GENEVA (6 March 2020) – UN human rights experts* urge the Egyptian authorities to release four Egyptians minors who have been tried through a process tainted with credible allegations of torture to extract confessions and who are now facing death sentences in a mass trial. The verdict is expected to be announced on Monday, 9 March 2020.
The urgent appeal by the UN experts comes after the recent adoption of the
Opinion (No. 2019/65) of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) concerning the four minors, who have been tried before a military court along with more than 300 individuals. The WGAD opinion recommends that the four minors be released.
After their arrest, the minors were held incommunicado for several months, tortured to obtain confession and denied their right to a fair trial. Their confessions obtained through torture were reportedly introduced into the court proceedings as evidence despite such tainted evidence being inadmissible. In view of these facts, the Working Group has declared their detention arbitrary.
"Furthermore, capital punishment would run counter to the duty of Egypt under international law that requires the death sentence to be only permissible for offences which meet the 'most serious crimes' threshold, as established in article 6 (2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, a treaty Egypt has signed and ratified," the experts said.
"Moreover, the death penalty must never be applied to juveniles, this is a breach of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. There is also no legal justification to try these minors, who are civilians, by a military court.
"This mass trial procedure falls significantly short of the standard for a fair trial, given that it is impossible to conduct a specified legal assessment of the individual responsibility of the accused in accordance with the international norms," the experts added. "Such mass trials are incompatible with the interests of justice or human rights."
"Under certain circumstances, widespread or systematic imprisonment or other severe deprivation of liberty in violation of the rules of international law could constitute crimes against humanity," said experts. The Working Group has reached similar conclusions in other cases of detention against minors in Egypt (see e.g.
Opinions No. 2018/27 and
No. 2018/29) .
"We reiterate our call to the Government of Egypt to take the steps necessary to remedy the situation of the four minors. The appropriate remedy would be to release them and accord them an enforceable right to compensation and other reparations, in accordance with international law, and to prevent the application of the death penalty in all of their cases, whatever the outcome," they said.
This case is
one of many others in the past five years in which the Working Group has found the Government of Egypt to be in violation of its international human rights obligations. The UN experts are concerned that this indicates a systemic problem with arbitrary detention in Egypt.
*UN Experts: The
Working Group on Arbitrary Detention was established by the former Commission on Human Rights in 1991 to investigate instances of alleged arbitrary deprivation of liberty. Its mandate was clarified and extended by the Commission to cover the issue of administrative custody of asylum-seekers and immigrants. In September 2019, the Human Rights Council confirmed the scope of the Working Group's mandate and extended it for a further three-year period. The Working Group is comprised of five independent expert members from various regions of the world:
Mr. José Antonio Guevara Bermúdez (Mexico; Chair-Rapporteur),
Ms Elina Steinerte (Latvia; Vice-Chair on Follow-up),
Ms Leigh Toomey (Australia; Vice-Chair on Communications),
Mr. Sètondji Roland Adjovi (Benin) and
Mr. Seong-Phil Hong (the Republic of Korea); Ms. Agnes Callamard, Special Rapporteur
on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.
Database of the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.
The Working Group is part of what is known as the
Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council's independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures' experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organisation and serve in their individual capacity.
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