of all persons in Egypt will not remain unpunished, and all accountability avenues, domestic and international, will be pursued, to bring those responsible to account.
It is important to highlight that the crimes of torture and murder have no statute of limitation, and where there is evidence there will be full investigations, and eventual prosecutions, against those persons responsible.
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