Egypt and revolution: the human rights violations continue

Image: Ben Curtis/Associated Press

I am quite sure that there are many among you following the situation in Egypt closely. Perhaps you’re eager to see an otherwise undemocratic nation become more democratic, thereby giving the Egyptian people a real chance at effective self determination. Maybe you are curious to see what form of government emerges or whether this is another revolution that will be remembered fondly with a colourful denomination and what colour that will be. Has the “Blue Revolution” been taken yet?

But in the midst of the chaos and the now growing violence, there are significant human rights violations occurring in the country which stem from the protests. Unsurprisingly, the vast majority of these violations escape mainstream media coverage.

Amnesty International has reported a stringent crackdown on the media by the Mubarak government, which has had the effect of slowing down the free flow of information to the public. In fact, the Al Jazeera network in Cairo was shut down by Egypt’s Information Ministry.[1] Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International’s director for the Middle East and North Africa said of the government’s actions, “The authorities are clearly trying to intimidate the media and to prevent the truth coming out about abuses by its security forces, as they struggle to maintain their grip on power in the face of unprecedented protests and demands for fundamental change.”

The free flow of information is key to an effective democracy and necessary for the proper exercise and enjoyment of the right to freedom of expression. The media serves an extremely important function in bringing information to the public and intimidation and violence perpetrated against journalists serves only to have a chilling effect on the free flow of accurate information and robs the public of this essential element of democracy.

Human Rights Watch, on the other hand, has previously reported some alarming human rights abuses by Egyptian security forces against individuals, actions which the organisation argues has fueled the fire of individual protesters. The organisation reported on how Mubarak’s government implicitly condones police abuse and fails to ensure that law enforcement officials accused of torture are investigated and criminally prosecuted, leaving victims without a remedy.[2] There are numerous violations of human rights that are explicit in this, including acts of torture and failure to provide an effective remedy. Torture is a particularly gross violation of human rights and is recognised as such by its status as a peremptory norm of international human rights law. That is, no government is able to torture anyone under any circumstances, not even in a state of emergency that threatens the life of the nation. This prohibition applies regardless of whether the said state has signed international human rights treaties, as it has attained the status of customary law. As such, the Egyptian government, in spite of the fact that it has been in a declared state of emergency since the Arab – Israeli war of 1967, is not permitted to torture any individual (the state of emergency itself is of concern in a discussion on human rights, as it enables governments to derogate from certain human rights. And, the fact that Egypt has been in a state of emergency for over 30 years, without review, suggests that perhaps the state of emergency is not as serious as it was in 1967 and now merely serves to assist the government denying certain human rights to its citizens. But this is a topic for another discussion).

Given the current state of affairs in Egypt, it would seem logical to assume that such acts of torture continue today, a fact that is lost in the hype about looting and clashes between protesters and security forces. We can only hope that the Egyptian people win their own democracy and elect a new government that is accountable to the people, that does not torture or arbitrarily detain individuals or deprive them of their lives, and that respects the rights of its great people.

One Response to “Egypt and revolution: the human rights violations continue”
  1. Thiago says:

    It is important to notice that again the “west” supported Mubarak. Many western countries supported dictatorships to promote their own interests. As Alexander Stubb, Finland’s foreigner minister said: ”It must be admitted that the west has allowed Mubarak to rule as he is considered a good partner in the Middle East peace process”.

    On one hand “western states” preach that human rights should be protected, on the other they condone human rights violations and approve non-democratic governments. It is quite hard to understand this scenario and I am actually sceptical to see changes soon.

    Anyway, great post Sam!

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