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Press briefing notes on Egypt and the Democratic Republic of the Congo

Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Liz Throssell
Location: Geneva
Date: 5 January 2018

(1) Egypt

We are deeply shocked that 20 people are reported to have been executed in Egypt since last week.

On 2 January, five men who had been sentenced to death by an Egyptian military court were hanged in Alexandria. Four of them had been convicted in relation to an explosion near a stadium in the city of Kafr al-Sheikh on 15 April 2015 that killed three military recruits and injured two others.

We understand the defendants were tried by military judges on the basis of legislation that refers cases of destruction of public property to military courts and in view of the victims being from the Egyptian Military Academy.

On 26 December, 15 men convicted on terrorism charges were reportedly executed.  They had been found guilty by a military court of killing several soldiers in Sinai in 2013.

Civilians should only be tried in military or special courts in exceptional cases. In addition, it is important that all necessary measures are taken to ensure that such trials take place under conditions which genuinely afford the full guarantees stipulated in article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which Egypt is a State party. These include having a fair and public hearing by a competent, independent and impartial tribunal and that everyone charged with a criminal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty.

We are seriously concerned that in all these cases, due process and fair trial guarantees do not appear to have been followed as military courts typically deny defendants’ rights accorded by civilian courts. In cases of capital punishment, trials must meet the highest standards of fairness and due process. Reports also indicated that the prisoners who were executed may have been subjected to initial enforced disappearance and torture before being tried.

Despite the security challenges facing Egypt - in particular in Sinai - executions should not be used as a means to combat terrorism. 

We call on the Egyptian authorities to reconsider the use of death penalty cases in accordance with their international human rights obligations and to take all necessary measures to ensure that violations of due process and fair trial are not repeated.

(2) DRC

We are deeply alarmed at the actions of the security forces in the Democratic Republic of the Congo during the recent protests in Kinshasa and a number of other cities. From the latest information we have managed to gather, at least five people are known to have been killed and 92 injured. In addition, some 180 people were arrested – most have now been released.

The security forces allegedly fired live ammunition, rubber bullets and tear gas grenades, in some cases at point blank range. 
However, we believe the casualty figures from the demonstrations on 31 December may be higher. Our colleagues on the ground were denied access to morgues, hospitals and detention centres. They were sent away from these sites by defence and security forces, and so were unable to fully conduct their human rights monitoring work.

Security forces were also reported to have fired tear gas inside churches, stopped people attending religious services and stolen their personal property. This is an alarming development that impinges on freedom of religion or belief.

Amid the continuing tense political environment, the actions of the security forces suggest a deliberate intention to suppress civil and political rights through the use of violence. 

We call on the authorities to ensure that the security forces do not resort to excessive force when policing demonstrations, and that protests are handled in line with international standards. Necessity, proportionality, non-discrimination and accountability are key principles that underpin the use of force for the management of peaceful assemblies.

The Government should ensure that everyone, including political opponents, journalists and civil society representatives, are able to fully exercise their right to freedoms of association and peaceful assembly, opinion, and expression.

There should also be credible and independent investigations into alleged use of excessive force, and those responsible for human rights violations should be brought to justice.

The 31 December Political Agreement in the DRC was signed more than a year ago as part of efforts to create an environment conducive to free, fair, and credible elections. Confidence-building measures were part of the Agreement and should be fully implemented. As the UN Secretary-General has said, this agreement remains the only viable path to the holding of elections, the peaceful transfer of power and the consolidation of stability in the DRC.

We once again urge the authorities to engage in a constructive dialogue with the opposition and to ensure that the right of all Congolese to participate in the public affairs of their country are respected. 


For more information and media requests, please contact Rupert Colville (+41 22 917 9767 / rcolville@ohchr.org) or Liz Throssell (+41 22 917 9466 / ethrossell@ohchr.org)

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