Egyptian police brutality trial begins

Egyptian police brutality trial begins

By Polly Johnson
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

Defendants Salah and Suleiman stand in cages as they attend their first court hearing.
Defendants Salah and Suleiman stand in cages as they attend their first court hearing. (Photo Courtesy of BBC.)

ALEXANDRIA, Egypt – Two policemen accused of beating twenty-eight year old Khalid Said to death outside a café in Alexandria in June attended the first court hearing in their trial, which was postponed until September 25.

Mahmoud Salah and Awad Ismail Suleiman have been accused of use of excessive force and unlawful arrest. They stood in cages during yesterday’s hearing in an Alexandria criminal court.

The case that has sparked international outrage began when the two plainclothes officers dragged Said out of an Internet café and brutally beat him to death in front of witnesses. Autopsies showed that Said died from asphyxiation after swallowing a packet of drugs. Yet, skepticism of the autopsy results surfaced after gruesome images of Said’s badly beaten and bruised face circulated over the Internet.

Said was allegedly targeted by the officers after he posted a video of them splitting the spoils of a drug bust.

If convicted, Salah and Suleiman could face between three and fifteen years in prison.

In addition to inciting protests and demonstrations throughout Egypt, the killing has highlighted the problem of Egyptian police brutality, which has been blamed on Egypt’s emergency law. The law, which has been in place for three decades, permits officers to arrest people without charge and detain them indefinitely. Though prosecution of public officers is rare, as Al Jazeera reports, activists say that this case could prove to be a turning point in this aspect of Egypt’s history.

A major concern as the case resumes is witness protection. Amnesty International reported that a friend of Said who was collecting information on the case was attacked and threatened by attackers armed with knives.

“The Egyptian authorities must ensure that the witnesses to the assault on Khaled Mohammed Said are provided with all possible protection both to ensure their own safety and as a means of encouraging other witnesses to come forward,” said Malcolm Smart, the director of Amnesty’s International’s Middle East and North Africa Program.

Said’s lawyers and family have said that they are seeking to upgrade the charges against Salah and Suleiman to murder.

“If we succeed in that, I think this will be the turning point. If not, I think [torture and brutality] will be the normal and systematic practice and they will consider all the pressure of the public nothing,” said Hafez Abu Saeda, director of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights and one of the family’s attorneys. “This will be a message to the police officers: You are protected from any punishment, you are free to do what you want to do.”

For more information, please see:

Al Jazeera – Egypt police trial adjourned – 27 July 2010

BBC – Egypt police in brutality trial over Khaled Said death – 27 July 2010

Christian Science Monitor – Khalid Said case: Is Egypt cracking down on police brutality? – 27 July 2010

CNN – Egyptian police brutality case postponed two months – 27 July 2010

Guardian – Egyptian policemen go on trial over death of activist Khaled Said – 27 July 2010

Los Angeles Times – EGYPT: Police accused of beating Khaled Saied to death appear in court – 27 July 2010

Chad Must Arrest Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir During Visit

21 July 2010

Amnesty International has called on the Chadian authorities to arrest wanted Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and surrender him to the International Criminal Court, after it was reported that he arrived in Chad on Wednesday to attend a meeting of regional leaders.

“Chad should not shield President al-Bashir from international justice”, said Christopher Hall, Amnesty International’s senior legal advisor. “His visit to Chad is an opportunity to enforce the arrest warrant and send a message that justice will prevail.”

An arrest warrant for President Omar al Bashir was issued by the ICC on charges of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.

If it were not to arrest him, Chad would violate its obligations under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, which it ratified in November 2006.

President al-Bashir has arrived in Chad to take part in a meeting of leaders and heads of state of the Community of Sahel-Saharan States (CEN-SAD), which will start in Chad on Thursday 22 July 2010.

Amnesty International has called on all members of the international community to ensure full accountability for crimes under international law committed in Sudan.

For more information, please see:

Cambodia Urged to Follow Khmer Rouge Conviction with More Prosecutions

26 July 2010

Amnesty International has urged a special court to redouble its efforts to prosecute Khmer Rouge-era criminals, following the landmark conviction on Monday of a notorious prison camp commander of crimes against humanity and war crimes.

“Achieving a conviction in Case 001, the first case to be heard by Cambodia’s Extraordinary Chambers, is a historic moment but still only the first step towards justice for the almost two million who died as a result of the massive crimes committed under Khmer Rouge rule,” said Donna Guest, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Asia-Pacific programme.

The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, a special joint international-Cambodian court, on Monday convicted Kaing Guek Eav, also known as Duch, of crimes against humanity and grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions for his role in mass executions, torture and other crimes. He will serve 19 years out of a 35-year sentence.

