Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, et al. v. Egypt

Comm. No. 334/06
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Three individuals (‘the victims’) were arrested, detained, interrogated, tried and sentenced to death by the Egyptian authorities for their alleged involvement in the 2004 and 2005 bomb attacks on tourist resorts in the Sinai Peninsula. The victims argued that in the course of these proceedings Egypt violated their rights to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, to have access to counsel, courts and medical personnel, to not be convicted through the use of evidence procured through torture and to be tried in an independent court under Articles 5, 7 and 26 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR). The victims also submitted that the imposition of the death penalty constituted a breach of the rights to life and fair trial, as protected by Articles 4 and 5 ACHPR. Many of the factual issues of the case were sharply contested by the victims and Egypt.

The victims argued that they had been held incommunicado and denied access to their families, lawyers and medical care by Egyptian authorities and that they had been beaten, tortured, blindfolded and occasionally hung from the ceiling by their arms and legs in painful positions while being subjected to electrical shocks. The victims contended that the Supreme State Security Emergency Court (SEC) was not independent because its composition was solely at the discretion of the President, the President was required to ratify decisions, and the President was the only body with authority to overturn or vacate decisions. Additionally, the victims pointed to inconsistencies in their trials, such as denial of access to counsel and transcripts of the court hearings, and argued that their confessions were obtained through torture and thus were inadmissible as evidence against them. Finally, the victims argued that because the Egyptian Penal Code provided for the automatic imposition of the death penalty upon a guilty verdict and such sentence was passed following an unfair trial, the imposition of the death penalty in this case represented arbitrary deprivation of life.

Egypt responded that there was no evidence of torture or physical harm when the victims were first brought to court after having already confessed to the bombings. It pointed out that the victims had all been visited by family members on multiple occasions and were each provided with counsel to represent them. Egypt claimed that the SEC was independent because it was prescribed limited functions and objective criteria by the law, all of its members were experts on the subject, all stages of the trial were carried out in public and all criteria of a fair trial adopted by international agreements on human rights were observed. Egypt noted that even if the confessions had been obtained under duress, they were only one of many pieces of evidence submitted against the victims, the judge had the ability to weigh the credibility of the confessions and there was sufficient evidence to convict the victims even in the absence of the confessions.

[Adapted from INTERIGHTS summary, with permission]

The Commission held that:

The victims’ rights to be free from torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment under Article 5 ACHPR were violated in multiple ways because (a) the physical harm they suffered while in detention must be presumed to have been caused by their captors in the absence of an alternative explanation, (b) Egypt failed to provide prompt medical services to the victims, (c) the victims were denied sufficient access to counsel or other independent legal advice, and (d) the victims had no meaningful opportunity to challenge the lawfulness of their detention because they lacked access to an independent court and to lawyers;

The victims’ rights to a fair trial under Articles 7 and 26 ACHPR were violated because (a) the SEC is not independent from the executive branch, (b) SEC decisions cannot be appealed to any other Egyptian court, (c) the victims were completely denied access to counsel before their appearance in court and were only permitted restricted access thereafter, and (d) the victims’ confessions appeared to form at least part of the basis of their convictions and the imposition of the death penalty;

The victim’s rights not to be arbitrarily deprived of their lives and the integrity of their persons under Article 4 ACHPR were not violated because they are still under Egyptian custody and have not been executed;

Egypt is ordered to (a) not implement the death sentence, (b) adequately compensate the victims, (c) reform the SEC and ensure its independence, (d) take measures to harmonize its law and law enforcement procedures with relevant international law, (e) release the victims and (f) submit to the Commission within 180 days information on measures taken to implement the aforementioned recommendations.

[Adapted from INTERIGHTS summary, with permission]

“173. In the presence of allegations or possible indications of abuse, the importance of prompt access to medical personnel becomes all the more critical. The Istanbul Protocol, a set of detailed guidelines on the investigation of torture and ill-treatment elaborated by an independent group of experts in 1999, recalls that “[t]he investigator should arrange for a medical examination of the alleged victim. The timeliness of such medical examination is particularly important. A medical examination should be undertaken regardless of the length of time since the torture, but if it is alleged to have happened within the past six weeks, such an examination should be arranged urgently before acute signs fade.””

“232. However after careful consideration of Articles 7 and 26 and the wordings of article 4 [right to life], the African Commission is of the view that article 4 of the Charter has not been violated. The victims are still under the custody of the Respondent State, through a process that denied them due process and are not yet executed.”

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