Egypt:Trials of civilians before military courts violate human rights standards

The appeal follows the appearance on 18 November 2001, before a military court, of 94 civilians charged in connection with their alleged affiliation with armed Islamist groups. Several of the accused allege that they were tortured while held in incommunicado detention at premises of the State Security Intelligence, where torture and ill-treatment of detainees is commonly practised.

Some 170 other defendants are also due to appear before a military court on similar charges following their referral by a presidential decree on 16 October 2001. Many of this group have reportedly been held for several years in administrative detention.

"Trials before these military courts violate fundamental requirements of international law for fair trial, including the right to be tried before a competent, independent and impartial court established by law and the right to appeal to a higher court," Amnesty International said.

The appointment of military judges and the referral of cases to courts by the executive of the government creates a strong link between military courts and the executive which does not provide sufficient guarantees of independence and casts doubts on their impartiality. According to international standards, everyone convicted of a crime has the right the right to appeal to a higher tribunal, which is denied to all those tried by military court in Egypt.

"Widespread torture and ill-treatment over the past two decades has gone unchecked due to the state's failure to investigate torture allegations and the near total impunity enjoyed by security forces responsible for these crimes. The government should ensure that effective safeguards are put in place to prevent the practice of torture in detention centres in Egypt," Amnesty International said.

Background

The UN Special Rapporteur on torture concluded in 2001 that "torture is systematically practised by the security forces in Egypt, in particular by State Security Intelligence".

Trials before military courts violate fundamental requirements of international law and standards for fair trial, as recognised by Article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Egypt is a State Party. This includes the right to be tried before a competent, independent and impartial court established by law and the right to appeal to a higher court. Egypt's civilian judges are appointed for life by a supreme judicial council. Military judges, on the other hand, are serving military officers appointed by the Minister of Defence for a two-year term, which can be renewed for additional two-year terms at the discretion of the Minister of Defence. In addition, a political official, namely the President, is charged with deciding under which court's jurisdiction certain cases fall.

Article 14 (5) of the ICCPR states: "Everyone convicted of a crime shall have the right to his conviction and sentence being reviewed by a higher tribunal according to the law". However, those convicted by military courts have no right to appeal to a higher court.

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