Sunday,23 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1287, (17 - 23 March 2016)
Sunday,23 September, 2018
Issue 1287, (17 - 23 March 2016)

Ahram Weekly

EU resolution provokes ire

The Giulio Regeni case continues to shine a light on the state of human rights in Egypt, reports Doaa El-Bey

Al-Ahram Weekly

Last week’s EU resolution, prompted by the murder of Italian student Giulio Regeni, claimed Regeni’s death was “not an isolated incident” but part of a pattern of torture, death in custody and enforced disappearances in Egypt.

The resolution, says Hafez Abu Seada, chairman of the Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights (EOHR), cannot be dismissed.  “A resolution passed by the European parliament with 588 voting in support and 10 against has to be taken seriously. We need to work with the Europeans to improve our human rights record,” Seada told Al-Ahram Weekly.

There are some exaggerations in the resolution, Seada added. “It mentioned that there had been more than 1000 cases of forced disappearance whereas the Interior Ministry has identified 120 cases.”

Bahieddin Hassan, director of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), believes the resolution should set alarm bells ringing for Egyptian officials.

“It is an indication the European parliament has lost patience and no longer trusts Egyptian officials when they repeatedly claim they respect human rights.”

Regeni’s torture and death, the downing of a Russian plane in Sinai and several other incidents combine to suggest that security forces are failing both in terms of human rights and in combating terrorism.

“Before Regeni’s murder there were two basic views among MEPs. One group assumed that Egypt intentionally violates human rights and the other believed the violations were isolated incidents. Following the Italian researcher’s death the two trends united, hence the sweeping majority which passed the resolution,” says Hassan.

A diplomat who requested anonymity claims the resolution was politicised.  “The strange thing about it is that it came at a time when Egypt is fully cooperating with the Italian authorities to uncover the truth about Regeni’s death,” he said.

Rome’s chief prosecutor Giuseppe Pignatone paid Egypt a one day visit on Monday to discuss updates in the Regeni case. He met Prosecutor-General Nabil Sadek and agreed to organise a meeting between Italian investigators and their Egyptian counterparts.

Earlier this week Egypt’s prosecution sent the results of its investigations into Regeni’s death to the Ministry of International Cooperation prior to them being handed to the Italian authorities. Statements made by Regeni’s friends in Egypt, a copy of the police interview with the last person to whom Regeni spoke before his disappearance and a log of calls made before his death are among the documents due to be handed over.

The resolution of the European parliament provoked media uproar in Egypt, with journalists and political commentators accusing MEPs of double standards and seeking to use the case to score political points.

The Foreign Ministry and House of Representatives both rejected the resolution. A day after it was passed, the Foreign Ministry said the motion was based on undocumented media reports.

“It is unfortunate that the European Parliament has chosen to believe unsubstantiated media reports of Regeni’s murder,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmed Abu Zeid in a statement on Friday.

Abu Zeid also pointed out that investigations are still being conducted by the Egyptian authorities in cooperation with an Italian team of investigators.  

On Friday parliament issued a statement rejecting the EU resolution and its “groundless accusations.”

Parliamentary speaker Ali Abdel-Al expressed strong reservations about the resolution.

 “We all know that the issue of respect of human rights has taken on international dimensions in recent years but we reject the European Parliament’s exploitation of this issue to intervene in the domestic affairs of other countries,” he said.

MPs keen not to widen the rift between Egypt and the EU asked Abdel-Al to invite MPs from the European Parliament to visit Egypt to review the political and human rights situation.

Abu Seada believes responses to the resolution should strive to be objective. “Denying everything in the resolution is simply wrong. Nor is it convincing to accuse MEPs of being bribed by the Muslim Brotherhood,” he said.

While MEPs can be blamed for basing a resolution on inaccurate information the response should be to open channels of communication between the EU and the Egyptian parliament to allow for the flow of more accurate information, argues Abu Seada.

“It is clear we need to urgently deal with our human rights record. Individuals who are detained and sentenced for exercising their right to freedom of expression should be released. Arbitrary travel bans need to be reviewed and restrictions on human rights and civil society organisations lifted,” he said.

Hassan favours more drastic measures. “The immediate resignation of the Interior Minister, a serious investigation into Regeni’s case and the cases of other detainees mentioned in the resolution and cooperation with human rights organisations would help, he said.

The European Parliament’s resolution called on Cairo to “provide their Italian counterparts with all the documents and information necessary to enable a swift, transparent and impartial joint investigation”.

Regeni’s body was found on 2 February showing signs of extensive torture. The Italian had been missing since 25 January.

Italian officials said an autopsy conducted in Italy showed that the researcher had been subjected to “inhuman, animal-like” violence.

The resolution expressed concern over human rights’ abuses in Egypt, including the arbitrary detention of government critics. It called for the “immediate and unconditional release of all persons detained and sentenced solely for exercising their right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly”.

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