Posts Tagged Egypt
Working in the Middle East was always an ambition for 24-year-old journalist Tom Rollins. The region is a far cry from home in the north-east of England but that did not deter him from seizing an opportunity to live and work in Cairo.
He braced himself for a considerable change of life, coincidentally at a time when Egypt was on the cusp of even greater change with President Mohamed Morsi gradually becoming ousted after months of intense protests. But since arriving in Egypt, Tom has witnessed injustices, arrests and protests at a rate he could not anticipate.
“I arrived in Cairo around a fortnight before the June 30 protests,” says Tom. “The day before I flew to Cairo I was sat in Hyde Park, London, speaking to an Egyptian-Saudi couple about Egypt, about Tamarod [the grassroots movement founded in opposition to President Morsi] and what might happen.
“They said things would become messy again and I should be careful, but that was it, really. It seemed a long way off, I suppose.”
The Egyptian political and social landscape altered almost immediately after Tom’s arrival. July saw the military oust President Morsi and counter-protests from the Muslim Brotherhood and pro-Morsi demonstrators. Since the summer, Tom has witnessed protests from all sides and heavy-handed crackdowns on protestors, leading to thousands of deaths and arrests.
“When I arrived, there was a president in power that isn’t there now,” Tom says wryly. “A lot has changed.”
“With Morsi gone, Egypt became more violent, polarised and difficult to work out. There was that period of intense violence with around 2,000 dead – which reached its peak with the dispersals and then Ramses Square and the Fath mosque siege – but even though that’s dissipated more or less, the threat hasn’t gone.
“The protests and arrests have become routine now. I think 2011 [the year of the revolution and when protests in Egypt subsequently rallied against military rule] changed a lot of young people’s view of the world, particularly around what street politics could achieve – in Egypt and everywhere else,” he says.
“But now ‘the Egyptian revolution’ is being largely defined by those in power – army and police officers and government technocrats and ministers, some of them Mubarak-era officials at that. This is problematic.”
What concerns Tom is the level of repression exercised by the army, particularly against those who are critical of their actions, and the lack of transparency surrounding arrests. Without this clarity there can be no safeguards against unlawful detention or torture.
Just one example concerns the case of Haitham Mohamadeen, a labour lawyer and RevSoc activist who works with the IRCT member centre El Nadeem, who was arrested while travelling to Suez to represent clients there. Haitham was seized at an army checkpoint while travelling on a bus. His briefcase was taken and he was held for two days at a nearby police station, with little indication as to what he was being investigated for.
After much confusion, Haitham was released but charged with supposed crimes including “membership of a secret organisation” and carrying out activism “through terrorist means”, both of which have been rejected.
Tom explains: “One of the problems is transparency. We’re told day by day that so many people have been arrested for such and such crimes. But who are these people – Muslim Brotherhood members or Morsi supporters? Or are these just increasingly politicized arrests under the pretext of security and counter-terrorism?
“If someone is arrested at the moment, with that counter-terror narrative in effect, there’s a chance the system is just going to eat them up,” says Tom.
“Another problem is the system of military trials. Civilians (and journalists) are charged with annoying or insulting the army in some way, due process is ignored and justice is not served. We’re seeing that again this time round.”
But what is next for the political and social landscape of Egypt – will detention and violence cool, or will groups escalate?
“Islamists will continue to be marginalised as the government follows its roadmap to the elections next year. It is also particularly worrying that activists are being intimidated, because it suggests rule could become more repressive still.
“But there are excellent independent journalists in Egypt who are chronicling what is happening here. I think it will become more interesting now that Egypt is generally old news internationally. These journalists have a tough time, but they’ll be the ones testing the new regime and holding it to account.”
All pictures used with permission from ©Tom Rollins
Happy New Year! We have just returned from the year-end holiday. But before we look forward to 2013, let’s take a look back at 2012 and the events, successes, tragedies and changes in human rights around the world. This list is of course not exhaustive, so please feel free to add your own suggestions and story links in the comments section.
Click the first image to view in a slideshow.
In the two years since his death, he has been called the ‘Face of a Revolution’, his visage spray-painted across Egyptian city streets in the lead-up to Mubarak’s ouster.
