(Hong Kong) – The Chinese government should immediately abolish a secretive detention system used to coerce confessions from corruption suspects. The Communist Party-run system, known as shuanggui, has no basis under Chinese law but is a key component of President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign.

“President Xi has built his anti-corruption campaign on an abusive and illegal detention system,” said Sophie Richardson, China director at Human Rights Watch. “Torturing suspects to confess won’t bring an end to corruption, but will end any confidence in China’s judicial system.”

The Chinese government should immediately abolish a secretive detention system used to coerce confessions from corruption suspects.

The 102-page report, “‘Special Measures’: Detention and Torture in Chinese Communist Party’s Shuanggui System,” details abuses against shuanggui detainees, including prolonged sleep deprivation, being forced into stress positions for extended periods of time, deprivation of water and food, and severe beatings. Detainees are also subject to solitary and incommunicado detention in unofficial detention facilities. After “confessing” to corruption, they are typically brought into the criminal justice system, convicted, and sentenced to often lengthy prison terms.

The report is based on 21 Human Rights Watch interviews with four former shuanggui detainees, as well as family members of detainees; 35 detailed accounts from detainees culled from over 200 Chinese media reports; and an analysis of 38 court verdicts from across the country. While there have been commentaries and analyses on the shuanggui system, the Human Rights Watch report is the first to contain firsthand accounts from detainees, as well as drawing on a wide variety of secondary, official sources.

Shuanggui not only further undermines China’s judiciary – it makes a mockery of it.

Sophie Richardson

China Director, Human Rights Watch

The Chinese Communist Party’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) oversees the shuanggui system, to which all of the party’s 88 million members are subject. The CCDI and its lower-level offices, local Commissions for Discipline Inspection (CDIs), typically target government officials, but those detained also include bankers, university officials, and entertainment industry figures, among others. Bo Xilai, a former member of the party’s powerful Politburo, was reportedly held under shuanggui, where he said he confessed under “improper pressure” and was later sentenced to life in prison.

The start of a shuanggui investigation is often marked by an individual’s disappearance – family members are given no notification of the person’s detention or location, no information about the alleged infraction, or the length of detention. Detainees have no access to lawyers. Although there are time limits for shuanggui, CDI investigators can seek repeated extensions, permitting detainees to be held indefinitely, often until they confess. Shuanggui facilities are typically rooms in hostels with special features, such as padded walls or a lack of windows, to prevent suicides or escapes. Detainees are guarded round-the-clock by shifts of officials, often put together in an ad hoc fashion for this purpose, and subjected to interrogations by CDI officers.

© 2016 Human Rights Watch

A former shuanggui detainee told Human Rights Watch, “If you sit you have to sit for 12 hours straight, if you stand then you have to stand for 12 hours as well. My legs became swollen, and my buttocks were raw and started oozing pus.”

While President Xi has characterized the fight against corruption as a “matter of life and death” for the Communist Party, the same is true for shuanggui detainees: there have been at least 11 deaths in shuanggui custody reported by the media since 2010. In most cases, authorities claimed these were suicides, but family members often suspected mistreatment, and the lack of comprehensive, impartial investigations into these deaths deepens these suspicions. While former detainees reported that the harsh conditions in shuanggui prompted suicidal thoughts, they also said the constant surveillance and the room’s modifications, designed to prevent suicide attempts, made it difficult to put such thoughts into action.

Some CDIs, concerned about the reputational damage caused by deaths in custody, have partnered with hospitals and doctors to provide medical care for detainees whom the CDIs know will be subjected to torture and other ill-treatment.

CDIs are supposed to hand over evidence of crimes to the procuratorate, the state investigators and prosecutors who are responsible for investigating official crimes. Instead, Human Rights Watch found that procurators work together with CDI officers and participate directly in shuanggui. Such “joint investigations” extract confessions during shuanggui – where detainees have no procedural protections – and then use those confessions in formal legal proceedings. If in those proceedings detainees retract their confessions, claiming that they were made under duress, the procurators typically threaten to send them back to shuanggui. Judges commonly reject detainee objections in court on the grounds that shuanggui and its practices are outside of the scope of the judicial system.

“In shuanggui corruption cases, the courts function as rubber stamps, lending credibility to an utterly illegal Communist Party process,” Richardson said. “Shuanggui not only further undermines China’s judiciary – it makes a mockery of it.”

The shuanggui system has been a highly effective tool for Communist Party investigators: once they obtain a confession, there is little suspects can do to exonerate themselves. Acquittals are extremely rare, and, except in cases of detainee deaths, few investigators face punishments for abuses. Some interviewees told Human Rights Watch that those who tormented them and their families were promoted for their “effectiveness” in handling corruption cases.

China has a serious problem with corruption, but successfully combating it requires an independent judicial system, a free media, and robust protections for the rights of suspects, Human Rights Watch said. A crucial step is the abolition of shuanggui.

“Eradicating corruption won’t be possible so long as the shuanggui system exists,” Richardson said. “Every day this system threatens the lives of party members and underscores the abuses inherent in President Xi’s anti-corruption campaign.”


Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

(Dakar, September 4, 2015) – The trial of the former Chadian dictator Hissène Habré on charges of crimes against humanity, war crimes, and torture will begin in earnest on September 7, 2015.

The long-awaited trial of Hissène Habré, was adjourned almost as soon as it was opened, as an outburst from the former dictator of Chad caused a scene in the courtroom.

When the landmark trial before the Extraordinary African Chambers in the Senegal court system formally opened on July 20, Habré had to be removed from court after an outburst. Habré’s lawyers then refused to appear and the trial was adjourned, giving new court-appointed lawyers time to study the case.  

“After 25 years of campaigning and 45 days waiting patiently, the survivors will finally get their day in court,” said Reed Brody, counsel at Human Rights Watch who has worked with the victims since 1999. “Hissène Habré may try to create more disturbances, but he does not get a veto on whether he should be tried, or if the victims get justice.”

Habré has refused to communicate with the court-appointed lawyers, and it is expected that he will try to have them taken off the case. The president of the court, Gberdao Gustave Kam, has made clear, however, that in keeping with Senegalese law and international practice, the lawyers are needed to safeguard the rights of the accused and the integrity of the proceedings.

Habre is accused of tens of thousands of political killings as well as systematic torture during his rule, from 1982 to 1990. The trial is the first in the world in which the courts of one country prosecute the former ruler of another for alleged human rights crimes.

Habré is standing trial before the Extraordinary African Chambers in the Senegal court system. The chambers were inaugurated by Senegal and the African Union in February 2013 to prosecute the “person or persons” most responsible for international crimes committed in Chad between 1982 and 1990, the period when Habré ruled Chad. Judge Kam, of Burkina Faso, president of the Trial Chamber, will hear the case along with two senior Senegalese judges.

The trial is expected to last two months, with about 100 witnesses and victims expected to testify.

“If I get a chance to look Hissène Habré in the face, I will do it without fear,” said Fatimé Sakine, 53, a secretary who was subjected to electroshocks and beatings during 15 months in prison from 1984 to 1986 and who is in Dakar for the trial. “I want to know why we were kept rotting, why so many of my friends were tortured and killed.”

“This case is a milestone in the fight to hold the perpetrators of atrocities accountable for their crimes, in Africa and in the world,” Brody said. “It's taken many years, and many twists and turns, but in the end a group of tenacious survivors have shown that it was possible to bring their dictator to justice.” 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

(Dakar, July 17, 2015) – The trial of Chad’s former dictator Hissène Habré is a victory for the victims of his government. The trial began in Senegal on July 20, 2015, almost 25 years after he was overthrown.  

The trial of Chad’s former dictator Hissène Habré is a victory for the victims of his government. The trial will begin on July 20, 2015, almost 25 years after he was overthrown.

“The opening of Hissène Habré’s trial, 25 years after he fled Chad, is a tribute to the survivors of his brutal rule who never gave up fighting for justice,” said Reed Brody, counsel at Human Rights Watch who has worked with the victims since 1999. “This case warns despots everywhere that if they engage in atrocities they will never be out of the reach of their victims.”

Habré is charged with crimes against humanity, torture, and war crimes. The trial will be the first in the world in which the courts of one country prosecute the former ruler of another for alleged human rights crimes.

Habré will stand trial before the Extraordinary African Chambers in the Senegal court system. The chambers were inaugurated by Senegal and the African Union in February 2013 to prosecute the “person or persons” most responsible for international crimes committed in Chad between 1982 and 1990, the period when Habré ruled Chad. Judge Gberdao Gustave Kam of Burkina Faso, president of the Trial Chamber, will hear the case along with two senior Senegalese judges.

The trial is expected to last three months, with about 100 witnesses and victims expected to testify.

Habré, through his lawyers, has said that he does not want to appear in court. Under Senegalese law, however, the court president can require his appearance. 

“I have been waiting for this day since I walked out of prison almost 25 years ago, “ said Souleymane Guengueng, who nearly died of mistreatment and disease in Habré’s prisons, and later founded the Association of Victims of Crimes of the Regime of Hissène Habré (AVCRHH). “I want to look Hissène Habré in the face and ask him why I was kept rotting in jail for three years, why my friends were tortured and killed.”

Habré is accused of thousands of political killings and systematic torture. After he was deposed by the current president, Idriss Déby Itno, in 1990, Habré fled to Senegal. Habré was first arrested in Senegal in February 2000, but Senegal refused to prosecute him then or to extradite him to Belgium in 2005. It was only in 2012, when Macky Sall became president of Senegal and the International Court of Justice, acting on a suit by Belgium, ordered Senegal to prosecute or extradite Habré that progress was made toward the trial with the creation of the Extraordinary African Chambers. The chambers indicted Habré in July 2013 and placed him in pretrial custody. After a 19-month investigation, judges of the chambers found that there was sufficient evidence for Habré to face trial.

“This case is a milestone in the fight to hold the perpetrators of atrocities accountable for their crimes, in Africa and in the world,” Brody said. "It's taken many years, and many twists and turns, but in the end a group of tenacious survivors showed that even a dictator can be brought to justice." 

On March 25, a court in Chad convicted 20 top security agents of Habré’s government on torture and murder charges. 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

An Emirati and South Yemen flag painted in Yemen’s port city of Aden. By 2017, Emirati and South Yemen flags flew in many parts of Aden, which President Hadi declared the temporary capital of Yemen after Houthi-Saleh forces took over Sanaa in 2014. 

© 2017 Kristine Beckerle/Human Rights Watch

The Associated Press reported today that US forces were involved in the interrogation of detainees held in secret prisons in Yemen where torture is widespread. The centers are run by United Arab Emirati (UAE) and UAE-backed Yemeni forces.

The details are grotesque: Prisoners in these centers were “crammed into shipping containers smeared with feces and blindfolded for weeks,” beaten, and trussed up on a “grill” – a spit like a roast to which the victim is tied and spun in a circle of fire, the article says. Prisoners were also sexually assaulted, among other forms of abuse. The article also alleges that some prisoners were transferred to a ship where US “polygraph experts” and “psychological experts” conducted interrogations.

It’s a grim reminder that, not long ago, the US Central Intelligence Agency and US military were directly involved in equally depraved torture programs.

In this case, the US is trying to wash its hands of responsibility.

The US has officially denied knowledge of the torture and ill-treatment in the Yemeni centers. But that claim doesn’t fly, as the article says several US Defense Department officials confirmed that senior US military leaders knew about torture allegations. Those officials, however, worked to minimize US responsibility, saying military leaders looked into the allegations and were satisfied there had been no abuse “when US forces [were] present.”

Again, no pass. If US forces are interrogating individuals when there is a credible belief they may have been tortured, they risk complicity in the abuse.

Human Rights Watch, journalists, and other groups have extensively documented torture and enforced disappearances in detention facilities run by the UAE and local forces. Today, we released a report on our investigation of the detention and forced disappearance of 49 people – including four children – in Yemen.

The alleged US involvement would violate international law, including the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and the Convention against Torture, both of which the US has ratified. If there is one thing the US should have learned from its post 9/11 history, it’s that engaging in torture, or cooperating with forces that torture, is counterproductive, helps militant group recruitment, and fosters instability and abuse. Information derived from torture is also inherently unreliable, generating false leads and wasted resources.

By ignoring these lessons, the Trump administration is also putting its military personnel at risk of future prosecution for complicity in torture. 

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Related Content


June 22, 2017

Chairman John Thune
Ranking Member Bill Nelson
Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation

CC: All Other Senators

We write to express our serious concerns regarding the nomination of Steven G. Bradbury for general counsel of the Department of Transportation (DOT). Mr. Bradbury’s role in justifying torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment of individuals held in U.S. custody marked him as an architect of the torture program. Not only should the Senate be concerned about confirming a nominee who had a central role in the criminal violation of human rights, but his work during that period calls into question his ability to provide the kind of rigorous, independent legal analysis that is required of any top government lawyer.

