In July 2013, a military coup in Egypt ousted the country’s first democratically elected president, Mohammed Morsi. Almost a year later, Abdeh Fateh Al-Sisi became the new president of Egypt after an election that observers criticized for failing to be free, and fair, and lacked votes from more than half the population. Since then, Al-Sisi has given the Egyptian Security Forces free reign to crack down on anyone suspected of being against him or who are alleged members of the Muslim Brotherhood Party. While there have been reported allegations of torture in Egypt for decades, reported incidents of torture against detainees by the Egyptian Security Forces has become an epidemic since the election of Al-Sisi.
The use of torture against detainees in Egypt has become so frequent and widespread that some human rights observers say it has risen to the level of a crime against humanity. In 2017, Human Rights Watch (HRW) released the report, “We Do Unreasonable Things Here:” Torture and National Security in al-Sisi’s Egypt,” which contends that the use of torture in Egypt constitutes crimes against humanity. A crime against humanity is covered under Article Seven of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and is defined as an act “when committed as part of a widespread or systemic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack.” One of the many acts covered under this article is torture. The Rome Statute defines torture as “the intentional infliction of severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, upon a person in the custody or under the control of the accused.”
While Egypt has not ratified the Rome Statute, 124 other states are parties to the statute. The Rome Statute states that grave crimes, such as crimes against humanity, “threaten the peace, security, and well-being of the world.” The states have agreed that these crimes “must not go unpunished and their effective prosecution must be ensured by taking measures at the national level and by enhancing international cooperation.”
Despite these national and international obligations, HRW has documented the repeated use of torture in Egypt since at least 1992. The use of torture has only worsened since Al-Sisi came into power, and the lack of accountability has fueled this human rights crisis. The 2017 HRW report on the increase of torture in Egypt since Al-Sisi took power explicitly details the Egyptian Security Forces use of gruesome torture under Al-Sisi’s authority. In interviews with nineteen victims and two family members of a twentieth victim, these victims reported that the Egyptian Security Forces tortured them because they were suspected of not supporting Al-Sisi’s presidency or for being a member of the Muslim Brotherhood.
This widespread implementation of torture continues to occur because there are no repercussions. The report explained how all but one of the victims told prosecutors about their torture and every time they complained, they “saw no evidence that prosecutors took any action to investigate their allegations, as required by international law.” The Egyptian government continues to deny the widespread use of torture, stating that these are just isolated incidents that lone officers committed. In modern Egyptian history, there has never been a guilty verdict issued against a Security Officer for committing torture.
The widespread nature of the use of torture in Egypt meets the criteria of a crime against humanity, requiring international intervention and prosecution according to international law. Egypt seems to be unwilling and/or unable to properly investigate reports of torture and adequately prosecute the suspects. An act is a crime against humanity only when there is a state or organizational policy that implemented a policy to commit the crime. A state that has commissioned crimes against humanity cannot hold itself accountable for its offense.
Egypt’s inadequate legal framework has created an environment where the police and security officers are able to evade accountability. The international community must step in to ensure these crimes against humanity are stopped. The HRW report was released just two weeks after the United States pledged to cut off aid to Egypt due to their poor human rights record. The international community must cooperate under universal jurisdiction to investigate, and when appropriate, prosecute all allegations of the Egyptian Security Forces using torture.
With no fear of being held accountable for their actions, Egyptian Security Forces are free to continue the widespread practice of torture in Egypt. Crimes against humanity threaten the peace and security of the world and must be dealt with by the international community. If the systemic and widespread use of torture is categorized as crimes against humanity, falling under the jurisdiction of the ICC, the international community should have an effective way to intervene and prosecute the crimes being committed in Egypt.