Of the 14,000 people believed to have been imprisoned at the S-21 Security Office (also known as Tuol Sleng) headed by Duch in Phnom Penh from 1975-1979, only some 12 survived. The rest were tortured to death or executed.

Amnesty International expressed concern that beyond this case, only a few suspects have been identified for possible prosecution by the Extraordinary Chambers.

“This falls short of fulfilling the Extraordinary Chambers’ mandate to prosecute those most responsible for grave crimes committed under Khmer Rouge rule,” said Donna Guest.

“Identifying only five or ten people as allegedly responsible for the massive atrocities does not do enough to satisfy the justice that Cambodians deserve and are entitled to under international law.”

A decision on whether to indict five people charged in the second case, Case 002, will be made later this year. Duch is also named in Case 002 and the others accused are former leading Khmer Rouge politicians: head of state Khieu Samphan; Foreign Minister Ieng Sary; Minister of Social Affairs Ieng Thirith and Nuon Chea, a senior Communist Party of Kampuchea officer known as “Brother No 2”.

Cases 003 and 004 were filed by the Office of the Co-Prosecutors in September 2009 despite strong opposition by the Cambodian Co-Prosecutor, naming five suspects on 40 incidents of murder, torture, unlawful detention, forced labour and persecution. On filing these cases, the acting International Co-Prosecutor stated that no more cases would be pursued by the Office.

“Progress on the third and fourth cases could be undermined by political interference from Cambodian officials who openly oppose more prosecutions, and by disagreements between the Cambodian and International Co-Investigating Judges,” said Donna Guest.

Amnesty International called for the Co-Investigating Judges to complete their work on the existing cases and for the Co-Prosecutors to review their overall strategy in order to fully implement their legal mandate.

Amnesty International also urged the Cambodian government and the United Nations (UN) to ensure that all the efforts already put into the Extraordinary Chambers will provide a lasting legacy to strengthen the national justice system and the rule of law.

The Extraordinary Chambers’ mandate, as set out in the Agreement between the UN and the government of Cambodia, and in the Law establishing the Chambers, is to “bring to trial senior leaders of Democratic Kampuchea and those most responsible for the crimes and serious violations of Cambodian laws related to crimes, international humanitarian law and custom and international conventions recognized by Cambodia,” committed during the Khmer Rouge period.

Twenty-two civil parties, including former detainees and relatives of victims of the atrocities committed at the notorious S-21 Security Office, gave testimony at Duch’s trial. The Extraordinary Chambers reports that more than 31,000 people visited the court to observe the trial hearings.

Duch was sentenced to 35 years’ imprisonment, reduced by five years because the Extraordinary Chambers found that he had been illegally detained by the Cambodian Military Court, and a further 11 years’ reduction for time already served.

Cambodia still has a weak national justice system that fails to provide justice for large sections of the population.

The lack of effective rule of law perpetuates serious human rights abuses, such as violence against women, including sexual violence, and forced evictions of thousands of people living in poverty across Cambodia.

For more information, please see:

Human Rights Council Announces Flotilla Fact-Finding Mission, Israel Rejects Mission’s Mandate

By Warren Popp
Impunity Watch Reporter, Middle East

The Human Rights Council held an urgent debate on Israels flotilla raid during its last session. (Photo by Warren Popp)
The Human Rights Council held an urgent debate on Israel's flotilla raid during its last session. (Photo by Warren Popp)

GENEVA, Switzerland – On the twenty-third of July, the President of the United Nations Human Rights Council, Ambassador Sihasak Phuangketkeow, announced the appointment of three independent experts to an international fact-finding mission to “investigate violations of international law, including international humanitarian and human rights law, resulting from the Israeli attacks on the flotilla of ships carrying humanitarian assistance.” The May thirty-first raid on the flotilla resulted in the deaths of nine Turkish citizens, including one with joint American citizenship, the injury of dozens of other activists, and the injury of several Israeli commandos.

The “independent international fact-finding mission” was established to implement a Human Rights Council Resolution, which was passed during an urgent debate on the Israeli raid on the second of June 2010. The Council deplored “the loss of life of innocent civilians” during the debate.

The Mission is expected to travel to Israel, Turkey, and Gaza in August to conduct their investigation, and will report their findings to the Council  during their next session, which is scheduled to begin on the twelfth of September.

In announcing the appointment of the experts to the panel, Ambassador Phuangketkeow said: “The expertise, independence and impartiality of the members of the mission will be devoted to clarifying the events which took place that day and their legality. We call upon all parties to fully cooperate with the mission and hope that this mission will contribute to peace in the region and justice for the victims.”

While Israel has not officially responded to the Council’s request for cooperation with the mission, as expected, Israel did not respond favourably to the announcement of the mission’s formation. A senior Israeli official told AFP, on condition of anonymity, “This panel of experts is not intending to look for the truth but to satisfy the non-democratic countries which control the Human Rights Council, who have an automatic anti-Israeli majority.” This is a common criticism of the Council voiced by observers and non-governmental organizations.