Mr. Bradbury was acting head of the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) from 2005 to 2009. During that time, Mr. Bradbury wrote several legal memoranda that authorized waterboarding and other forms of torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. As such, he is most prominently—and correctly—known as one of the authors of the “torture memos.”[1] His analysis directly contradicted relevant domestic and international law regarding the treatment of prisoners, and helped establish an official policy of torture and detainee abuse that has caused incalculable damage to both the United States and the prisoners it has held.[2]

Mr. Bradbury’s role in the torture program, even then, was notorious—so much so that the Senate refused to confirm him as assistant attorney general for the Office of Legal Counsel during the Bush Administration. The Senate now knows even more about Mr. Bradbury’s record, and the harm caused by his opinions, based on oversight by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and its report on the Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) use of torture and abuse.

In Mr. Bradbury’s time as acting head of the OLC, he demonstrated an unwavering willingness to defer to the authority and wishes of the president and his team instead of providing objective and independent counsel. During congressional testimony in 2007, Mr. Bradbury responded to questions about the president’s interpretation of the law of war by declaring, “The President is always right”—a statement that is as outrageous as it is inaccurate.[3] The DOJ Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) reviewed Mr. Bradbury’s “torture memos” and determined that they raised questions about the objectivity and reasonableness of Mr. Bradbury’s analyses; that Mr. Bradbury relied on uncritical acceptance of executive branch assertions; and that in some cases Mr. Bradbury’s legal conclusions were inconsistent with the plain meaning and commonly held understandings of the law.[4] Senior government officials from the Bush Administration who worked with Mr. Bradbury have said that they had “grave reservations” about conclusions drawn in the Bradbury torture memos and have described Mr. Bradbury’s analysis as flawed, saying the memos could be “considered a work of advocacy to achieve a desired outcome.”[5]

Moreover, Mr. Bradbury’s 2007 torture memo was written with the purpose of evading congressional intent and duly enacted federal law. The Detainee Treatment Act of 2005 (DTA), legislation that passed the Senate with a vote of 90-9, stated, “No individual in the custody or under the physical control of the United States Government, regardless of nationality or physical location, shall be subject to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment.” However, Mr. Bradbury’s memo explicitly allowed the continuation of many of the abusive interrogation techniques that Congress intended to prohibit in the DTA.[6]

Perhaps most concerning from a congressional oversight perspective, Mr. Bradbury affirmatively misrepresented the views of members of Congress to support his legal conclusions. Specifically, in his 2007 memo he relied on a false claim that when the CIA briefed “the full memberships of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees and Senator McCain… none of the Members expressed the view that the CIA detention and interrogation program should be stopped, or that the techniques at issue were inappropriate.”[7] In fact, Senator McCain had characterized the CIA’s practice of sleep deprivation as torture both publicly and privately, and at least four other senators raised objections to the program.[8]

As a senior government lawyer, Mr. Bradbury authorized torture and cruel treatment of detainees in violation of U.S. and international law. Mr. Bradbury demonstrated either an inability or an unwillingness to display objectivity and reasonableness in evaluating the president’s policy proposals. We ask that in reviewing Mr. Bradbury’s nomination for general counsel of the Department of Transportation, another profoundly important position of public trust, you take these serious and disturbing factors into consideration.


American Civil Liberties Union
Appeal for Justice
Center for Constitutional Rights
Center for Victims of Torture
The Constitution Project
Council on American-Islamic Relations
Defending Rights & Dissent
Human Rights First
Human Rights Watch
The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
National Religious Campaign Against TortureOpen Society Policy Center
Physicians for Human Rights
Win Without War

[1] See “The Torture Documents,” The Rendition Project, available at: https://www.therenditionproject.org.uk/documents/torture-docs.html.

[2] See Torture Act 18 U.S.C. § 2340 (1994); Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, adopted December 10, 1984, G.A. Res. 39/46, annex, 39 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No. 51) at 197, U.N. Doc. A/39/51 (1984), entered into force June 26, 1987, art. 7, The US ratified Convention against Torture in 1994. http://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/CAT.aspx; International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), adopted December 16, 1966, G.A. Res. 2200A (XXI), entered into force March 23, 1976, art. 2. The US ratified the ICCPR in 1992.

[3] Amanda Terkel, “Justice Department Lawyer to Congress: ‘The President is Always Right,’” Think Progress, July 12, 2006, available at: https://thinkprogress.org/justice-department-lawyer-to-congress-the-pres....

[4] “Investigation into the Office of Legal Counsel’s Memoranda Concerning Issues Relating to the Central Intelligence Agency’s Use of ‘Enhanced Interrogation Techniques’ on Suspected Terrorists,” U.S. Department of Justice Office of Professional Responsibility, July 29, 2009, available at: https://www.aclu.org/files/pdfs/natsec/opr20100219/20090729_OPR_Final_Re....

[5] Id.

[6] Jane Mayer, The Dark Side (New York: Doubleday, 2008): 321-322.

[7] Steven Bradbury, “Memorandum for John A. Rizzo Acting General Counsel, Central Intelligence Agency,” U.S. Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel, July 20, 2007, available at: https://www.justice.gov/olc/file/886296/download

[8] “Committee Study of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Detention and Interrogation Program,” Executive Summary, Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, December 13, 2012, 435-436, available at: https://www.feinstein.senate.gov/public/_cache/files/7/c/7c85429a-ec38-4...

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

(Beirut) – The UAE supports Yemeni forces that have arbitrarily detained, forcibly disappeared, tortured, and abused dozens of people during security operations, Human Rights Watch said today. The UAE finances, arms, and trains these forces, which ostensibly are going after Yemeni branches of Al-Qaeda or the Islamic State (also known as ISIS). The UAE also runs at least two informal detention facilities, and its officials appear to have ordered the continued detention of people despite release orders, and forcibly disappeared people, including reportedly moving high-profile detainees outside the country.

Hadrami elite forces guard Mukalla from Al-Qaeda by creating check-points. 

© 2016 Getty Images

Human Rights Watch has documented the cases of 49 people, including four children, who have been arbitrarily detained or forcibly disappeared in the Aden and Hadramawt governates of Yemen over the last year. At least 38 appear to have been arrested or detained by UAE-backed security forces. Multiple sources, including Yemeni government officials, have reported the existence of numerous informal detention facilities and secret prisons in Aden and Hadramawt, including at least two run by the UAE and others run by UAE-backed Yemeni security forces. Human Rights Watch documented people held at 11 such sites in the two governorates.

“You don’t effectively fight extremist groups like Al-Qaeda or ISIS by disappearing dozens of young men and constantly adding to the number of families with ‘missing’ loved ones in Yemen,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The UAE and its partners should place protecting detainee rights at the center of their security campaigns if they care about Yemen’s long-term stability.”

Since March 2015, a Saudi-led coalition of states, including the UAE, has conducted an aerial and ground campaign in support of President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi against Houthi forces and forces loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who took over the capital, Sanaa, in September 2014. The US has provided military support to the coalition.

Human Rights Watch researchers interviewed family members and friends of detainees, former detainees, lawyers, activists, and government officials. Human Rights Watch also reviewed documents, videos, and pictures provided by lawyers and activists, as well as letters sent by lawyers or family members to various Yemeni and coalition authorities.

During the conflict, Al-Qaeda in the Arabia Peninsula (AQAP) seized weapons, territory, and revenue by looting the central bank in Mukalla, the capital of the Hadramawt governate, and running the city’s port for about a year, Reuters reported. AQAP has carried out numerous attacks, primarily on military and security targets in Yemen’s southern and eastern governorates, killing dozens of people. The local ISIS affiliate in Yemen (IS-Y) has also claimed responsibility for similar attacks over the last two years.

The UAE has led counterterror efforts against AQAP and ISIS’s local affiliate (IS-Y), including by supporting Yemeni forces carrying out security campaigns in southern and eastern parts of the country. Human Rights Watch has documented abuses by some of these forces – including forces known as the “Security Belt” that operate in Aden, Lahj, Abyan, and other southern governorates and the “Hadrami Elite Forces” that operate in Hadramawt.

An Emirati and South Yemen flag painted in Yemen’s port city of Aden. By 2017, Emirati and South Yemen flags flew in many parts of Aden, which President Hadi declared the temporary capital of Yemen after Houthi-Saleh forces took over Sanaa in 2014. 

© 2017 Kristine Beckerle/Human Rights Watch

The Security Belt and Hadrami Elite forces have used excessive force during arrests and raids, detained family members of wanted suspects to pressure them to “voluntarily” turn themselves in, arbitrarily arrested and detained men and boys, detained children with adults, and forcibly disappeared dozens. As one former detainee said he was told by another detainee in one of Aden’s many informal detention facilities: “This is a no-return prison.”

The UAE is reported to run some of these detention facilities and to have moved high-profile detainees outside the country, including to a base it has in Eritrea.

Former detainees and family members also told Human Rights Watch that some detainees had been abused or tortured inside detention facilities, most often through heavy beatings with officers using their fists, their guns or other metal objects. Others mentioned electric shocks, forced nudity, threats to the detainees or their family members, and caning on the feet.

One man, who was able to visit a detained relative, a child, in Aden, said the boy “looked insane” when he emerged from a crowded cell. He later disappeared from the detention center.

Houthi-Saleh forces have also arbitrarily detained and disappeared scores of people in northern Yemen. Human Rights Watch has separately documented abuse in Houthi-Saleh run detention facilities.

All parties carrying out detentions in Yemen should immediately stop forcibly disappearing, arbitrarily detaining, or torturing detainees, Human Rights Watch said. They should release anyone arbitrarily detained or detained for involvement in peaceful political activities, including especially vulnerable people such as children. They should immediately provide a list of all detention sites and of everyone currently in detention or who have died in custody.

People taken into custody during a civil war are entitled to the fundamental protections that all detainees should have, including being promptly brought before an independent authority, like a judge, provided specific reasons for their detention, and given the ability to contest the detention. Anyone not being prosecuted for a criminal offense may only be held for exceptional reasons of security, set out clearly in domestic law, and must be released as soon as the reasons for the deprivation of their liberty cease to exist. All such detainees should be brought promptly before a judge. Detention under such circumstances should be reviewed at least every six months.

Every detainee must be treated humanely at all times. Visits from family members must be allowed if practicable. Under applicable human rights law, children should be detained only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time. In all cases, children should be held separately from adults, unless they are detained with their family.

The ban against torture and other ill-treatment is one of the most fundamental prohibitions in international human rights and humanitarian law. No exceptional circumstances may justify torture, and states are required to investigate and prosecute those responsible for torture.

Yemen is obliged to ensure that the Security Belt and Hadrami Elite Forces, as well as any other forces operating with the Yemeni government’s consent, comply with relevant legal requirements and procedural safeguards, including taking active steps to prevent disappearances, such as through regularizing the procedure of registering detainees and notifying family members of their whereabouts. The UAE has similar obligations, given its role in detentions.

The US works closely with the UAE in its efforts against AQAP, and members of the US government have repeatedly praised the UAE. In 2016, the US deployed a small number of special operations forces to Yemen to assist UAE efforts against the armed group. The US has also reportedly conducted joint raids with the UAE against AQAP in central and eastern Yemen, according to the New York Times and the Intercept. Human Rights Watch investigated a January raid in al-Bayda governorate that killed at least 14 civilians, including nine children.

“Wives, mothers, and daughters in the north and south of Yemen want to know whether their husbands, sons, and brothers are all right, if they are even alive,” Whitson said. “Yemen, the UAE, Houthi-Saleh forces, and any other party disappearing people should immediately inform families of where their loved ones are and release those held arbitrarily.”

Because of the danger of reprisals against those who spoke with Human Rights Watch or against their families, pseudonyms are used below and identifying details have been removed. All participants were informed of the purpose of the interview, the ways in which the data would be used, and given assurances of anonymity. The UAE leads coalition efforts in southern and eastern Yemen, including its counterterror operations. People interviewed by Human Rights Watch used “UAE” and “coalition” interchangeably to describe the UAE and its role in the detention campaigns.

A Web of Secret Detention Sites

Yemeni human rights groups and lawyers have documented hundreds of cases of people arbitrarily detained or forcibly disappeared in areas of Yemen formally under the control of the internationally recognized government of President Hadi. Other security forces – beyond those that are UAE-backed – have also been implicated in abuses. The southern port city of Aden, for example, is currently home to multiple, often competing, security forces and militias. While technically under the Interior Ministry, these forces operate with separate command and control structures, with units aligned to Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE. These forces are arresting and detaining people, and operating unofficial detention sites, local activists, journalists, and lawyers say.

One man described to Human Rights Watch a recent protest calling on the UAE and Hadrami Elite Forces to reveal the whereabouts of the disappeared: “There were small kids saying release our dads. We were writing on the posters that we are against terrorism, but terrorism is also taking people in this way.”

There are multiple informal and secret detention facilities in Aden, Hadramawt, and the areas of the country under Houthi-Saleh control to which independent monitors, lawyers and families of detainees have not been granted access. All parties running detention facilities in Yemen should provide immediate access to detention facilities, official and unofficial, for monitors of detention conditions, lawyers, medics, human rights monitors, and families, Human Rights Watch said.

