28 March 2007
The Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions issued the following statement today:
“The Government of Egypt must instruct the police to stop using firearms to disperse crowds,” says Philip Alston, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions. “Even if a country makes some demonstrations illegal, and even if the demonstrators ignore the law, that does not mean that the police are allowed to shoot at the demonstrators.”
A report released by Alston yesterday deals with several allegations he has received regarding Egypt. (He presented his findings to the UN Human Rights Council on Tuesday.) In his report, Alston expressed his appreciation for the detailed responses that the Government had made to his requests for further information regarding these incidents, but he noted that his dialogue with the Government had revealed serious legal misunderstandings that required immediate reforms.
Alston had corresponded with the Government regarding information that he had received according to which, on 7 December 2005, the police fired into crowds of people who wished to gain access to polling stations in al-Daqahlia, al-Sharqia and other areas in order to cast their votes in run-offs to the third and last phase of Egypt’s parliamentary elections. These police shootings had resulted in the death of at least eight people.
The Government responded to these allegations in a detailed letter which is reprinted in Alston’s report. The Government explained that there are a range of “circumstances in which firearms may be used to break up assemblies or demonstrations” and that “it is permissible to open fire at a person's legs” when “alternative measures have been exhausted” and “the demonstrators fail to disperse”.
Alston’s report states that the Government’s explanation raises serious concerns. It explained that while international human rights law permits the use of firearms to prevent a particularly serious crime involving grave threat to life, based on all the information received regarding the crowds seeking to gain access to the polling stations, “For the police to have opened fire at the legs of individuals was disproportionate to any crime or threat posed by the crowd.”
According to Alston this was not the first time that the security forces had failed to respect human rights law on the use of lethal force during a crowd control operation. In his report to the Human Rights Council last year, he had raised the incident in which security forces dispersal of Sudanese refugees and migrants resulted in 27 deaths in December 2005.
“The Government of Egypt has a legal obligation to change the laws and polices that allowed these deaths to happen,” Alston says. Egypt became a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights on 14 January 1982. When it ratified that human rights treaty, Egypt made a legally binding commitment to only adopt measures that are consistent with its provisions.
Philip Alston was appointed as Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights on 13 July 2004. In 2006, the Commission on Human Rights was replaced by the Human Rights Council, and Alston now reports to the Council.
For further information on the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, see: http://www.ohchr.org/english/issues/executions/ http://www.extrajudicialexecutions.org/
The report that Alston presented to the Human Rights Council on March 27 is UN Doc. No. A/HRC/4/20, and communications with governments are included in A/HRC/4/20/Add.1.