Two year’s ago today, Alexandria policemen attacked Khaled Said in a local internet cafe. He was brutalised, tortured and killed. Authorities tried to hide the murder with improper forensic documents and an autopsy that ruled his death as asphyxiation; however, the impossibly hard work of activists, forensic specialists, Egyptian human rights organisations and his courageous family meant that he didn’t become yet another tragic victim of the Mubarak regime.
As we did then, on this two-year anniversary of his death, we would like to express our deepest condolences to the family of Khaled Said.
Below is video that explains more of the story of Khaled Said, and the importance of forensic documentation of torture in bringing the perpetrators to justice.
A recent European Court of Human Rights case finds that the excessive use of tear gas, especially when people are detained or deprived of their liberty, can amount to inhuman and degrading treatment
The use of tear gas by law enforcement officials against demonstrators and detainees is widely documented as a method of crowd control. However, examples of its excessive use are occurring with alarming frequency, for example recently in Bahrain, the West Bank, Turkey and Honduras where the use of tear gas has lead to civilian deaths.
A number of IRCT member centres have been campaigning against the use of tear gas in their countries and in particular its use against peaceful demonstrators and people deprived of liberty which many human rights organisations consider amounts to torture or ill treatment.
The Centre for Prevention, Treatment and Rehabilitation of Victims of Torture and their Relatives (CPTRT) in Honduras has also raised its concerns about the use of tear gas by security forces, particularly in places of detention and against those demonstrating, such as the demonstrations that took place against changes to education in March 2011. . The issue was raised by the CPTRT during the recent visit of the UN Sub-Committee for the Prevention of Torture (SPT) to Honduras and the SPT confirmed that it would look into the issue. The CPTRT also intends to ask the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights for its view on the use of tear gas in prisons and against demonstrators.
The European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) has expressed its concerns over the use of such gases in law enforcement. The CPT considers that:
“… [P]epper spray [tear gas] is a potentially dangerous substance and should not be used in confined spaces. Even when used in open spaces the CPT has serious reservations; if exceptionally it needs to be used, there should be clearly defined safeguards in place. For example, persons exposed to pepper spray should be granted immediate access to a medical doctor and be offered an antidote. Pepper spray should never be deployed against a prisoner who has already been brought under control.” (CPT/Inf (2009) 25, paragraph 79)
The Human Rights Foundation of Turkey (TİHV/HRFT) has vast experience in treating people who have been exposed to tear gas in five of its treatment and rehabilitation centres for torture survivors in Ankara, Istanbul, Izmir, Diyarbakir and Adana. The HRFT decided to conduct further scientific studies on the physical effects of tear gas as its wide use by security forces during demonstrations; it has caused severe injuries and in some cases deaths from exploding bomb canisters and the inhalation of toxic chemicals used in the gas.
The HRFT (Istanbul Centre) has studied 64 cases of people affected by tear gas and evaluated the early side-effects of these chemical agents in these cases based on age, gender, psychological findings as well as other injuries. The research shows that complaints and physical side effects caused as a result of exposure to the tear gas chemicals were highest during the first three days following exposure.
The HRFT considers that “tear gas is a weapon derived from chemical agents” and that “the use of these agents amounts to torture and ill-treatment when used against people whose liberty has been deprived.”
The recent decision of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) in the case of Ali Güneş fully supports the HRFT’s position on this issue.
In the recent case of ALİ GÜNEŞ v. TURKEY (Application no. 9829/07), the ECtHR found for the first time that the use of tear gas against people whose liberty has been restricted can amount to a violation of Article 3 ECHR. The Court stressed that there can be no justification for the use of tear gas against an individual who has already been taken under the control of the law enforcement authorities. Ali Güneş, a high school teacher and member of the Trade Union of Education and Science Workers (Eğitim-Sen), was in one of the thirteen allocated areas where demonstrations were allowed to take place during the 2004 NATO summit in Istanbul. He complained about having been sprayed with tear gas by police officers, even after being arrested. The incident was widely reported in the national press and Mr Güneş was able to produce as evidence a photograph published in the daily newspaper Sabah showing him between two police officers who were holding him by the arms, and one of whom was spraying his nose and mouth with gas at very close range. He also relied on medical reports which showed that his eyes had been affected by the gas.