Under international human rights law, an enforced disappearance occurs when the authorities take someone into custody and deny holding them or fail to disclose their fate or whereabouts. “Disappeared” people are at greater risk of torture and other ill-treatment, especially when they are detained outside formal detention facilities, such as police jails and prisons.

Possible Transfers Outside Yemen

Human Rights Watch was not able to verify these claims, but according to lawyers and activists, as well as relatives of men who had been disappeared, the UAE was transferring high-level detainees outside of Yemen. According to one of the activists, about 15 people accused of being members of AQAP or IS-Y had been transferred to the base the UAE has been developing in Eritrea’s port city, Assab, over the past two years. A man whose relatives had been disappeared said at least five officials told him the UAE transferred the men outside of Yemen, including three who said the men were being held in Eritrea.

In 2016, the UN Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea reported on “the rapid construction of what appears to be a military base with permanent structures” at Assab. According to security analysts, the base includes its own port, airbase, and a military training facility, where the UAE has trained Yemeni forces, including the Security Belt and Hadrami Elite Forces, according to the Middle East Institute. The UN Monitoring Group also reported that the base has “expanded to encompass not only personnel from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, but also Yemeni troops and other troops in transit.”

Yemen is responsible for taking all reasonable steps to protect the well-being of anyone they transfer to the UAE or other governments or groups. Anyone being transferred out of a country should be able to contest the transfer in that country’s courts. Transfers cannot be made if the person would likely face torture or other major human rights abuses.

The UAE-Backed Security Belt in Aden

In Aden, many of those arbitrarily detained or forcibly disappeared were arrested by the Security Belt, a force created in spring 2016. It is officially under the Interior Ministry but is funded, trained, and directed by the UAE, said several activists, lawyers, and government officials. The UN Panel of Experts on Yemen and a Center for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC) report found that the Security Belt operated largely outside the Yemeni government’s control.



This map depicts formal and informal detention facilities in which Human Rights Watch documented cases of people arbitrarily detained or forcibly disappeared since 2016, and where Human Rights Watch was able to secure GPS. It does not depict all locations currently being used as detention centers in Aden, Aden governorate.

© 2017 Human Rights Watch

In dozens of interviews, people detained by the Security Belt or detainees’ family members said Security Belt officers claimed they were following UAE orders in detaining terrorism suspects and that they lacked the authority to release detainees without specific UAE authorization. A former detainee said a high-ranking Security Belt Commander told him he had initially trusted the UAE was detaining suspects based on strong intelligence but he had increasingly come to believe not everyone they arrested was in fact linked to extremist groups.

A man whose brother was arrested in July 2016 said a Security Belt officer told him the UAE has given the Security Belt orders, including a list of names of people to arrest, and that after their arrest the UAE would decide what to do with them. The UAE did not provide the Security Belt with the charges or accusations against the men, he said.

The Security Belt has arbitrarily arrested and abused dozens of people. Several families reported that the security forces, including the Security Belt, had used excessive force when carrying out arrests, including beating men with their guns and forcing entry into homes. The Security Belt has also arrested suspects’ family members when unable to find the person they hoped to arrest to pressure the actual suspect to turn himself in.

Muneer and Kareem: One night in the autumn of 2016, Security Belt officers came at 2 a.m. to the family home of “Kareem” and “Muneer,” both in their twenties, intending to arrest Muneer. Muneer was not home, so the Security Belt officers blindfolded Kareem, took him to a nearby camp and interrogated him. After a few hours, the men dumped a still blindfolded Kareem in a location he could not immediately identify. When he discovered where he was, he walked home. A family member said he “was very scared” when he arrived. The next day, Muneer surrendered at the Central Prison. Prison officials told Muneer’s father his son’s file was “with the coalition.” The general prosecutor issued a release order for Muneer. The prosecutor’s office told the family they could not secure his release, as the authorities did not respect their orders.

Laith and Hamid: One night in the autumn of 2016 at about 2:30 a.m., Security Belt forces came to the home of “Hamid” looking to arrest his son, “Laith.” When they could not find him, they kicked and beat Hamid. An officer also hit Hamid’s wife with his rifle. They blindfolded Hamid, kicked him again when he tried to loosen the blindfold, then detained him, beating him again and released him, telling him to bring his son. He told Human Rights Watch: “Yes, I promised to take my son to them and I did the following day. I’m really very sorry for my son because if I knew he would be detained for this long I would never have taken him to them.” Laith remains in detention.

Secret Prisons, Mistreatment of Detainees in Aden

Aden has two official detention facilities, the Central Prison and the Criminal Investigations Department (CID). In February 2017, the CID was holding about 220 people and the Central Prison about 231 terrorism detainees and 480 criminal detainees, according to the prosecutor’s office.

While the court system in Aden is largely not functioning, the prosecutor’s office is continuing to issue release orders for people if there is insufficient evidence to detain them. The prosecution’s orders are often not respected, particularly concerning terrorism cases, which is “where the power of the prosecutor stops,” a prosecutor said. Families, lawyers, and government officials repeatedly said that people arrested by the Security Belt whose case files were “with the coalition” were most likely to remain detained despite a prosecutorial release order even in the official sites.

The Central Prison is divided into criminal cases, controlled by a prison director, and terrorism cases, overseen by a Security Belt officer who was appointed by and reports to UAE officers in Aden, said analysts, activists, and lawyers in Aden. One man previously detained in the Central Prison said that at least four people in the prison ward with him had release orders, but they remained detained because, they were told, “the coalition” refused to let them out. He, and two other men detained with him, said that prison officials said that the Security Belt ran the prison and they reported to the UAE.

In late 2016, the general prosecutor’s office issued release orders for 27 people who had been arrested by the Security Belt and detained on suspicion of terrorism. By February 2017, 10 had been released. The Security Belt officers in the prison told the office the remaining 17 could not be released without an order from the coalition, as they had been arrested by the Security Belt and thus fell under coalition control. Soon after, the prosecutor’s office identified 35 additional detainees, all also accused of terrorism, for release. Three lawyers said that the prison director told them in a meeting he could not release certain people, even if they had release orders, as the decision rested with the coalition.

Omar and Mustafa: One night in August, at about 1:30 a.m., Security Belt officers broke down the door of a house, shouting they were there to arrest “Mustafa,” a 17-year-old high school student. Mustafa was accompanying an elderly relative on a trip, so the men took his older brother “Omar” with them instead. A week later, Mustafa turned himself in, and Security Belt personnel released Omar. While Mustafa’s family eventually secured a release order for him, Central Prison officials, including the de facto head of the prison, claimed his file was “with the coalition and there was nothing they could do about it.” A family member said, “And you can’t go to the coalition. They will shoot you if you try and go to the coalition.” A relative who had visited Mustafa said, “He is in a very bad way… he is a student, this shouldn’t have happened to him.”

Human Rights Watch has documented multiple allegations that various security forces in police stations and in official and secret detention facilities are mistreating detainees. One man detained in the Central Prison said that he and a few other detainees were blindfolded, handcuffed, and taken to a separate room in the prison. He said he was given multiple electrical shocks. He said he also heard the other three men with him being beaten and given electrical shocks. One of them fell over him, and he could hear the man screaming in pain.

In late August, in a separate case, a man who was out of Aden visiting relatives said his wife went to visit their two sons in the Central Prison, where they had just been transferred after being forcibly disappeared. After the visit, his wife told him that one of their son’s vision was impaired, he was only semi-conscious, his head had been visibly wounded, and he had handcuff marks on his wrist. The young man told his mother he had been beaten with a metal object and given electrical shocks. The other son looked psychologically shaken, but not physically abused, their mother said. About two weeks later, the two men “disappeared completely.” A government official later told the family the men were “with the coalition.”

In another case, a family member visited a relative in an informal detention facility. His relative told him he had been detained at the UAE base for months before his transfer to the current detention facility. He said he had been interrogated and beaten daily in the base, once until he lost consciousness and after which he remained bed-ridden.

One lawyer said that when they visited the Central Prison in late 2016 they heard four complaints of mistreatment, but the detainees were afraid to raise the cases or act as witnesses due to fears of retaliation. Journalists and human rights activists also told Human Rights Watch they had documented abuse in Aden’s prisons. Vice Interior Minister Ali Nasser told Human Rights Watch that the Interior Ministry is working on improving the conditions in prisons, but that the ministry requires funding to properly equip the buildings and train staff.

Human Rights Watch documented four cases of children arbitrarily arrested or forcibly disappeared in Aden who were held with adults in the Central Prison and Camp Tariq, a military camp controlled by Aden’s Security Administration. In addition, a former Central Prison detainee said that seven or eight children were in the ward with him, boys about 15 or 16 years old, when he was there in 2016. He said these boys would come back to the ward crying after interrogations, later telling the prisoners they had been blindfolded and beaten and that officers had threatened to take off their clothes. The father of a 17-year-old who had been detained for more than a year said:

He is young; in the days of the war [when Houthi-Saleh forces entered Aden in 2015] he would shake because of the war. … My son is struggling from psychological problems. He is a student. He doesn’t want to be in prison.

Lawyers, activists, family members, and former detainees described at least six informal or secret detention facilities in Aden. One person who had collected more than 150 names of those detained by security forces cross-checked their lists with the lists of those detained in the Central Prison and CID, and found that about 50 of them were in neither detention facility. Sources, including government officials, said that lawyers, activists, judges, prosecutors, and international organizations did not have access to the informal detention facilities or secret prisons in Aden. In February, Vice Interior Minister Nasser denied there were any informal detention facilities or secret prisons in Aden.

Many people who have been forcibly disappeared were initially arrested by the Security Belt, and were later told by various government officials that they had been transferred to detention facilities under UAE control and that Yemeni officials and Security Belt officers no longer had the power to intervene.

Multiple sources, including government officials, confirmed that the UAE ran at least one detention facility for terrorism suspects they deemed to be high-value or sensitive cases in Aden. An individual following these cases said they knew of 10 detainees by name who had been transferred to the Central Prison after being missing for three to seven months, and who later reported they were detained by UAE forces. Three men told Human Rights Watch that while they were detained in Central Prison a few men were transferred into the prison who told them they had been detained by the UAE.

Former detainees said that, while they were being transported to another detention facility, the truck carrying them stopped outside the UAE’s headquarters in Buraika, a neighborhood in Aden, and deposited there some of the other men who had been arrested. A Yemeni nongovernmental group monitoring detentions said that the Security Belt transferred more than 50 detainees from the Central Prison to the UAE headquarters in Buraika in 2017.

One case involved “Saleheddine,” who was detained in 2016. A relative of his said contacts in Aden told the family he had been transferred to the UAE’s headquarters in Buraika. Multiple high-level officials told the family they did not have power to intervene in the case, as the matter was with the UAE. Months later, guards at the UAE headquarters said there were plans to transfer dozens of detainees to another location. Soon after, Saleheddine called. He confirmed he had been held with the coalition and had been transferred to an informal Security Belt detention facility.

Multiple people in Aden also alleged that the Security Administration, which falls under the Interior Ministry but whose top official is UAE-supported, also ran informal detention facilities and secret prisons, including in Tawahi, an Aden district where the Security Chief lives, and at Camp Tariq in Khormaksar. Human Rights Watch spoke to two former detainees who said they had been detained in an unknown location in Tawahi, and the relative of another detainee who visited his family member in Camp Tariq.

In 2016, a 15-year-old and a 17-year-old were arrested, first taken to a police station, but then disappeared a few days later, family members said. A government official told a family member the 17-year-old had had been transferred to an informal detention facility run by the Security Administration. The family member who was able to visit, described the prison as having about seven or eight large metal hangars filled with people. The 17-year-old was in one of them and, when he came out, “he looked insane.” He later disappeared from the camp.

Nadim and Yusuf: “Nadim” and “Yusuf” were arrested one night in early 2017, at about midnight. Yusuf said that one of the officers shoved his face to the ground and accused him of working with ISIS. The officers hit them with the butts of their guns and handcuffed them. Nadim resisted arrest. The officers blindfolded the men, put them in military trucks, and took them to an informal detention facilities. The men were taken to a smaller room. Seven other men were inside, including one who had been shot in the leg – he said by the security forces – and whose wound was infested with worms. A man in the cell said: “This is a no return prison.” One man had been detained for eight months. The men told them they were only allowed to wash every two weeks and that when their drinking water ran out, detainees had turned to drinking their own urine. Both men were released after friends and family members intervened, although three of the men arrested with them remained detained. The two men contacted the family of the man who had been shot. His mother was “very happy,” as she had thought her son had died.

Local activists in other areas under the Yemeni government’s control, for example in Taizz, Lahj, Abyan, and Marib, described similar abuses by government-affiliated security forces.

