In March 1993 Physicians for Human Rights–UK was invited by the Egyptian Medical Syndicate to examine Law number 100, 1993 – the law for the guarantees for democracy in professional union associations.
One month earlier, the passing of the new law by the Egyptian People’s Assembly, without consultation, altering the rules governing election to the executive boards of professional organisations, had attracted extensive criticism from the syndicates and human rights groups.
Following the decision that proper appraisal of the new law required an assessment within the context of the current situation in Egypt, two PHR-UK delegates spent seven days in Cairo interviewing and recording testimonies from victims of human rights abuse, their lawyers, judges and other witnesses. They consulted with representatives from the Egyptian Organisation of Human Rights, the International Committee of the Red Cross, members of the Legal, Medical and Engineering Syndicates and interviewed a representative of the Egyptian government. One delegate attended the trial of those accused of assassinating the former Speaker of the Peoples Assembly, Dr Rifa’at Al-Mahgoub.
PHR-UK concluded that the experiences of the Egyptian citizens who have suffered at the hands of the security forces or the militant islamist groups belies Egypt’s historical legacy of a civilisation stretching back five millennia.
Members of the Egyptian security forces had been conducting a campaign against Egyptian people using arbitrary and illegal detention of civilians and torture of detainees as a routine part of the interrogation process since President Sadat’s assassination in 1981.
Relatives of suspects have been intimidated and sometimes tortured to compel suspects to give themselves up. There was evidence that the security forces were practising a shoot to kill policy against suspected members of illegal organisations The government has not only consistently failed to acknowledge persisting and flagrant abuses of humane rights perpetrated by the security forces has also failed to conduct proper investigations into allegations of torture and other criminal activities on the part of the security forces.
Militant fundamentalist Islamist groups were conducting a campaign of mutilation and murder against Egyptian civilians, foreign tourists, members of the government and the security forces.
The standard of medical care in prisons was a disgrace amounting to culpable negligence on the part of the Ministry of the Interior. Some prison medical officers were alleged to have either participated in, or colluded with, torture in custody. Most forensic doctors practise to a high standards despite labouring under a number of disadvantages. Two named forensic doctors were alleged to have submitted inaccurate court reports.
Judges in civilian courts have remained independent and provide an indispensable counterbalance to the criminal behaviour of the security forces. As military courts may deliver unsafe verdicts, their employment by the government to try cases which carry a possible death sentence, especially as there is no right of appeal, is unacceptable. There is no justice in trying people in absentia.
The imposition of the Law 100:1993 The law for guarantees for democracy in professional union associations violates international covenants governing non-interference in the affairs of unions to which Egypt is a party. Whether the new law will prevent activists from winning elections remains to be seen but for any administration to tamper with an established democratic process because it dislikes the results is disturbing. When it is an autocratic regime supported by a brutal state security system which the government cannot or will not control – then the imposition of another measure curtailing civilian autonomy represents a setback for human rights that should be internationally condemned.