In its judgment, the Court referred to previous cases in which it had considered the use of tear gas for the purposes of law enforcement, and where it had recognised that its use can produce effects such as respiratory problems, nausea, vomiting, irritation of the respiratory tract, irritation of the tear ducts and eyes, spasms, chest pain, dermatitis and allergies. Given the effects the gases cause and the potential health risks they entail, the Court considered that “the unwarranted spraying of [Mr Güneş’s] face in the circumstances described must have subjected him to intense physical and mental suffering and was such as to arouse in him feelings of fear, anguish and inferiority capable of humiliating and debasing him”. By spraying him in such circumstances the police officers subjected Mr Güneş to inhuman and degrading treatment within the meaning of Article 3 of the Convention.
The IRCT welcomes the clear indication from the European Court of Human Rights that tear gas should not under any circumstance be used against persons whose liberty has been restricted and considers that this sends an important signal to countries in the region that the excessive use of tear gas by security forces should not be condoned.
The outcome of the Turkish case should be of vital interest to other regions, where the oppressive use of tear gas is being used with alarming frequency, such as in Bahrain and Honduras. As the CPT has stated, clearly defined safeguards should be put in place where the use of tear gas is required. In addition, further protection against the excessive use of tear gas should be supported by more scientific research on the long-term effects of exposure to it, in particular to build on previous studies, such as those carried out by the HRFT and the US-based organisation Physicians for Human Rights.
The decision of the European Court in the case against Turkey, supported by an increased understanding of the long-term health effects of tear gas exposure, will give civil society organisations the increased ammunition needed to campaign against the excessive use of tear gas by law enforcement authorities.
Lea aquí (.DOC) la versión española
Rachel is interning at the IRCT with the Advocacy and Legal Team after completing her European Master’s in Human Rights and Democratisation; she is also a Qualified Solicitor.
Today, on International Women’s Day (8 March), we wish to join the worldwide movement to honour women as human rights defenders. Women from all over the world, including at our 140+ member centres in over 70 countries, work at the frontline in the fight against torture. These women lobby national governments, head human rights inter-governmental bodies, work in rehabilitating torture survivors, and are often survivors of torture themselves.
At World Without Torture, we would like to honour these women by providing a platform for their stories today. Please share these stories to honour not only their work, but the hundreds of thousand of women human rights defenders worldwide.
Brazilian psychologist and human rights activist Vera Vital Brasil knows from experience what she is talking about when she tells about her years of work with torture victims.
As a student at Federal University of Rio de Janeiro in the late ’60s, Vera participated actively in the student movement, a major focus of resistance to Brazil’s military dictatorship. Because of her activism, in 1969, she was arrested and tortured on the premises of the notorious DOI-CODI, the Destacamento de Operações de Informações – Centro de Operações de Defesa Interna in Rio de Janeiro. After three months in prison, Vera left Rio for exile in Chile. Her exile lasted six years and upon her return to Brazil, she was determined to try to turn the wrongs that others done to her into something good.
“What do we do with what others have done to us? Internalize this tormenting experience or fight to stop this happening again? I chose the latter,” she says about her involvement with victims of torture through clinical work.
In 1982, Vera joined other former political prisoners living in Rio de Janeiro against the appointment of people responsible for torture during the dictatorship. This initiative eventually led a group of former political prisoners, torture survivors and relatives of dead and missing people to found the Grupo Tortura Nunca Mais (GTNM/RJ, which in English stands for Never More Torture Group) in 1985, which, in 1991, started providing medical and psychological treatment and physical rehabilitation to victims of torture.
Throughout these years, her personal experience and dedication to other victims have convinced her that the trauma caused by torture can never be completely overcome but must be addressed through clinical treatment and proper redress.
“The damage caused by torture is accentuated if it is ignored, if there is no justice, or no redress. The fact that the state, which should guarantee and protect human life, is the agent of violence has a devastating effect on people’s psychological well-being. Our clinical practice is insufficient to cure this damage. But we can try to get people who have gone through this harrowing experience to feel better and give another meaning to this suffering, shifting it from a personal and private level to the collective and historical level, “she says.
Read Vera Brasil’s full story here.
Giving a voice to the victims
“You try to channel revenge through peaceful channels, you know, campaigning, publishing, providing legal consultation, providing legal aid, taking the person to court, accompanying the person throughout this process,” says Dr. Aida Seif El Dawla.
Dr. Seif El Dawla, founding member, psychiatrist, and human rights defender at Egyptian centre El Nadeem, was awarded the 2011 Alkarama Award for Human Rights Defenders.