The UAE and Hadrami Elite Forces

In April 2016, the coalition retook Mukalla, which AQAP had controlled for months. Extremist groups continued to carry out attacks on military installations, killing and wounding dozens of military forces.



This map depicts formal and informal detention facilities in which Human Rights Watch documented cases of people arbitrarily detained or forcibly disappeared since 2016, and where Human Rights Watch was able to secure GPS. It does not depict all locations currently being used as detention centers in Mukalla, Hadramawt governorate.

© 2017 Human Rights Watch

The UAE has continued to support and direct Yemen forces carrying out counterterror and other security campaigns in Hadramawt, primarily the Hadrami Elite Forces. The Hadrami Elite Forces are formally a part of the Yemen Army, specifically the Second Military Zone, which covers parts of Hadramawt governorate. But activists, lawyers, and family members of detainees said that the UAE provides salaries, training, weapons, and direction to the Elite Forces. The UAE informed the UN Panel of Experts on Yemen it had provided “military, financial, and training assistance” and “intelligence, logistic information and aerial intervention,” but that the forces were under the control of the Yemeni Armed Forces. The UN Panel concluded that: “While nominally under the command of the legitimate Government, they are effectively under the operational control of the United Arab Emirates, which oversees ground operations in Mukalla.” A 2016 CIVIC report concluded the same.

The US deployed a small number of special forces to offer intelligence and logistical support to UAE-led efforts in Mukalla in April, indefinitely extending the deployment in June. According to VICE News, the US special forces in Mukalla are indirectly backing the UAE-trained forces by advising the UAE on how to carry out the campaign against AQAP. Reuters, however, reported that the UAE is “working with” the US “to train, manage and equip Yemeni fighters in that effort [against AQAP].” A former Yemeni government official also alleged that the Hadrami Elite Forces had received US tactical and technical anti-terrorism support.

The Hadrami Elite Forces have arbitrarily detained and forcibly disappeared dozens of people. Human Rights Watch met members of a committee representing family members of the disappeared who collected the names of 87 people disappeared in Hadramawt’s coastal area. Yemeni rights monitors shared a list of 142 people who they said had been arbitrarily arrested or forcibly disappeared in Hadramawt since May 2016, the vast majority by the Hadrami Elite Forces. A family member of a man disappeared in May 2016 said that about 25 men from his town had been disappeared since the UAE entered Mukalla.

The UAE runs unofficial detention facilities in Mukalla, with the principal detention facility at al-Riyan airport, Mukalla’s main airport, said family members of detainees, former detainees, and local lawyers and activists. A man whose son was detained by the Hadrami Elite Forces said recently released prisoners and guards working at the prison had confirmed the airport held dozens of prisoners. Families said the forces detained men in the Presidential Palace in Mukalla and at various checkpoints, often before transferring them to al-Riyan.

Lawyers, activists, and independent monitors do not have access to either detention facility. Individuals in Hadramawt said they had spoken by phone with Emirati officers who admitted holding their family members, allowed the families to talk to their missing relatives over the phone, and told them not to protest or speak to the media. Emirati officers use noms-de-guerre. As one woman said, “We never know their names. Never.” The UAE officials’ refusal to provide real names was reminiscent of the Houthis and AQAP, family members said.

Remi: In the spring of 2016, during the first large-scale security campaign after the coalition pushed AQAP out of Mukalla, men in a military truck arrested “Remi.” Remi was later released. He had been imprisoned in al-Riyan airport and interrogated by Abu Ahmed, the nom-de-guerre for a UAE officer who multiple families said was in charge of detention facilities. Soon after his release, Remi was again arrested and taken to al-Riyan, on UAE orders, local officials said. In the course of about a year, the family received only one phone call from Remi. He said he was “okay” and he was calling from a UAE officer’s phone.

Family members said they had heard that men in the detention facility were being beaten and abused. One of the detention committee members said Yemeni and Emirati officers interrogated detainees and that there had been reports of torture, beating and “a lot of things I can’t say, that I am embarrassed to say.” A prisoner who had been detained said he had been beaten by seven Hadrami Elite Forces officers, punched in the face and hit with wires while being interrogated at a military checkpoint before being transferred to al-Riyan airport.

Human Rights Watch examined written statements by two men who had been detained at the Security Intelligence headquarters, Presidential Palace, and al-Riyan airport. The statements described abuse including beating, exposure to cold temperatures, insults, death threats, and sexual abuse, including forced nudity and threats of rape. Human Rights Watch confirmed that the men had been detained by speaking with friends and family members.

A father whose two sons had been arrested said he was worried about them, as some of the men who had been released from al-Riyan had told him they had been tortured. A Hadramawt local government official told the family the men had been transferred to al-Riyan. He said he could not do anything about the case, as the airport is under Emirati control. Abu Ahmed, the Emirati officer, told the family the men were being held at the airport. One of his sons called after close to a year in detention. His father said his voice seemed weak, that he was crying, and that he said he was suffering. He still did not know what he had been accused of. He said he was kept handcuffed and blindfolded at all times except when eating and using the bathroom. He did not know if his brother was in the same prison.

People in Hadramawt have organized multiple protests and written numerous letters, often addressed to the Hadi government, the Hadramawt governor, and the coalition, asking the authorities to reveal the fate of their family members, allow them to visit the prisons, and refer any cases where there is evidence against an individual to courts.

A former detainee told one man’s family he had been detained with their relative in al-Riyan. “Abdulkader” had been arrested a year earlier. While the governor and regional military commander told the family they did not have the authority to release him, a UAE officer promised the family he would be released soon. He remains detained. His mother, discussing the impact of the disappearances on families, in particular mothers, said: “We just want to see our sons.”

On February 12, the governor of Hadramawt issued a circular addressed to the coalition, the head of the Second Military Zone, the General Prosecutor, the General Security Director and the police, stating that no forces should arrest anyone without an order from the prosecutor. The same day, Abubakr Hussein Salem, the governor of Abyan, issued a similar circular, a Yemeni outlet reported. However, people in Hadramawt said the Hadrami Elite Forces continued to raid homes and arbitrarily detain and disappear men in Mukalla after the circular was issued.

In May, just before the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, about 18 men were released from al-Riyan, family members said. Dozens remained detained. The UAE, Yemen, and others should immediately release all those held arbitrarily, Human Rights Watch said.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Souhaib Sa’ad in a still from a video released by the Defense Ministry several weeks after his disappearance. His brother told Human Rights Watch that Sa'ad was forced to repeat dictated confessions after being tortured for 3 days.

(Beirut) – The case of eight men who could face imminent execution following a military trial shows why Egyptian authorities should place a moratorium on the death penalty, Human Rights Watch said today.

The eight civilians, six of whom are in custody, were sentenced to death on May 29, 2016, after a trial on terrorism charges that denied them basic due process rights and relied on confessions that the defendants said were obtained under torture. If the Supreme Military Court for Appeals denies the defendants’ appeal, the six men in custody could be executed as soon as Defense Minister Sedky Sobhi and President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi ratify their death sentences.

“Egyptian authorities have been using military trials to dodge the already threadbare due process protections in regular courts, and we fear these trials may become rubber stamps for the death penalty,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Military courts should never be used against civilians, and they should certainly not be allowed to condemn civilians to death.”

Sobhi should cancel the death sentences and order military prosecutors to drop the case, and if there is evidence against the men or their co-defendants, Egypt’s prosecutor general should charge them in a regular court, Human Rights Watch said.

Since 2013, military courts have sentenced at least 60 defendants to death in at least 10 cases. Six of these sentences have been approved and carried out. While military courts have handed down far fewer death sentences than the hundreds issued by regular courts since 2013, they do not provide even the limited due process protections available in those courts. Egyptian authorities have tried more than 7,400 civilians in military courts since al-Sisi decreed a law in October 2014 that vastly expanded military court jurisdiction.

The eight men were among 28 tried together on terrorism charges. Only one of the 28 was a member of the military. The court sentenced 12 to life in prison, six to 15 years, and acquitted two.

Military prosecutors alleged that the men had supported or belonged to a group tied to the Muslim Brotherhood that obtained explosives and weapons and plotted to carry out surveillance and attacks on government and security officials.

Human Rights Watch reviewed the military prosecution’s 20-page indictment, a 149-page defense memo, and the 37-page military court verdict. Human Rights Watch also interviewed two defense lawyers, one defendant who was sentenced to death but lives outside Egypt, and relatives of five other defendants.

The relatives said that the authorities arrested the five men between May 28 and June 2, 2015, and did not provide information about their whereabouts for weeks. The families inquired in local police stations and sent telegrams to various government offices but received no response. Some learned of their relatives’ whereabouts weeks later, when they received calls from people who saw the men in detention. The authorities did not officially acknowledge that the men were being accused of crimes until July 10, 2015, when some of the men appeared in a video released by the Defense Ministry that accused them of belonging to “the biggest terrorist cell threatening national security.”

Five of the men told their relatives that interrogators had tortured them, including with beatings, electric shocks, and hanging in painful stress positions. Three said they were then forced to read confessions written for them. Two told their relatives that the Defense Ministry’s Military Intelligence and Reconnaissance Department had held them in Cairo’s Nasr City neighborhood, in a facility that Human Rights Watch independently confirmed belonged to military intelligence. None of the men were allowed access to lawyers during their detention, interrogation, or initial questioning by military prosecutors.

The men’s trial, known as Case 174 of 2015, began on September 17, 2015. Military prosecutors charged the defendants with manufacturing explosives, acquiring defense secrets, possessing firearms, and violating article 86 of the penal code – Egypt’s primary anti-terrorism statute. The law provides for life imprisonment or the death penalty for anyone who helps lead a group that uses terrorism to “disrupt the provisions of the constitution or laws, prevent state institutions or public authorities from carrying out their work, assault citizens’ personal freedoms or general rights, or harm national unity or social peace.” Under article 86, anyone who supplies such a group with money, weapons, or explosives can also receive the death penalty.

The indictment Human Rights Watch reviewed relied entirely on the testimony of Major Hani Soltan, an officer with military intelligence Group 77. Soltan testified that on May 24, 2015, during a routine inspection of troops returning from leave, military personnel discovered a concealed camera pen in the possession of a conscript assigned to the Defense Ministry’s general secretariat. After interrogating the man, Soltan testified, he was able to uncover the plot and identify the members of the “terrorist cell.”

Prosecutors did not charge any of the 28 defendants with an act of violence but said the men were preparing for attacks by stockpiling weapons and conducting surveillance on security officials, including Gen. Medhat al-Menshawy, the head of the Interior Ministry’s Central Security Forces, who commanded the brutal 2013 dispersal of a mass sit-in in Cairo that left at least 817 protesters dead in one day.

In March and April 2017, Human Rights Watch sent letters to six Egyptian institutions including the presidency and Defense Ministry, expressing serious concerns about death sentences handed down in military courts and urging al-Sisi and Sobhi not to approve the death sentences in this case or another case in which seven men were sentenced to death by a military court in connection with a deadly explosion at a stadium in Kafr al-Sheikh. Human Rights Watch also said that Egyptian authorities should place a moratorium on the death penalty in all regular and military courts in view of the sharp rise in the number of death sentences, turbulent political upheaval, and failure to pass a comprehensive transitional justice law in Egypt since the military removed the country’s first freely elected president in July 2013.

In 2015, six men were executed following an unfair military trial in which they were accused of participating in attacks on security forces, including a gunfight that killed army officers. In that case, Human Rights Watch determined that three of the men could not have participated in the attacks because authorities had arrested them months earlier and they were in detention at the time. Nevertheless, they were sentenced to death and executed by hanging after Sobhi and al-Sisi ratified their sentences.

The men said they were held and tortured inside military intelligence headquarters in Cairo's Nasr City neighborhood, where they were forced to confess.

Human Rights Watch opposes the death penalty in all circumstances as a punishment that is not only unique in its cruelty and finality, but also inevitably and universally plagued with arbitrariness, prejudice, and error.

Egypt’s military courts violate several key elements of due process, including the defendants’ right to be informed of the charges against them, to access a lawyer, to have a lawyer present during interrogations, and to be brought promptly before a judge. Judges in the military justice system are military officers subject to a chain of command, without the independence to ignore instructions by superiors.

The use of military courts to try civilians violates international law. The Human Rights Committee, the international expert body that interprets the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Egypt ratified in 1982, has stated that civilians should be tried by military courts only under exceptional circumstances and only under conditions that genuinely afford full due process. The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which interprets the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, ratified by Egypt in 1984, has stated that civilians should never face military trial and that military courts should not have the power to impose the death penalty. The African Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Fair Trial and Legal Assistance, adopted in 2003, prohibit military trial of civilians under all circumstances.

The Case Against the 28 Men

According to the indictment in Case 174 of 2015, the investigation began when guards found a concealed camera pen and flash memory in the possession of Ahmed Magdi Nagi, a conscript assigned to the Defense Ministry general secretariat, during an inspection on May 24, 2015.

