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February 21, 2014

Egypt Rights Groups Call on Fact-Finding Commission to Implement Recommendations

Three years after the fall of President Hosni Mubarak, Egypt remains in turmoil.  

Since the new government took power when the elected civilian government of President Morsi was ousted in early July 2013, there have been serious human rights violations, including the killing of hundreds of people in Cairo in mid-August 2013.

In December 2013, a Presidential decree ordered the creation of “a national independent fact-finding commission to gather information and evidence for the events that accompanied the June 30, 2013 revolution and its repercussions.” The Commission has been granted a mandate to work for six months, after which it should deliver its final report and recommendations to the Egyptian President, no later than June 21, 2014.

The newly formed Commission—under the leadership of Dr. Fouad Abdel Moneim Riyad, a professor of Private International Law and international judge at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY)—is responsible for investigating “crimes against citizens,”  identifying perpetrators, and examining previous investigations and other incidents into which no investigations took place. Whether the final report will be made public is unclear as there is no provision obligating the Commission to make its findings public. The President has sole authority for releasing the report.

Egyptian NGOs, while supportive of Presidential decree, caution that shortcomings may get in the way of the Commission realizing its assigned task.

Local NGO The Egypt Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) states that the Commission should incorporate an analysis and a description of the events including how they occurred and escalated. It should also specify the main actors in those events, and clarify their repercussions. EIPR also provided six specific recommendations focusing on ways for the Commission to improve its work and that it should:

  • Incorporate thematic cases that fall within the time frame of its mandate, including sectarian attacks against Copts, and sexual assaults against women;
  • Develop a witness protection program, as well as a protection program for people working at the commission, to ensure they won’t be subjected to threats or pressure;
  • Consult relevant civil society organizations, and to investigate crimes resulting from the use of violence by the state;
  • Investigate the responsibility of senior leaders  for the violence;
  • Propose specific legal and institutional reforms  to prevent the reoccurrence of human rights violations including the security sector; and
  • Open the investigation to all kinds of human rights violations that were committed by the state security apparatuses and their security forces, either civil or military, to ensure all parties involved in any violation would be held accountable.

EIPR also stressed the need for the Commission to seek technical support from the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), an independent, international institution with extensive experience in the field – which would give their mandate more legitimacy.

Likewise, Nazra for Feminist Studies, issued recommendations to the Commission as well as a document reporting sexual violence against women. Despite being at the forefront of the revolution that occurred three years ago, women continue to face much the same kind of systematic targeting they faced under the Mubarak regime. While sexual harassment is not a new issue, it has become an international conversation since 2011 when protests in Tahrir Square quickly turned violent and mobs of men began sexually assaulting some of the female protestors.  In a recent study, the U.N. reported that 99.3 percent of Egyptian women and girls have been subjected to sexual harassment at some point in their lives.

Nazra’s recommendations to the Committee focus on the need to integrate gender issues and perspective within transitional justice mechanisms by focusing on structural causes  of gender inequalities that contribute to  the targeting of women. Nazra’s recommendations also include:

  • Creating a sub-committee specializing in investigating incidents of sexual violence against women in particular;
  • Organizing trainings in order to mainstream a gender perspective into their work;
  • Establishing a truth commission to focus primarily on gender-based sexual violence and to raise public awareness; and
  • Incorporating data and information gathered by previous fact-finding committees.

“Any truth-seeking process must also include accountability for gender-based human rights violations committed since January 2011 which successive governments have thus far ignored,” said Mozn Hassan, executive director at Nazra. “For a start, the government needs to address unprecedented mass sexual violence that took place in Tahrir Square.”

The U.S. government should unequivocally support transitional justice mechanisms in Egypt, which include ensuring the personal security of women, and a comprehensive redress of past human rights violations. A key factor in any country’s ability to achieve progress is to seek redress for victims of past human rights violations. Those responsible for violations, including those at the highest levels of command, must be held to account.