For nearly two decades at the El-Nadeem Centre for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence, she has worked with countless victims of torture. When the Egyptian clinic began in 1993, Seif El Dawla and the other founders wanted to provide psychological services to the survivors of torture and their families. They sought other like-minded organisations – medically-based NGOs that served the psycho-social needs of victims of violence – to model their new clinic. Soon they realised that focusing simply on the psychological rehabilitation neglected the social and political aspects that allowed the crimes to continue – the victims’ access to justice and seeking the prevention of torture.
“Many of the people who come don’t really want to have a psychological assessment,” she says. “I realised that those people aren’t really patients in the classic sense of patients. They have responded very normally to an extremely abnormal situation.”
El-Nadim not only had to treat the psychological consequences of torture, but provide their clients with access to medical doctors to treat the physical wounds. In addition, many survivors came to the clinic with a need to channel their anger, humiliation, and helplessness into bringing their perpetrators to justice, bringing the crimes to light.
When the image of Khaled Said’s face appeared in the newspapers, bruised and beaten, Seif El Dawla had seen it all before. Said’s image ignited change. The people of Egypt have become fed up with a broken system and a police force that tortures, carries out arbitrary arrests, and falsifies forensic reports, she says.
“Already before the 25th of January people had enough of this kind of violence. They had enough. And it’s not a coincidence that the first targets of the people when they revolted were the police stations, all over, because there isn’t a governor, there isn’t a city, where there isn’t a family who has lost somebody to a police station or who has a relative who was abused or humiliated in a police station. So, it was already boiling. Now, people are not willing to take it anymore.”
During her medicine studies in the late eighties, Yadira Narvaez was unexpectedly transferred from a neurological clinic, where she worked as an intern, to the medical department of a male prison.
The unwanted transfer was a punishment for her habit of wearing trousers. “My superior said that if what I wanted was to look like a male, I should be as close as possible to men”, she remembers. The experience became one of the most transformative events in Forensic Doctor Yadira Narvaez’s life. “It was a striking experience: there I learned the difference between being alive and dead”.
While working at the medical department of that prison, where approximately 1,500 men served their sentences, she discovered the real meaning of the word torture. “By then, I really didn’t know what torture meant and what it could do to people”. Dr Narvaez‘s placement at the prison ended after 18 months but has led to decades of dedication to the treatment and protection of torture survivors and prisoners.
Two years after the end of the “punishment”, Dr Narvaez decided to go back to work in the same prison, this time, of her own free will. She went on to also work in the treatment of female detainees at another penal institution. Being a witness of the suffering caused by a lack of respect for human rights made Dr Narvaez realise that she needed to do something to try to protect prisoners and to assist torture survivors.
To address the problem on a national level, Dr Narvaez helped found the Foundation for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence (in short PRIVA) in 1997. In addition to denouncing torture in Ecuador, PRIVA focuses on the prevention and eradication of torture and the care of torture victims and their families.
“Like Martin Luther King, I also have a dream: that one day in my country all individuals who, for any reason come into contact with the penal system have their rights respected, have the right to be heard and the right to justice,” says the 52-year old doctor. “And torture victims need access to rehabilitation services to recover at least part of the health lost due to arbitrary practices by state agents. In addition, torture survivors need to be assured that these violations will not continue so that they can go on to live without fear”.
Read Dr. Narvaez’s full story here.
Following a series of recent violent crackdowns against demonstrators in Egypt (most strikingly following deaths at a football match in Port Said), we have a released a statement on our website calling for Egypt to immediately stop inflicting violence and torture and to implement a thorough investigation into the perpetrators:
The IRCT today calls for the Egyptian General Attorney to implement a prompt and thorough investigation into dozens of cases of torture and ill-treatment in Egypt that have occurred since the November 2011 crackdown on demonstrators.
We join a coalition of lawyers and human rights defenders, including IRCT Egyptian member El Nadeem Centre for Management and Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence, in seeking an end to the recent violence and torture and a comprehensive inquiry into these violations. In addition, we echo the demand for accountability of security forces in connection to the massacre of football fans in Port Said last Wednesday.
Furthermore, the IRCT also condemns the targeted attacks – including arbitrary arrests, beatings, and shootings – on field hospitals constructed in Tahrir Square. The field hospitals, which were constructed to treat those wounded in the protests, have sustained several attacks on both doctors and patients.