Major Soltan, the military intelligence officer, interrogated Nagi and said that Nagi told him a man named Khaled Ahmed al-Sagheer had recruited Nagi into a terrorist cell tied to the Muslim Brotherhood. Al-Sagheer met Nagi through Nagi’s neighbor, Mohamed Hamdi, on May 19, and the two met again four days later, when al-Sagheer gave Nagi the camera pen and instructions for conducting surveillance on military officers and facilities.

Soltan testified that after arresting Nagi, he made Nagi contact al-Sagheer and arrange a meeting near the Qobba Bridge Hospital in Cairo’s Nasr City district, where he promised to give al-Sagheer the camera pen containing photos of his surveillance. After obtaining permission from prosecutors, Soltan testified, he arrested al-Sagheer following the meeting and found him in possession of the pen and a second camera concealed in a watch.

Afterward, Soltan said, al-Sagheer confessed to leading a group within the cell responsible for surveillance, and identified a man named Ahmed Amin Ghazali as the cell’s leader. Soltan instructed al-Sagheer to arrange a similar meeting with Ghazali in the nearby Qobba Gardens neighborhood and arrested Ghazali as well.

Through these arrests, Soltan testified, he was able identify 25 other people who had either been members of the cell’s three groups – for surveillance, weapons manufacturing, and carrying out operations – or who had assisted the cell. Soltan testified that the cell had plotted to target General al-Shennawy, the Central Security Forces commander; army Gen. Mohamed al-Assar, the minister of military production; and Cairo University President Gaber Nassar.

According to military intelligence Group 77 inspection reports marked “secret” but included in the court files, intelligence officers seized two concealed camera pens, two flash memory drives, and a concealed camera watch. One camera pen contained “unimportant” photos and videos, while the other had three photos meant to “study and observe the objectives” and four videos “filmed in the streets possibly to observe the road to the target.”

An inspection report prepared by crime scene investigators with the Interior Ministry’s Public Security Agency, also included in the files, documented the seizure of numerous weapons from the home of one of the defendants, Abd al-Basir Abd al-Raouf, including one FAL and one Kalashnikov assault rifle, two types of shotguns, and three pistols. The report also stated that the authorities had seized a Kalashnikov assault rifle from Ghazali’s home.

A military engineers’ report included in the court files documented the controlled destruction of what the authorities alleged were homemade explosive devices and other equipment seized from some of the defendants. Defense lawyers told Human Rights Watch that military prosecutors did not present any of the seized weapons at trial, but that they also had not asked them to do so.

Soltan testified that two men living outside Egypt, Ahmed Abd al-Basit, a former Cairo University doctoral student, and Abdullah Nour al-Din, had founded and funded the cell. He also said that the group was involved in vandalizing police cars and electricity and telecommunications towers but gave no details about these operations or where, when, and how they were carried out. In May 2016, the military court sentenced Abd al-Basit, Nour al-Din, and Ghazali to death and sentenced Nagi and al-Sagheer to life in prison.

Military courts should never be used against civilians, and they should certainly not be allowed to condemn civilians to death.

Joe Stork

Deputy Middle East Director at Human Rights Watch

The relatives who spoke with Human Rights Watch said that only two of the defendants, Souhaib Sa’ad and Omar Ali, had known each other before the case. Military prosecutors did not charge Hamdi, the neighbor who allegedly introduced al-Sagheer to Nagi, and the presiding judge rejected the defense team’s request to call Hamdi as a witness.

All five families said they had received no response to their telegrams to the prosecutor general inquiring about their relatives’ whereabouts. Human Rights Watch examined several of the telegrams. In court, defense lawyers requested that the prosecution present official documents stating where the defendants had been held after they disappeared, but prosecutors refused. The presiding judge “was just like a silent watcher,” said one relative, who was allowed to attend three court sessions because he is a lawyer. Military judges also did not respond to requests from defense lawyers to investigate the defendants’ allegations of enforced disappearance and torture, nor did the judges allow the defendants to be examined by the Justice Ministry’s Forensic Medical Authority, the lawyer said.

The families said they never received warrants from the police authorizing their relatives’ arrests, either during the arrest or afterward.

Abd al-Basit, one of the cell’s two alleged founders, is mentioned only once in the indictment, in a section that summarizes the confession of Ghazali, the cell’s purported leader, and states that Ghazali admitted to receiving an unidentified amount of money from Abd al-Basit. The prosecution’s file contains no evidence of this money transfer. Defense lawyers stated in court that all the defendants renounced their confessions and said they had been obtained under torture. Abd al-Basit, who was expelled from Cairo University in 2015 for organizing peaceful protests against the military’s removal of former President Mohamed Morsy and human rights abuses by the security forces, and who lives abroad, told Human Rights Watch that he believed Ghazali had mentioned his name under torture because they knew each other from the university.


Ghazali, 27, disappeared on the night of May 28, 2015, his brother Ammar said. He said that a woman saw a group of men pull Ghazali into a car near the Maadi metro station in Cairo. When Ghazali resisted, his mobile phone fell under a car parked in the street. The woman picked up the phone after they left, called the last number dialed and reached Ghazali’s family. She told them what she saw and that she was going to get rid of the phone because she did not want to get in trouble, Ghazali’s brother said.

The next day, security forces in uniform and others wearing civilian clothes came to their home with Ghazali, who was blindfolded and handcuffed behind his back, said his brother, whose family was there at the time. The uniformed men broke into the apartment and searched it, saying they said they were looking for guns, but found nothing. They left and did not tell the family where they were taking Ghazali.

His brother said that the family visited every police station in the Maadi neighborhood, as well as other Interior Ministry facilities in Cairo, but none admitted to having any information about Ghazali. The family sent a telegram to the prosecutor general on May 30, but received no response. After seeing the Defense Ministry video on July 10, Ammar Ghazali visited military prosecutors, who told him to look for his brother in Cairo’s Tora Prison compound. When Ammar went there, he discovered that the authorities were holding Ghazali in the “Scorpion” Maximum Security Prison inside the Tora compound.

Security forces arrested Mohamed Fawzy Abd al-Gawwad, 24, an electrical engineer who had recently graduated from Cairo University, on May 29, 2015, at his apartment in the Helwan neighborhood of Cairo, his father said. Several neighbors witnessed the arrest and called Abd al-Gawwad’s father, who was traveling with his wife to visit family in another city.

The father said that when they returned hours later, they found that security forces had broken into their building, destroying the metal door downstairs and their apartment door. They had confiscated their son’s laptop, mobile phone, and tablet, which the family received later during the trial. The father began inquiring about Abd al-Gawwad in local police stations, where officers denied knowing anything about him. The next day, the family sent a telegram inquiring about his whereabouts, a copy of which Human Rights Watch reviewed, to the prosecutor general, who did not respond.

On June 17, the father received a phone call from an unknown person who said that he had seen Abd al-Gawwad in Istikbal Prison inside Tora. When the father went to Tora, officers told him he could visit his son in 15 days.

Mahmoud al-Sherif Mahmoud, 30, a mechanical engineer, disappeared on June 1, 2015, his father said. Though the father did not witness the arrest, Mahmoud told his father later that a group of men had taken him from the street close to Cairo’s Helwan metro station. His father said that security forces – including police, Central Security Forces, and a man whom he believed was an intelligence officer in civilian clothes – came to search their home the day after Mahmoud’s disappearance, without a warrant. The intelligence officer told his group to search the house without destroying any property.

“He was more polite than others,” the father said.

The next day, the family sent a telegram inquiring about Mahmoud’s whereabouts, which Human Rights Watch reviewed, to the prosecutor general but did not receive a response.

Like Abd al-Gawwad’s family, Mahmoud’s family received a call on June 17 from an unknown person who said he had seen Mahmoud in the Tora prisons compound.

On June 2, 2015, the day after Mahmoud’s disappearance, police arrested Abd al-Basir Abd al-Raouf, 20, then a first-year student at the Maritime Academy, on the street near a department store in Helwan, his mother said. She said that he was studying for final exams at the time and had been going to a friend’s house so they could study together. When his mother tried to call him several times the next day, his phone was off. Later that day, he called back and said he had finished the exam but would stay with his friend for a few days. There was no need to worry, he told her.

On June 7, after Abd al-Raouf did not call or return home, his mother sent a telegram to the prosecutor general saying that her son had disappeared, but she received no response. On June 15, a woman called the family and said that she had seen Abd al-Raouf while visiting her husband in Istikbal Prison inside Tora and that he wanted them to bring him clean white clothes instead of the prison’s standard white uniform. Later, Abd al-Raouf told his mother that when he had called her on June 3 and claimed to be with his friend, he was actually in the custody of security officers, who allowed him to make only that call.

Abd al-Raouf told his mother that two men in civilian clothes had carried him into a civilian car and taken him to Helwan Police Station where they held him for a night before moving him to a place he could not identify. His mother said that a few days after her son’s arrest, someone came and searched their home while the family was gone. When her other son went home to retrieve some belongings, he found that the door was broken and the apartment appeared to have been searched.

Notes made by the military prosecutor in the file reviewed by Human Rights Watch stated that prosecutors had ordered Abd al-Raouf arrested and detained pending investigation on June 3, but his father obtained a document from the Interior Ministry’s Prison Administration Authority, which Human Rights Watch also reviewed, stating that Abd al-Raouf had not been in any of its prisons before June 13, the day when he and other defendants said they saw military prosecutors for the first time. The authorities were unable to account for the 10 days in between, the period of Abd al-Raouf’s forced disappearance.

Ahmed Mustafa Ahmed, 42, the owner of a small workshop who lived in Cairo’s Manshiyat Nasr neighborhood with his wife and four children, disappeared around the end of May 2015, his brother, Walid, told Human Rights Watch. Walid Mustafa said that the family did not know his brother’s whereabouts for several weeks, and that he sent telegrams to the prosecutor general and the Interior Ministry inquiring about his brother but did not receive a response.

Later, Ahmed Mustafa told his brother that security forces had taken him from his home, put him in his car, and made him drive to work. The building guard told Walid that the security forces had beaten his brother severely during the arrest. Police searched his workshop and destroyed many items, Walid Ahmed said. He said that the police had confiscated a large amount of money that Mustafa Ahmed had saved for his business and did not take anything else from the home or the workplace, except Mustafa Ahmed’s car, which they did not return to the family.

Several weeks later, Walid Ahmed said, he was “surprised one day when an unknown man called me and said that my brother was in Tora Prison and that the first visit would be in 11 days.”

In June 2015, Human Rights Watch documented the enforced disappearance of Ali and Sa’ad, whom security forces arrested on June 1, 2015, along with a third friend, Esraa al-Taweel, outside a restaurant in the Maadi neighborhood. Interior Ministry officials repeatedly denied arresting them, but more than two weeks later, relatives found Sa’ad and Ali in Tora Prison and al-Taweel in al-Qanater Women’s Prison. Prosecutors held al-Taweel in pretrial detention on accusations of belonging to a terrorist group, but after widespread public pressure, a court ordered her release six months later on medical grounds. Al-Taweel was not charged in case 174, but military prosecutors alleged that Sa’ad and Ali belonged to the cell’s surveillance group.

Most of the relatives who spoke with Human Rights Watch said that security forces kept the men blindfolded and stripped to their underwear during their entire time in custody, leaving them unable to identify their detention site. But relatives of Abd al-Raouf and Mahmoud said the men claimed they had been held in the Nasr City military intelligence headquarters. Human Rights Watch has independently confirmed that military intelligence Group 77, to which Major Soltan belonged, is located there.


The five families who spoke with Human Rights Watch alleged that security forces tortured their relatives while they were forcibly disappeared to make them sign dictated confessions and read them out loud while being videotaped. The Interior Ministry does not allow human rights groups to interview prisoners, and the military judges presiding over the case denied the defense team’s request for the defendants to receive medical examinations, so Human Rights Watch was unable to independently confirm these accounts.

Abd al-Raouf’s mother said that when she first saw her son, it was a “big shock,” and that he appeared exhausted.

“I was crying and holding him and saying, ‘What happened to you, what did they do to you, my son,’” she said. Abd al-Raouf pointed at Ali, she said, whose mother was visiting him, and indicated that Ali’s wrist was almost broken. Abd al-Raouf told his mother “not to worry.” During another visit, he told her that his interrogators beat him severely while he was blindfolded for 12 days and once kept him hanging from his wrists for three days.

Abd al-Raouf’s father said that his son told him his interrogators shocked him with electricity and tortured him psychologically by driving him into the desert on one occasion and threatening to kill him. Abd al-Raouf’s mother said he told her that his only desire during his detention was for the torture to stop. He told her that his interrogators eventually took him, blindfolded and handcuffed, to a man he was told was a military prosecutor.

The man asked Abd al-Raouf questions but wrote down fabricated answers without waiting for Abd al-Raouf to respond. He then asked Abd al-Raouf to sign a document. Abd al-Raouf’s mother said he told her that at one point, when he denied the prosecutor’s accusations that he had possessed weapons, someone hit him in the back with a gun and told him that nobody knew where he was and that they could make him “another Islam Atito.” The man was referring to a student who disappeared from Ain Shams University in May 2015 and was later said by the Interior Ministry to have died in a shootout with security forces.

