A concern for right
By Salama A Salama
As Italy's judicial authorities were demanding the extradition of 26 CIA operators involved in abducting and torturing Abu Omar El-Masri in 2003, Egypt's security services were busy preventing El-Masri from travelling or making public statements.
We have no exact information about how long he spent in US custody or the manner in which he was handed over to Egypt. We know that he is an Egyptian with Italian nationality who worked as an imam at a mosque in Milan. We also know that he was held without trial and only released after his case became public. In Italy the incident provoked public uproar over US extralegal measures, which involved secret flights to and from European and Arab countries.
We never learn of such things in Egypt unless they are first disclosed by foreign media. We have no reliable sources of information on such matters. Even People's Assembly deputies have been unable, despite interpellation requests, to obtain information about the number of detainees in this country. We don't know why people keep getting arrested after their release. We don't know who is responsible for issuing the detention orders.
The Italians know they will not be able to take custody of the indicted US operatives. Washington has no intention of complying with Italy's judicial orders. It was nonetheless necessary for the Italian government to act according to the letter of the law so as to prove to the public that it places legality above all other considerations. So, as odd as it seems, Italy is showing concern for the rights of an Egyptian who only obtained an Italian passport late in life.
Abu Omar now wants to be deported to Italy. Only there will he be able to recapture some of the humanity that Egypt -- the country of his birth -- seems determined to steal. Only in Italy will he be able to sue for the physical and psychological damage he has suffered.
The National Council for Human Rights has just issued its annual report on the state of human rights in Egypt and it makes a sad reading. The gap between our actual respect for human rights and our legal commitments is huge. How easy it is to write in the constitution about the rights of citizenry and for the state to pass legislation protecting freedom and human rights. And how easy it is for the authorities to flout all the rules, citing the need to fight terror or defend national security as their excuse.
The report documents the many complaints the NCHR received concerning civilian and political rights. It lists cases of citizens detained arbitrarily and others who were tortured and abused in police stations and detention centres around the country. The newspapers report dozens of these incidents and the authorities are sometimes impelled to investigate them. Detention without trial is commonplace. And military trials: why exactly do we need them?
Although the NCHR has devoted its attention to many other areas -- including education, health and political activity -- detention without trial remains the most distressing of all. It is not something that constitutional amendments will fix. The NCHR is admittedly young, but this is no reason to take it lightly. The NCHR has come under attack just ahead of the release of this report which regrettably affected the phrasing of the report and weakened public interest in its content. Abu Omar's case is a reminder that our problem is not the text of the law but an absence of the political will to implement it.