Happy New Year, to all our readers from World Without Torture.
As we look to start 2012, we would like to take a moment to look back at 2011 – the events, revolutions, human rights defenders, and victorious moments that shaped us and will undoubtedly shape this upcoming year.
Note: These are in no particular order. Click any photo for slideshow view.
As we approach International Human Rights Day – 10th December – we are very pleased to announce the release of World Without Torture: A film by the IRCT that highlights the importance of documenting torture, as well as providing rehabilitation for torture survivors and working to ensure that torture doesn’t take place to begin with.
The film features the case of Khaled Said. His death at the hands of state police – and the attempt to cover it up through the official autopsy report – sparked massive protests in Egyptin the run-up to the revolution that led to the toppling of Hosni Mubarak’s oppressive regime.
Documenting torture, as in the case of Said and numerous others, is among the key priorities of the IRCT. It can have far reaching results and helps us move towards our ultimate goal: a World Without Torture.
Watch our 15 minute film to see interviews with key activists, human rights defenders, and those on the forefront of anti-torture work and rehabilitation. And celebrate Human Rights Day by sharing this video with friends and family – through e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media tools.
Dr. Aida Seif El Dawla, founding member, psychiatrist, and human rights defender at Egyptian member centre El Nadeem, has been awarded the 2011 Alkarama Award for Human Rights Defenders.
The IRCT wishes to warmly congratulate Dr. Seif El Dawla for her much-deserved recognition from the international human rights community for her long and fervent work on behalf of the victims of torture and other human rights abuses.
“This prize is not the first or the last that the collective of El Nadeem receives,” said IRCT’s Middle East and North Africa regional coordinator Giorgio Caracciolo. “And yet a thousand prizes would not be enough to reward a life dedicated to human rights and people’s well-being after torture.”
For more than 30 years, Dr. Seif El Dawla has worked toward combating torture and investigating human rights abuses in Egypt, where she co-founded IRCT member El Nadeem Centre for Psychological Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence and Torture, the Egyptian Association Against Torture, and the New Women Research Center. She was previously recognized in 2003 by Human Rights Watch for their highest honour for global human rights defenders.
Please read the full statement from the IRCT here.
Also, our Middle East North Africa regional coordinator Giorgio Caracciolo, who is quoted in this story, offered up a much more lengthy quote that we would like to post in its entirety:
It is four years now that I have worked closely with Aida and the other incredible women that, for almost 20 years, have led El Nadeem Centre and the struggle against torture in Egypt. Working with Aida, Suzanne, Magda, Basma and the others (and the guys too!) has meant a lot to me not only on the professional level but also on the personal one. This prize is not the first or the last that the collective of El Nadeem receives, and yet a thousand prizes would not be enough to reward a life dedicated to human rights and people’s well-being after torture. But if a thousand prizes would not lift the burden left by the stories received from the hundreds and hundreds torture victims supported in the last decades; if a thousand prizes will not give them satisfaction for the work that they have done until torture is brought to a halt in Egypt – every prize has its own infinite importance as this is one of the few ways for us – as an international community – to acknowledge the immense value of the work done by El Nadeem in Egypt.
I have had the privilege to support them closely in the recent past, and I wish them all the strength to continue leading their work towards a Egypt without torture.
When we speak of ‘torture as usual‘, this is not meant to be flippant, but to provide backing and examples of Professor Manfred Nowak, former UN special investigator on torture and IRCT Patron, contention that torture is practised in an estimated 90% of countries around the world.
It’s stories of asylum-seekers being denied a haven and returned to countries where they are tortured. It was the case in Egypt, now undergoing a revolution spurned by people who said they would not stand for torture any more. It’s continued impunity for those who torture, fuelled by the poverty of the victims, and is an ongoing struggle for our member centres to prevent torture in climates with no consequences.
Despite these daily examples, we thankfully still have global condemnation of cases of systematic use of torture specifically to stifle growing opposition movements: the case in point being Syria.
At Friday’s special UN meeting, called for after a UN-appointed investigations team found evidence of widespread human rights abuses and torture, including of children, the UN Human Rights Council overwhelmingly voted to condemn the Syrian authorities for their ongoing brutal treatment of its people.
With radical changes continuing in the Middle East and North African region, we have hope for change in Syria.