Abd al-Raouf’s mother said that when he arrived at Istikbal Prison, the prison doctor, inspecting him and other detainees, refused to admit them without hospital reports documenting their injuries, but that the prison warden pressured him not to insist on this.

Ghazali’s brother Ammar said that when the family saw him for the first time in prison, “he still didn’t understand what was happening to him.”

“He was tortured in many different ways: Hanging from hands and tying weights to his legs. When he was [let down] he got immense pain. [They hit him] with a piece of cloth soaked in a flammable liquid, and when he tried to sleep later he couldn’t, because his back was so inflamed,” his brother said.

The day before recording the confession video, the interrogators brought a paper to Ghazali and told him: “You will read what is written on it [in] order to get out of here, or you will stay with us,” Ammar Ghazali said.

Abd al-Gawwad was held completely naked, his father said. “Anything you can think of happened to him. When he fainted, they used to wake him up and torture him again,” he said. “He was beaten and humiliated verbally in all ways. When I saw him, he had dark skin on his hands and wounds from ties and hanging.”

The father said that his son was forced to read his confession from a piece of paper while the interrogators videotaped him. He said that they recorded the confession about 10 times, until they obtained a recording that made it seem as if Abd al-Gawwad were speaking naturally and not reading. He said Abd al-Gawwad told him that he was so badly tortured he could not raise his arms or legs to put clothes on and that the interrogators had to dress him in a shirt and pants to be filmed.

Walid Ahmed, the brother of Mustafa Ahmed, said his brother told him that interrogators hanged him from his wrists, gave him electric shocks on his genitals, deprived him of sleep, and held him naked while pouring water on him. When Walid saw his brother for the first time, he seemed to have lost weight and have torture marks on his hands.

“He wasn’t the brother I knew,” Walid Ahmed said of his appearance. He said that when his brother tried to carry his six-month-old daughter in one of the prison visits, his hands were shaking so severely that he nearly dropped her. He told his family that his interrogators beat him severely when he asked to remove his blindfold to identify a man his interrogators said was a prosecutor. The interrogators filmed his pre-written confession between 10 and 15 times because his eyes kept dropping down to read the confession paper, his brother said.

“I asked him how can you sign such confessions,” Walid Ahmed said.

His brother responded: “I was dying … I was going to die.”

He also told his brother that the interrogators threatened to bring his wife and other family members and rape them if he did not confess.

Mahmoud’s father said that Mahmoud told him that the worst torture was the threat to arrest his family. But Mahmoud also told his father the interrogators had dragged him on the floor, handcuffed his hands behind him and hanged him painfully from a door, beat him with hoses, and shocked him with electricity repeatedly. After Mahmoud’s arrest, intelligence forces arrested two of his younger brothers separately, without charges, the father said.

He said that the older of the two arrested brothers, Moataz, disappeared for more than four months after the military unit in which he served as an unenlisted civilian laborer called him back from leave. The family only discovered his whereabouts after they submitted a special request to the commander of the air force. The father said that authorities took Moataz to a military intelligence office for a month and half and that intelligence officers brought him to see Mahmoud while both were in custody.

“When he saw Mahmoud, he was shocked, he thought he was burned, his face looked like it was burned,” the father said. He said that officers tortured both brothers, including with beatings and cigarette burns. They then sent Moataz back to his unit, where he spent two and half months in custody and was later released after he was discharged without any compensation, his father said.

Several days after Mahmoud’s disappearance, security forces raided their home for the second time, at about 11 p.m., breaking the door and taking away Mahmoud’s youngest brother, who had secondary school exams at that time.

“They threatened [Mahmoud] that they wouldn’t allow his brother to take exams,” his father said. Around dawn the next day, they released the brother. The father said that a man from the local police station called him on the phone and told him to come take his son, saying, “We don’t need him anymore.” A few days later, they received a phone call from an unknown individual informing them that Mahmoud was being held in Tora Prison.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

June 7, 2017

The Honorable Charles Grassley, Chairman
Senate Committee on the Judiciary
224 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC  20510

The Honorable Dianne Feinstein, Ranking Member
Senate Committee on the Judiciary
152 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC  20510

Dear Chairman Grassley and Ranking Member Feinstein:

The undersigned organizations write to express our concern regarding Steven Engel’s nomination to head the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), particularly Mr. Engel’s troubling and incomplete answers regarding his role in OLC’s July 2007 torture memo.[1] The executive branch’s recent decision to return agency copies of the Senate torture report to the Intelligence Committee—including the only remaining copy in the Justice Department’s possession—greatly exacerbates our concern.

We urge the Judiciary Committee not to vote on Mr. Engel’s nomination unless and until it receives and reviews additional information (described below) relating to his involvement with the 2007 OLC memo, as well as a firm commitment from Mr. Engel to review at least the portions of the full torture report relevant to OLC.

In response to questions from Senators during the confirmation process, Mr. Engel acknowledged having reviewed and provided comments on a 2007 memo which found that six of the CIA’s “enhanced interrogation techniques”—including sleep deprivation by means of shackling diapered detainees in a standing position for days at a time—complied with Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions. He declined to answer any substantive follow-up questions on the memo, on grounds that “my role…was not to agree or disagree with [the memo’s] conclusions, but to provide comment” and that Congress hadrecently passed further restrictions on coercive interrogations.

This evasion is not acceptable. Before voting on Mr. Engel’s nomination, the Judiciary Committee should request from the Department of Justice his comments and correspondence on the 2007 memo, as well as any other documents that he produced during his previous tenure at OLC relating to the CIA’s rendition, detention and interrogation program.

The Geneva Conventions protect captured U.S. servicemembers as well as their adversaries, and Common Article 3 is one of the crucial legal standards governing the United States’ struggle with ISIS and Al Qaeda. If OLC again adopted the 2007 memo’s approach, it would cease to be a meaningful constraint—and other crucial legal protections might be similarly interpreted away.

The State Department Legal Advisor warned OLC in 2007 that its interpretation of Common Article 3 to allow depriving detainees of sleep for 96 hours or more, using a particularly painful and degrading method similar to the abuses documented in the Abu Ghraib photographs, would be seen as “a work of advocacy to achieve a desired outcome.”[2] The Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) concluded that the 2007 memo was “inconsistent with the plain meaning and commonly-held understandings of the language of Common Article 3.”[3]

OPR also criticized the memo’s “uncritical acceptance” of the CIA’s inaccurate factual claims about the black site program.[4] While the full extent of the CIA’s inaccuracies was not known at the time, the 2007 memo disregarded readily available evidence that directly contradicted them. The misrepresentations that the 2007 memo cited included:

  • A number of false claims about intelligence obtained and terrorist attacks prevented through the use of “enhanced interrogation”—including basic chronological errors that would have been uncovered with even minimal due diligence.
  • The assertion that the CIA forced detainees undergoing sleep deprivation to wear diapers “[b]ecause releasing a detainee from the shackles to use toilet facilities would present a significant security risk and would interfere with the effectiveness of the technique,” and that the purpose was “not to humiliate the detainee.” This was both facially implausible and contradicted by CIA documents that described the use of diapers “in order to humiliate.”
  • A series of false claims about steps the CIA took to protect detainees from severe pain and suffering during “enhanced interrogation” sessions, which were contradicted by detailed accounts that former CIA black site detainees had given to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). The 2007 memo deliberately omitted any reference to the ICRC report.
  • A false claim that when the CIA briefed “the full memberships of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees and Senator McCain, none of the Members expressed the view that the CIA detention and interrogation program should be stopped, or that the techniques at issue were inappropriate.” In fact, Senator McCain had characterized the CIA’s practice of sleep deprivation as “torture” both publicly and privately, and at least four other Senators raised objections to the program.

When asked whether he accepted the OPR’s criticism of the Bradbury memos, Mr. Engel would only reply that “I am not familiar with the basis for the OPR report’s critiques.”

Mr. Engel also would not commit to obtaining access to and reviewing the classified version of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence’s study of the detention and interrogation program, the most complete account of the extent to which the legal authorization of the torture program relied on false factual claims. According to press reports, the Justice Department has returned one copy of the study to Congress and placed the other in a court vault, in violation of commitments Attorney General Sessions made during his confirmation hearing.[5]

OLC has a crucial role in ensuring that the President faithfully executes the laws. The best indication of how Mr. Engel would lead the office is his prior tenure there. The Senate should not vote on his nomination with crucial questions unanswered, and without a firm commitment by Mr. Engel to obtain and review the full Senate study on detention and interrogation.


American Civil Liberties Union
Appeal for Justice
Center for Victims of Torture
The Constitution Project
Defending Rights and Dissent
Human Rights First
Human Rights Watch
National Religious Campaign Against Torture
Open Society Policy Center

Cc: Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

In response to media reports that the Trump administration is planning to begin returning copies of the Senate Intelligence Committee report on the Central Intelligence Agency’s detention and interrogation program back to Congress, Laura Pitter, US national security counsel at Human Rights Watch, issued the following statement:

The Senate Intelligence Committee report contains groundbreaking information about the CIA torture program but also important lessons to ensure such horrors never happen again. The Trump administration and all US officials should be reading and learning from the report, not burying it, to ensure the US government doesn’t ever again use torture, which is both illegal and ineffective.


Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Image of 26-year-old Farooq Ahmad Dar being used as a human shield.

© 2017 Anonymous

(New York) – The Indian army’s rewarding of an officer for actions that included serious human rights violations undermines accountability and the stature of the military, Human Rights Watch said today. On May 22, 2017, Maj. Nitin Leetul Gogoi was commended for evacuating security personnel and election staff who were threatened by a mob in Jammu and Kashmir, in which he used a bystander unlawfully as a “human shield.”

Several senior government officials including the attorney general, the army chief, and the defense minister have publicly expressed support for Major Gogoi’s actions.

“Soldiers have a difficult task in Kashmir and should be rewarded for saving lives, but not by deliberately placing others at risk and violating their rights,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Support by senior army and government officials for a lawless action merely fans the flames of future lawlessness by security forces and protesters.”

Since July 2016, clashes between state security forces and violent protesters demanding secession and an end to security force abuses have killed over 100 people and injured thousands, including protesters, bystanders, and members of security forces.

Soldiers have a difficult task in Kashmir and should be rewarded for saving lives, but not by deliberately placing others at risk and violating their rights.

Meenakshi Ganguly

South Asia Director

Gogoi told the media that on April 9, during an assembly by-election, an anti-government mob in Budgam district surrounded a polling place, threw stones, and threatened to set the building ablaze. Gogoi and his team took 26-year-old Farooq Ahmad Dar into custody, tied him to the hood of their military vehicle, and drove to the polling place to evacuate surrounded security personnel and election staff.

Then for five hours, Gogoi drove around with Dar tied to the jeep, with a sheet of paper stuck to his chest with a warning to “stone-pelters,” passing through 17 villages over 28 kilometers, according to news reports. Dar, who had defied a boycott call by militants to cast his vote that morning, said he was still traumatized by the experience. Gogoi defended his actions, claiming that he saved lives by not using live ammunition to disperse the mob.

The Indian army’s mistreatment of Dar violates his right to liberty and security and the prohibition against “torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment,” as set out in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Troops deployed to restore order in Jammu and Kashmir should abide by the United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials.

Public outrage over the army’s treatment of Dar prompted the army to announce an inquiry into the incident. However, rewarding Gogoi for his actions while the inquiry is ongoing indicates that genuine accountability is unlikely, Human Rights Watch said. Gogoi was commended for his “presence of mind and initiative to prevent bloodshed.”

Various senior officials, in praising Gogoi, discounted or disregarded the unlawful aspects of his actions, Human Rights Watch said. India’s army chief, Gen. Bipin Rawat, praised Gogoi for being “innovative.”

“People are throwing stones at us, people are throwing petrol bombs at us,” General Rawat was quoted in the media as saying. “If my men ask me what do we do, should I say, just wait and die? I will come with a nice coffin with a national flag and I will send your bodies home with honor. Is it what I am supposed to tell them as chief? I have to maintain the morale of my troops who are operating there.”

The defense minister, Arun Jaitley said, “How a situation is to be dealt with when you are in a war-like zone...we should allow our Army officers to take a decision. They don't have to consult members of parliament on what they should do under these circumstances.”

Information and Broadcasting Minister M. Venkaiah Naidu said Gogoi acted under “exceptional circumstances,” and that “he wanted to save the lives.”

Support for Gogoi’s actions from India’s attorney general, Mukul Rohatgi, is especially damaging to the rule of law and to the prospect of ensuring the prosecution of security force personnel for human rights violations, Human Rights Watch said. Rohatgi has a crucial role in ensuring justice because soldiers deployed in Jammu and Kashmir operate under effective immunity provided by the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), a draconian law that has been widely criticized.

