Enforced Disappearances in Egypt

Egypt 1

Bojana Djokanovic considers the rising number of reported enforced disappearances in Egypt

Following the events that accompanied the resignation of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak at the beginning of 2011, and the military overthrow of  President Mohamed Morsi in July 2013, there have been continuous allegations by activists inside and outside Egypt that the regime of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is responsible for a rising tide of enforced disappearances and human rights violations – to the extent that the government would appear to be using enforced disappearance as an instrument of policy.

During the 2011 revolution, 1,200 persons were reported missing. In January 2013 a committee set up by President Morsi to investigate the 2011 events presented an 800-page report detailing multiple incidents including cases where citizens were detained by the armed forces and subsequently buried in unmarked graves.

Human Rights Watch reported in July 2015 that the Egyptian security forces appeared to have forcibly disappeared “dozens of people”, noting “a clear pattern of prosecutors failing to conduct transparent and independent investigations.” HRW cited three documented cases where “individuals who had disappeared were located days or weeks after their abduction either because the authorities finally acknowledged their detention or because they were seen by witnesses in custody. In three other cases, individuals believed to have been forcibly disappeared by the security forces and in official custody were found dead after a period during which their whereabouts were unknown.” [1] These and other cases indicate that state institutions have systematically resisted accountability for missing persons cases and are themselves involved in disappearances. This is a trend that fundamentally undermines the application of the rule of law in Egypt.

In cases of enforced disappearance, the anxiety of family members increases in direct proportion to the time that passes. And many families do not know their rights under the law. This is not a static violation of human rights, but something that destroys lives and has a continuing and immensely damaging impact on society as a whole.

On 10 December, International Human Rights Day, Egyptian news portals such as Ikhwan Web reported a tenfold rise in the number of enforced disappearances between February and May 2015. Further, “during August and September 2015, the Stop Forced Disappearance campaign documented 215 cases of disappearance in cities across Egypt.”[2]

These reports, along with increasing warnings from international human rights organizations [3] and Egyptian organizations that monitor human rights in the country, suggest that there is unlikely to be an improvement in the human rights situation in Egypt in the near future as the government may be using enforced disappearances and other human rights violations to strengthen its hold on power.

International law defines enforced disappearance as “[T]he arrest, detention, abduction or any other form of deprivation of liberty by agents of the State or by persons or groups of persons acting with the authorization, support or acquiescence of the State, followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or by concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person, which place such a person outside the protection of the law”.[4]

Addressing cases of missing persons constitutes a direct and necessary attempt to redress injustice and promote social recovery. Accounting for the missing in many cases means accounting for the fate and whereabouts of those who have died – and in all cases it is about assisting families and promoting justice for those who are alive today and for future generations. The resolution of this issue must be seen as an indispensable element in any lasting political settlement in Egypt.

[1] https://www.hrw.org/news/2015/07/20/egypt-dozens-detained-secretly

[2] http://bit.ly/1NmEXjB

[3] Such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, United Nations Working Group on Enforced Disappearances

[4] https://www.hrw.org/news/2015/07/20/egypt-dozens-detained-secretly