CAIRO: A few days ahead of the United Nation’s Dec. 10 marking of Human Rights Day, Egyptian bloggers distributed a video online allegedly depicting a man being tortured by an unknown group of men.
In the video, the unidentified Egyptian man, his hands bound behind his back – and his legs held in the air – screams as he lies on a white tile floor and is abused with what appears to be a wooden broomstick or baton.
Several other people, whose faces are never shown, stand by watching as the man screams: “Never mind Pasha, I m sorry Pasha, addressing his abuser with a term commonly used in Egypt to refer to police officers or people of higher social status.
Based on some of the words in the recording, human rights activists think the victim might be a minibus driver.
An interior ministry spokesman declined to comment on the tape. Rights groups said it was consistent with documented reports of torture in Egypt, but several said they did not yet have enough information to confirm it was authentic.
Egyptian political activists believe that the inherent lack of democracy is a more vital cause for the absence of human rights in the region.
“The UN is talking about poverty affecting Human Rights and that is true from an economic perspective, but the problem in the Arab World is the lack of democracy, Mohammed Zarei, head of the Human Rights Organization for the Assistance of Prisoners told The Daily Star Egypt.
Program Director of the National Organization for Human Rights Dr Ameera Abdel-Hakim concurs.
She told The Daily Star Egypt: “Poverty might be a cause for human rights violations but a more important cause is the absence of democracy. How then can society call for a more equitable distribution of wealth and rights if basic freedoms are prohibited?
Last Wednesday, around 100 members of the Lawyers’ Syndicate and other civil society activists joined a protest at the syndicate’s headquarters in Cairo against “the crimes of torture committed by the security services .
Under banners reading “No to Oppression, No to Torture , video footage of alleged incidents of police brutality was broadcast to bystanders and passing traffic.
Some 40 Egyptian human rights organizations took part in the protest, including the Egyptian Human Rights Organization, the Egyptian Centre for Human Rights and the Egyptian Centre for Women s Rights.
But their protests are not going unheard.
The fight to increase awareness of human rights issues worldwide and the persistent crackdown by authoritarian regimes from Morocco to China was the focus of outgoing UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s address on Friday.
“The United Nations has a special stake, and a special responsibility, in promoting respect for human rights worldwide. But equally – and less happily – I don’t need to tell you that the UN has often failed to live up to that responsibility. I know that ten years ago many of you were close to giving up on any hope that an organization of governments, many of which are themselves gross violators of human rights, could ever function as an effective human rights defender, the Secretary-General said.
Government violation of human rights has been a sore point for such global activists as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
Since 9/11, both these groups have added their voices to other human rights organizations operating on a local level in their respective countries and protested violations resulting from the US-led war on terror. Conditions of inmates in Guantanamo, Cuba and Abu Ghraib, Iraq, to name a few, have been a particular worry to the UN and human rights advocates.
To that end, Annan said: “Some say that justice must sometimes be sacrificed in the interests of peace. I question that. We have seen in Sierra Leone and in the Balkans that, on the contrary, justice is a fundamental component of peace. Indeed, justice has often bolstered lasting peace, by de-legitimizing and driving underground those individuals who pose the gravest threat to it.
“That is why there should never be amnesty for genocide, crimes against humanity and massive violations of human rights. That would only encourage today’s mass murderers – and tomorrow’s would-be mass murderers – to continue their vicious work.
Annan’s speech can be found in its entirety at http://www.dailystaregypt.com/article.aspx?ArticleID=4393
But Zarei believes changes in a different arena are what is needed, such as the peaceful transition of power, expansion of public freedoms and eliminating both emergency laws and the subjection of civilians to military tribunals.
The international community’s observance of Human Rights Day, Dec. 10, runs parallel with the day the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.