CAIRO: The status of human rights in Egypt has taken a hard hit throughout the war on terror mainly because of the vague definition of terrorism charges in the country’s legal system, one judge argues.
Last week, Judge Alaa El Shimy from the Justice Minister’s Bureau for Human Rights Affairs talked to legal scholars at the American University in Cairo (AUC) about how Egypt – a signatory to a number of international civil right’s conventions – has suffered more in the human rights department due to the nebulous legal definitions of terrorism.
The lecture aimed to survey the state of human rights in Egypt and the US after the 9/11 attacks.
El Shimy said, “9/11 was catastrophic for human rights, not only in Egypt but all over the world.
International legal instruments should serve as a protector of human rights, explained El Shimy while highlighting that the concept of “combating terrorism since 9/11 has posed great challenges to the legal environments in both Egypt and the US.
While Egypt has been in a state of emergency since the assassination of President Anwar Sadat in 1981, El Shimy maintains that the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights – of which Egypt is a signatory – stipulates that basic human rights must be enforced even under a state of emergency.
Furthermore, he stressed that states are “required to comply with human rights when combating terrorism, according to international law.
In the case of Egypt, however, El Shimy said that the national law provides vague terminology for terrorism, thus posing threats to human rights.
“If a criminal act is associated with terrorism, aggravated punishment is immediately applied. But what exactly is terrorism? El Shimy continued.
On the topic, El Shimy briefly discussed post-9/11 incommunicado detentions. He said terrorist suspects have been held for prolonged periods of time without access to legal aid. Several countries around the world, including Egypt and the US, have been accused of such practices.
“Terrorist suspects were put in secret detention. Even children under the age of 18 were held in the same facilities as the other detainees. There were reports that some of the detainees were tortured despite the fact that torture practices are prohibited under the state of emergency in Egypt, said El Shimy.
In the past years, the US has come under heavy criticism for post-9/11 anti-terrorism practices such as forced disapparences and extraordinary rendition.
“After 9/11, terrorist suspects were transferred to third [world] countries for interrogation where they were held in unknown places for long periods of time. Countries also relied on diplomatic assurances from the third state that the detainee would not be subject to torture, said El Shimy, hinting that torture practices were carried out despite diplomatic promises.
Furthermore, combating terrorism has also resulted in alleged heightened surveillance and collection of personal data both in Egypt and the US, raising questions about the right to privacy.
Last year’s amendments to the Egyptian constitution, which sparked violent protests in downtown Cairo, are also expected to affect the country’s human rights conditions, continued El Shimy.
Referred to by Amnesty International as “the worst erosion of human rights in Egypt in 26 years, the 34 amendments weaken judicial oversight over elections and provide the president with the right to dissolve parliament.
While 9/11 has greatly impacted the state of human rights in Egypt, El Shimy stresses that the country has taken several positive steps in regards to human rights in the past years.
In 2004, Egyptian women married to foreign men were allowed to transfer their citizenship onto their children. There is also an increaisng number of women in the Judiciary. Thirty women were elected this year, concluded El Shimy.