At the United Nations Human Rights Council during India’s third Universal Periodic Review in May, Rohatgi denied that India’s security forces were committing abuses. To dispel concerns over AFSPA, Rohatgi referred to a July 2016 Supreme Court interim order, which said that the law did not provide blanket immunity to security personnel for killings or offenses. However, a month earlier he had filed a petition for the Supreme Court to review its earlier order, contending that “action taken during [military] operations cannot be put to judicial scrutiny.” The Supreme Court dismissed the petition.

Jammu and Kashmir have experienced violence since the late 1980s, when armed groups, many based in and supported by Pakistan, started targeting Hindus, politicians and other civilians, and security personnel. Over the next two decades, both the armed groups and security officials have been responsible for numerous serious human rights abuses. Violence ebbed after the September 2001 attacks on the United States, which led to US pressure on Pakistan to end support to the militant groups operating in Jammu and Kashmir.

“Successive Indian governments have resisted international scrutiny of the Kashmir situation by reassuring concerned governments that steps have been taken to curb human rights violations,” Ganguly said. “Public praise by senior officials for an act of outrageous cruelty should put to rest any belief that the government is serious about holding security force personnel to account for serious abuses.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

The videos and photographs that have emerged of Iraqi soldiers from the Interior Ministry’s elite Emergency Response Division brutally taunting, torturing, and executing alleged supporters of the Islamic State (also known as ISIS) and their family members had an eerie, distressing familiarity. In the course of Iraq’s tragic modern history, we have witnessed so many Iraqi citizens enduring the ugliest of assaults at the hands of combatants wearing a variety of uniforms.

An Iraqi special forces soldier stands beside graffiti, which reads: "The Islamic State will remain," in Bartilla, east of Mosul, Iraq October, 2016.

© 2016 Reuters

The torturers depicted in these recent videos seem to borrow from their grotesque predecessors. We see Saddam-era tactics, as officers hang by their arms one of two brothers alleged to support ISIS, then tearing out both their beards, putting a knife to their ears, and shocking them with live wires. The videos show officers beating shackled detainees hanging from a ceiling, while the officers joke and jostle among themselves and casually record their atrocities, reminding us of the vile images of United States soldiers at Abu Ghraib prison. We also see soldiers summarily executing handcuffed detainees as “revenge,” like so many post-Saddam Iraqi forces fighting armed groups. And taking a page from ISIS itself, Iraqi officers bizarrely force one detainee to recite the pledge of fealty to the ISIS leader before reportedly murdering the detainee. In all these incidents, the Iraqi soldiers show little shame or fear in their vile actions, which they appear to relish recording and sharing on cellphones.

These videos are not the only evidence of serious abuses by Iraqi security forces in their battle against ISIS. Human Rights Watch has documented a wide variety of serious human rights violations. We have documented summary executions of suspected ISIS fighters, detention in inhumane conditions, and collective punishment against family members of ISIS fighters, including home demolitions and forced deportations. We also documented the arbitrary detention of over a thousand Sunnis displaced from the fighting in ISIS-held areas. There is virtually no information about ISIS fighter casualties or captures: we don’t know how many have been killed and how many have been detained.

While the reality is that the majority of ISIS fighters are Sunni Iraqis, the Iraqi government needs to recognize that winning the support of all Iraqis, in particular Sunni communities, requires persuading them that it stands for something different, something better. The government’s legitimacy will ultimately rest on its demonstrated respect for the rule of law, an end to discrimination and attacks against the Sunni community, and accountability for the atrocities carried out by its security forces like those depicted in these videos. Government abuses against Sunnis were a major factor behind the start of the civil war in 2014 and the government will risk losing the peace if it fails to rein in its security forces now.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has repeatedly said the right things about the need to exercise civilian control over, and curb abuses by, the country’s armed forces. There is no reason to doubt his sincerity, but plenty of reason to doubt his willingness and ability to impose the accountability and reforms he has promised. Because his hold on power is fragile and his authority is almost completely dependent on the Iraqi security forces and pro-government militias, there is little incentive to follow through on the countless investigations he has announced. We know of few, if any, Iraqi soldier or officer investigated and convicted for abuses.

Will we finally see real teeth in the prime minister’s response to this latest evidence? The names of the officers shown in these videos are known. One of the captains, identified as Omar Nazar, is recorded justifying his executions as necessary to ensure battlefield justice and to save money having to feed ISIS detainees. Will an Iraqi court investigate and try these men? Will there be compensation to family members of those tortured and executed?

The US and other members of the anti-ISIS coalition risk complicity in Iraqi abuses given their participation in military operations with the country’s security forces. The US military and embassy in Iraq deny having a record on the Emergency Response Division, the elite unit involved, in their abuse database. They refuse to confirm or deny that Ali Abd Al Hussein Abd, one of the torturers filmed, is a US citizen or ever worked with them. He was allegedly known as the unit’s liaison with coalition forces, and nicknamed “Ali Mushtarakah” (“Ali the [US] partner”).

The US also denies that it is arming the elite unit – but won’t say if it has in the past. It’s all a bit of a shell game, as the US government continually shifts its resources away from a particular abusive unit, only to have the weapons and materiel it provides turn up in their hands anyway, or to rebrand its assistance as going generally to a government ministry.

That’s why our recommendation has been to condition all military support on demonstrable, measurable steps by the Iraqi government to end abuses by its security forces and taking significant measures to hold accountable those suspected of carrying out or failing to halt such abuses.

As the decades of fighting in Iraq have shown, winning battles against armed groups is something the Iraqi government can accomplish. Where it has repeatedly failed, and stands to fail again without urgent steps to establish military discipline and accountability, is winning the struggle for a united, rights-respecting and peaceful Iraq.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

A Houthi fighter checks a van at a checkpoint on a street in Yemen's capital Sanaa October 21, 2015.

© REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah

(Beirut) – The Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which begins on May 27, 2017 in Yemen, provides the parties to the armed conflict an opportunity to remedy the wrongful treatment of detainees, Human Rights Watch said today.

Houthi-Saleh forces, Yemeni-government forces, and forces backed by the United Arab Emirates should free those arbitrarily held, ensure detainees have access to lawyers and family members, and reveal the fate or whereabouts of those forcibly disappeared. The forces should also release children and others being needlessly held and hold to account officials responsible for mistreatment. It is common for governments in predominantly Muslim countries to release or pardon prisoners during Ramadan.

“Yemen’s warring sides can both meet their legal obligations and do what’s right by the Yemeni people by releasing those held arbitrarily during the holy month of Ramadan,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “They should also be informing detainees’ family members where and why their loved ones are being held.”

Human Rights Watch has documented arbitrary detention and enforced disappearances by Houthi-Saleh forces and pro-Yemeni government and UAE-backed security forces in the southern and eastern parts of the country, including in Aden, Abyan, and Hadramawt governorates. Human Rights Watch has also found that forces are detaining children suspected of loyalty to enemy forces, abusing detainees and holding them in poor conditions, and forcibly disappearing people perceived to be political opponents or security threats.

Human Rights Watch is not able to determine the total number of people currently detained by parties to the conflict, but Yemeni nongovernmental groups estimate it is in the thousands. In May 2016, the government of President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi and Houthi-Saleh forces agreed to exchange half of all prisoners in early June before Ramadan as part of ongoing peace talks. On May 30, 2017, the United Nations special envoy to Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, announced that he had received lists of prisoners from both sides, later reported to include 2,630 on the government side and 3,760 on the Houthi-Saleh side. While some prisoner exchanges were facilitated at local levels, a full exchange never occurred, and it is likely that thousands remain detained.

Houthi-Saleh Forces
Yemeni rights groups have documented hundreds of cases of people arbitrarily detained or forcibly disappeared by Houthi forces or forces loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Human Rights Watch has documented 65 cases in which Houthi-Saleh forces arbitrarily detained or forcibly disappeared people, including two deaths in custody and 11 cases of alleged torture or other ill-treatment, including the abuse of a child.

Houthi-Saleh forces appear to have arrested many people because of their perceived links to Islah, a Sunni opposition party. They include Muhammad Qahtan, a senior Islah leader forcibly disappeared in April 2015. However, journalists, such as Salah al-Qaedi and Abdul-Khaliq Imran, as well as activists, have also been detained without charge for apparently political reasons.

Houthi-Saleh forces have also harassed and arbitrarily detained members of the Baha’i religious community, which the UN special rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief referred to as a “persistent pattern of persecution.” In April 2017, the authorities arrested Walid Ayyash, Mahmood Humaid, and Badi'u'llah Sanai, all members of the Baha’i community. Sanai was released one week later, but was rearrested in May. All three remain detained, their whereabouts unknown. Keyvan Qadari, an Iranian national who was born and lived his entire life in Yemen, has been detained since August, the last of five dozen Baha’is arrested en masse on August 10, apparently on account of their religion. Officials have threatened to deport Qadari to Iran, despite the clear risk he would face persecution or abuse.

Scores of detainees are being held at unofficial detention sites in territory controlled by Houthi-Saleh forces. Human Rights Watch has documented detentions at the Political Security Organization headquarters, at Zain al-Abdeen mosque in Hiziyaz, and at the National Security Bureau in Sanaa’s Old City.

Pro-Yemeni Government Forces; UAE-Backed Security Forces
In areas of the country effectively controlled by the Yemeni government, backed by the Saudi Arabia-led coalition, Yemeni human rights groups and lawyers have documented hundreds of cases of people arbitrarily detained or forcibly disappeared.

The southern port city of Aden is currently home to multiple, often competing, security forces and militias. These forces are arresting and detaining people, and operating unofficial detention sites, local activists, journalists, and lawyers say. Given the rise in the number of security forces detaining people and the proliferation of detention facilities, families who know that their relatives have been taken into custody may not know why or where they are being held. A number of lawyers and activists have intervened to help families locate detained loved ones, but it frequently takes up to two months for a family to even determine who carried out the arrest, a local journalist said. Even after months of effort, some families have been unable to locate detained relatives.

Government officials and other sources reported that there are numerous informal detention facilities and secret prisons in Aden and the eastern governorate of Hadramawt. The UAE operates at least two detention facilities, including at al-Riyan airport in Mukalla. Various smaller detention facilities are located in military camps controlled by various security forces.

Yemen’s warring sides can both meet their legal obligations and do what’s right by the Yemeni people by releasing those held arbitrarily during the holy month of Ramadan.

Sarah Leah Whitson

Middle East director at Human Rights Watch

In Aden, many of those arbitrarily detained or forcibly disappeared were arrested by “the Security Belt,” a force created in spring 2016. It is officially under the Interior Ministry but is funded, trained, and directed by the UAE, said several activists, lawyers, and government officials. The UN Panel of Experts on Yemen and the Center for Civilians in Conflict found that the Security Belt operated largely outside the Yemeni government’s control.

In Hadramawt, the UAE-backed “al-Nukhba,” also known as the Hadrami Elite Forces, has arbitrarily detained and forcibly disappeared dozens of men since spring 2016, when the Saudi-led coalition, in an effort led by UAE forces and supported by the United States, pushed Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) out of Mukalla, the governorate’s capital. The UN Panel of Experts investigated the forced disappearance of six people allegedly arrested by al-Nukhba between May and November 2016, including one who said he had been detained at al-Riyan airport. In May 2017, more than a dozen prisoners who had been held at the airport were released, according to family members, but dozens are believed to remain detained.

Under international human rights law, an enforced disappearance occurs when the authorities take someone into custody and deny holding them or fail to disclose their fate or whereabouts. “Disappeared” people are at greater risk of torture and other ill-treatment, especially when they are detained outside formal detention facilities, such as police jails or prisons.

While parties to Yemen’s armed conflict may take appropriate measures to address security concerns, international humanitarian and human rights law protect against mistreatment in custody, including not to be arbitrarily detained, tortured, ill-treated, or forcibly disappeared. At a minimum, those detained should be informed of the specific grounds for their arrest, be able to fairly contest their detention before an independent and impartial judge, have access to a lawyer and family members, and have their case periodically reviewed.

“War provides no justification for torture and ‘disappearance’ of perceived opponents,” Whitson said. “Yemen’s warring parties are putting themselves at risk of future prosecution if they don’t account for the people who are wrongfully detained and return them to their families.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

A victim of the purge telling his story in a safe house in central Russia in April 2017.

© 2017 Nataliya Vasilyeva for Human Rights Watch

(New York) – Police in Chechnya rounded up, beat, and humiliated dozens of gay or bisexual men in an apparent effort to purge them from Chechen society, Human Rights Watch confirmed in a new report today. Russian federal authorities should ensure their investigation into these egregious human rights violations is effective and capable of holding the Chechen authorities to account. Foreign governments should provide safe sanctuary to the victims, who remain in immediate danger of physical harm as long as they remain in Russia.

“Men subjected to these gay purges have endured a gruesome ordeal in Chechnya,” said Graeme Reid, director of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights program at Human Rights Watch. “The Kremlin has a duty to bring to justice those responsible for the violence and protect all people in Russia, regardless of their sexual orientation.”