The Jerusalem Post quotes the IDF Chief of General Staff, Lieutenant-General Gabi Ashkenazi as saying, “My personal opinion is that more probes into the flotilla are out of line.”

The Israeli military recently completed its own internal investigation into the probe, finding that the killings of activists were justified, but admitting that the Israel Defence Force (IDF) made some mistakes in their preparation for the raid. In addition to the military investigation, Israel has set up a panel, the Tirkel Committee, to investigate the incident, and to decide whether the raid was in compliance with international law.

It has also been reported that Israel is seriously considering cooperating with the work of an international panel proposed by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, which will include both Turkish and Israeli participation. Israel has reportedly been in consultations with the Secretary-General over the panel’s composition, and has stipulated that, in return for its cooperation, the panel should begin its work only after the Tirkel Committee completes its work, and that the panel’s findings should take precedence over all other international probes into the raid.

The Christian Science Monitor claims, “Beyond the flotilla affair, Israel wants to court the UN chief as a way of limiting the influence of the international body’s Human Rights council.” The Monitor quotes an Israeli government official as saying, “You have to distinguish between the two.” “The human rights council makes no pretense to be objective. It has a persistent and consistent anti-Israel obsession…. The same cannot be said of the secretary general. In Israel we hold him in the highest esteem.”

The three independent experts on the newly appointed Human Rights Council fact-minding mission are, Judge Karl T. Hudson-Phillips, Queen’s Counsel (Trinidad and Tobago), who served as a Judge of the International Criminal Court from 2003 to 2007; Sir Desmond de Silva, Queen’s Counsel (United Kingdom), who served as Chief Prosecutor of the UN backed Special Court for Sierra Leone in 2005 at the level of an Under-Secretary General of the United Nations; and Mary Shanthi Dairiam (Malaysia), who was a member of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women from 2005 to 2008, and has been serving on the Gender Equality Task Force of the United Nations Development Programme since 2007.

For more information, please see:

The Christian Science Monitor – Israel Signals New Cooperation with UN Over Gaza Flotilla – 26 July 2010

AFP – Israel Slams UN Council’s Gaza Flotilla Probe – 25 July 2010

Jerusalem Post – Gaza Flotilla Probes are Out of Line – 25 July 2010

Al Arabiya News – UN Forum Names Team to Probe Israel Ship Raid – 23 July 2010

Arab News – UN Names Team to Probe Israel’s Ship Raid – 23 July 2010

United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights – Press Release: United Nations Human Rights Council Panel to Investigate Israeli Raid on Gaza Flotilla Established – 23 July 2010

Argentina: Senate Approves Bill Legalizing Same-Sex Marriage

By Ricardo Zamora
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – On July 15th, the Argentinian Senate approved a bill legalizing same-sex marriage.  Gay rights supporters prevailed with a 33-27 majority after 14 hours of debate.  The decision was announced to hundreds of supporters waiting outside the Senate.

The bill became law when President Christina Fernandez de Kirchner, a gay rights supporter, signed it on July 21st.  “Today we are a society that is a little more egalitarian than last week,” Fernandez said at the signing.

Approximately 70% of Argentinians support same-sex marriage.  However, as in other cultures, Argentina remains divided on the issue.  The Examiner reports that while opponents of the bill proposed a “union bill” as a compromise, it omitted several rights that were provided by the Senate bill.

The Associate Press stated that the “union bill” would have limited rights, including the right to adopt children or pursue in-vitro fertilization.  It added that civil servants could unilaterally object to registering homosexual couples in a same-sex union.

The new bill grants same-sex couples the full legal protections and responsibilities given to heterosexual couples in marriage.  Those rights include the ability to inherit property and to jointly adopt children.

Mexico City was the first region in South America to legalize same-sex marriages. Argentina may be the second, but it is the first country to do so.  Argentina’s first gay marriage is scheduled for August 13 between two partners who have lived together for 34 years.  Mexico City has promised the couple a free honeymoon to Mexico.

The Catholic Church is a major voice of opposition.  ABC reports that Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio called gay marriage in Argentina “a loss for everyone,” saying “children need to have the right to be raised and educated by a father and a mother.

The passing of the bill has worsened the Fernandez administration’s already strained relationship with the Roman Catholic Church.

For more information, please see:

Time – International Gay Marriage – 22 July 2010

Associated Press – Argentina’s Gay Marriage Law Signed by President – 21 July 2010

ABC – Mexico City Promises a Free Honeymoon to Argentina’s First Married Gay Couple –  17 July 2010

The Examiner – Argentina’s Senate Passes Historic Same-Sex Marriage Bill – 16 July 2010