The 42-page report, “‘They Have Long Arms and They Can Find Me’: Anti-Gay Purge by Local Authorities in Russia’s Chechen Republic,” is based on first-hand interviews with victims of the campaign against gay men that Chechnya’s law enforcement and security officials conducted in spring, 2017.

Police in Chechnya, a region in southern Russia, are rounding up men believed to be gay, holding them in secret detention, and beating and humiliating them.

Starting the last week of February and continuing until at least the first week of April, police rounded up men they suspected of being gay, held them in secret locations for days or even weeks, and tortured, humiliated, and starved them, forcing them to hand over information about other men who might be gay. They returned most of the men to their families, exposing their sexual orientation and indirectly encouraging their relatives to carry out “honor killings.” Those who have escaped Chechnya remain in danger elsewhere in Russia, with threats continuing against them.

Russian federal authorities initially dismissed reports about the violence. Following growing international pressure, several federal agencies launched inquiries, and President Vladimir Putin made a pledge to speak with the prosecutor general and interior minister about the reports. Chechnya’s leadership said it was ready to cooperate with federal inquiries, but also vehemently denied the very existence of gay people in Chechnya and repeatedly berated and threatened journalists and human rights defenders for raising the issue.



Tell Putin to end the crackdown on gay men in Chechnya and help protect those in imminent danger from coming to any harm.

Novaya Gazeta, a prominent independent Russian newspaper, first reported the anti-gay purges, and Russia’s LGBT Network, an independent Russian group that supports lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people, has provided emergency support to the victims.

Several men allegedly died following their ordeal. As of late May, no new abductions have been reported but several of the men targeted apparently remain in detention.

Police in Chechnya held the men in secret detention in several locations where they hold other people in unofficial custody, including suspected insurgent collaborators and suspected drug users. Police beat all detainees viciously and repeatedly electrocuted them. The captors also encouraged and sometimes forced other detainees to beat and humiliate the men presumed to be gay.

Chechen authorities, including two high-level officials, paid visits to the unofficial detention facilities, berated the suspected gay detainees, and watched the guards abuse them.

For the past decade, Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov has, with the Kremlin’s tacit blessing, built his rule on brutal repression, Human Rights Watch said. Law enforcement and security agencies under Kadyrov’s de facto control have abducted people from homes, work places, and the streets, held them in secret locations, and carried out enforced disappearances, torture, extrajudicial executions, and collective punishment practices. For years, their targets were alleged armed insurgents and their suspected collaborators, but over time, police and security forces used these methods against local dissenters, independent journalists, Salafi Muslims, people who use drugs, and other people the Chechen leadership deems “undesirable.

“We have never seen Chechen officials rounding up gay men to be held and tortured,” said Rachel Denber, deputy director for Europe and Central Asia at Human Rights Watch. “But local security officials have been using the same violent, unlawful tactics for years with impunity to cleanse Chechnya of so-called ‘undesirables’.”

Many of the men released have fled Chechnya, but while they remain in Russia they face the double risk of being hunted down and harmed by Chechen security forces and by their own relatives.

Chechnya is a highly conservative majority-Muslim society and homosexuality is generally viewed as severely tainting family honor – an attitude fueled by high-level Chechen officials who have publicly condoned honor killings of gay and bisexual men.

As “Magomed,” one of the purge victims, told Human Rights Watch, “They have long arms and they can find me and the others anywhere in Russia, just give them time.”

While Russian federal officials have pledged to investigate the anti-gay purge allegations, they have repeatedly pointed to the lack of victim complaints to suggest the allegations are merely rumors. However, Human Rights Watch noted that Chechnya’s authorities are known to ruthlessly retaliate against local residents who dare to protest against abuses.

In recent years, Human Rights Watch has documented numerous cases of local Chechen officials retaliating against relatives of individuals who fled the region and then attempted to seek justice for the abuses they had suffered.

“The men who survived Chechnya’s gay purge ordeal are caught between two fires: their well-grounded fears of official retaliation, and fear of violence from their own families,” Reid said. “Russian officials need to address the victims’ extreme vulnerability and their legitimate fears about coming forward to complain.”

Russia’s federal investigation should be thorough and capable of bringing the perpetrators to account. Authorities should go to special lengths to protect victims, witnesses, and their immediate families, Human Rights Watch said. Human Rights Watch also called on foreign governments to maintain pressure on Moscow, including through regular inquiry about the investigation’s progress, and to provide prompt, safe sanctuary to victims of the purge seeking refuge in safe countries.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

General Abdul Raziq, Afghan National Police chief for the southern city of Kandahare, addresses officers during their graduation ceremony at the Kandahar Regional Training Center in southern Afghanistan, Jun. 7, 2012.

© 2012 United States Air Force

When the United Nations Committee against Torture grilled Afghanistan’s delegation last month about government efforts to curb torture, members asked about one person in particular: Gen. Abdul Raziq. That was no accident. Raziq, the Afghan National Police chief for the southern city of Kandahar, has become synonymous with systematic torture, extrajudicial killings, and enforced disappearances.

Last Friday, the committee released its report describing “numerous and credible allegations” that Raziq is “widely suspected of complicity, if not of personal implication, in severe human rights abuses, including extrajudicial killings and …secret detention centers.” It urged that “all alleged perpetrators, including … General Abdul Raziq” be “duly prosecuted and, if found guilty, convicted with penalties that are commensurate with the grave nature of their crimes.”

Those crimes are horrific. The Committee against Torture noted the numerous reports of detainees in Kandahar who alleged torture or ill-treatment, including “suffocation, crushing the testicles, water forcibly pumped in the stomach and electric shocks.”

During the UN session, one committee member pointedly asked Afghanistan’s attorney general, Farid Hamidi, what the government of President Ashraf Ghani was doing about Raziq. Hamidi  replied that the Afghan government was “very serious and sensitive about cases of torture.” But he said nothing about Raziq.

Even the Ghani administration seems afraid of Raziq, who operates far outside the law and has powerful support, notably from US intelligence and security officials, who consider him an ally in the fight against the Taliban. The speaker of Afghanistan’s senate and several other senators called the committee report “vague,” and suggested it had been fabricated by Pakistani intelligence. Raziq denied the committee’s allegations.

And that’s the crux of the problem. Almost 16 years after the defeat of the Taliban government, Afghans continue to suffer at the hands of abusive strongmen, warlords and government officials. In failing to hold them accountable, the Afghan government along with its international donors have consistently undermined the very institutions Afghans need to rely on for their security.

Afghanistan has one year to respond to the UN committee’s questions. But unless the government gets serious about bringing to book serial rights-violators like Raziq, that response will do nothing to eradicate Afghanistan’s entrenched culture of impunity.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

(Berlin) – The German parliament should reject a proposed security agreement with the Egyptian Interior Ministry, Human Rights Watch said today. The agreement, which is scheduled for a vote on April 28, 2017, lacks human rights protections and would be with a security agency whose officers have committed torture, enforced disappearances, and most likely extrajudicial killings. As a result, it could make German officials complicit in serious human rights violations.

Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and German Chancellor Angela Merkel shake hands following a news conference at the El-Thadiya presidential palace in Cairo, Egypt on March 2, 2017. 

© 2017 Reuters

The agreement would establish cooperation in a number of fields, most importantly in combating terrorism. It obliges the authorities of both countries to cooperate in investigations, share information about suspects, and carry out joint operations. It includes only the vaguest reference to “upholding human rights” and lacks any effective guarantee that the major human rights abuses by Egyptian security agencies will end.

“If the German government wants to help protect German and Egyptian citizens from terrorism while respecting human rights, this is a terrible way of going about it,” said Wenzel Michalski, Germany director at Human Rights Watch. “The German government should be getting cast-iron guarantees that Egypt is calling a halt to its abuses, not rushing to put its agents next to Egyptian forces on the front line of repression.”

Egyptian Interior Minister Magdy Abd al-Ghaffar signed the agreement with his German counterpart, Thomas de Maizière, in July 2016, but it remains subject to approval by the German Bundestag.

The agreement says it is aimed at combating terrorism and organized crime. It lays out 22 fields in which various German authorities, including the Interior Ministry and federal police, would cooperate with the Egyptian Interior Ministry. They include preventing and combating corruption, human trafficking, drug and weapons smuggling, and money laundering.

Under the agreement, Germany and Egypt would exchange experts on crime prevention, share information on suspects and the structure of criminal groups, carry out “operational measures” in the presence of the partner government’s agents, and share staff and material to assist “operational investigations.”

Egypt’s Interior Ministry has a decades-long history of arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, and torture, in violation of both international and Egyptian law and with little or no accountability. Officers of the ministry’s National Security Agency, which has primary responsibility for countering terrorism, have committed most of these abuses, especially in cases in which detainees have been accused of terrorism, which Egyptian law defines broadly. The authorities regularly use allegations of terrorism to criminalize peaceful dissent.

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s decision to impose a nationwide state of emergency in response to two Islamic State church bombings on April 9 expanded the National Security Agency’s already wide powers.

It allows the authorities to arrest and search suspects without warrants, conduct limitless surveillance, censor any publication, seize property, restrict public meetings, and set opening and closing times for businesses. Perhaps most worrying, prosecutors can send cases to Emergency State Security Courts, whose trials do not meet international fair trial standards and whose rulings are not subject to appeal.

Egypt’s counterterrorism laws are drawn very broadly and used against peaceful protesters and other political opponents who have faced trial based on nothing more than the unsubstantiated testimony of National Security agents. Most recently, prosecutors used them against a human rights lawyer who represented clients of police abuse. He was sentenced in absentia to 10 years in prison for allegedly making threatening posts on his Facebook page.

Egypt’s penal code defines terrorism broadly as “any use of force or violence or any threat or intimidation to disturb public order or jeopardize the safety and security of society, if it would harm or spread terror among individuals or expose their lives, freedoms or security to danger.” Terrorism can also include threats to “disrupt the implementation of the constitution or laws.”

The requirements of the proposed agreement aimed at guaranteeing cooperation in combating terrorism would almost certainly lead to German security agents assisting the Egyptian National Security Agency, Human Rights Watch said.

Since 1992, Human Rights Watch has extensively documented the systematic use of torture by police and National Security agents to elicit confessions and punish detainees. In 2011, Human Rights Watch determined that “the government is failing miserably to provide victims of torture and ill-treatment effective remedy, or to deter such abuses from occurring in the future.” Egypt’s inadequate legal framework for punishing torture, the lack of an independent body to investigate the police, and prosecutors’ near-total deference to National Security agents have all contributed to this impunity.

The number of enforced disappearances and likely extrajudicial killings by National Security agents has risen sharply since al-Sisi appointed Magdy Abd al-Ghaffar as interior minister in March 2015. Most recently, Human Rights Watch documented that National Security agents probably killed at least four and possibly as many as 10 men in North Sinai whom they had forcibly disappeared. The authorities then appeared to stage a fake counterterrorism raid to cover up the killings.

The proposed agreement also runs counter to the European Union Foreign Affairs Council’s conclusions about Egypt in 2013, in the wake of the mass killings of at least 1,185 protesters by Egyptian security forces. The council suspended export licenses to Egypt for any equipment that might be used for internal repression and decided to review all security assistance to Egypt.

In August 2014, Human Rights Watch concluded that the mass killings of 2013, overseen by then-Defense Minister al-Sisi and primarily carried out by Interior Ministry forces, probably amounted to crimes against humanity. Human Rights Watch said that United Nations member countries should suspend all security assistance to Egypt until the government adopted measures to end serious human rights violations and hold violators accountable, and should avoid complicity in abuses committed by Egyptian authorities.

No government official or member of the security forces has been held accountable for the killings, and prosecutors have opened no investigation. An executive summary of a government fact-finding report released in November 2014 did not recommend charges. Hundreds of people arrested during the fatal protest dispersals in 2013 remain on trial on charges that include joining an armed group, killing security forces, and blocking roads.

The proposed agreement also contains troubling provisions on information sharing. It does set rules for protecting personal data and states that the agreement is not meant to provide information “to be used as evidence in criminal proceedings.” But the agreement would require the partner agencies to inform each other – verbally in urgent cases – when one agency requests information “about the particulars of those involved in criminal offenses, structures of offender groups and criminal organizations and the links between them” and to help “track down the offenders.” This provision raises the possibility that the Egyptian Interior Ministry will use its German partners to obtain information about political opponents who have not committed a crime.

The agreement also appears to encourage voluntary sharing of information “which may be of importance to track down” terrorism suspects in the absence of a request.

Despite the reference to “upholding human rights,” the agreement states clearly that cooperation will be governed by each country’s respective national law and makes no reference to international law regarding arbitrary arrests, torture, enforced disappearances, or extrajudicial killings. The fact that no National Security officer has ever received a final conviction for torture or ill-treatment shows that Egyptian national law has proven inadequate for preventing these abuses.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am