Building owned by the Marseille Church, now called Saint-Just squat, where as of March 2020 about 200 migrants lived, including families and about 100 unaccompanied migrant children, Marseille, France, October 2019. 

© 2019 Collectif 59 Saint-Just
(Paris) – Migrant children are being left at risk to the coronavirus because of failures by child protection authorities in Marseille and Gap, France, Human Rights Watch said today. Unaccompanied migrant children are not being given shelter and other essential services by the Bouches-du-Rhône and Hautes-Alpes departments, which are responsible for their care, putting them at risk and weakening the authorities’ response to the pandemic.

Despite lockdown and prevention measures decided by the French government, unaccompanied migrant children in Marseille and Gap continue to live in precarious and overcrowded conditions, without the child protection services they need and should receive.

“The treatment of these children by the authorities was already unacceptable before the epidemic, and today it is not only intolerable but also dangerous,” said Bénédicte Jeannerod, France director at Human Rights Watch. “The authorities should urgently address this and provide these children with shelter and access to essential services to stop the spread of coronavirus in this already vulnerable group.”

In a tweet on March 22, Adrien Taquet, Secretary of State for Child Protection, said “[...] Whether deemed a minor or an adult, every youth who requests it will be provided with shelter. State and departmental services are mobilized to ensure this.”

Despite this important and welcome announcement, around 100 unaccompanied migrant children in Marseille must stay in a dangerously overcrowded squat while an unknown number of others fend for themselves on the streets because authorities have not provided the children protection services they are entitled to by law. In Gap, the capital of the Hautes-Alpes department, where Human Rights Watch recently investigated the poor treatment of unaccompanied migrant children by the departmental authorities, 23 unaccompanied children who are appealing adverse age assessments live in precarious conditions in an occupied building in the city center.

COVID-19 containment measures currently underway in France mean that ADDAP 13, the agency carrying out age assessments of youths in Marseille to determine if they are children or adults, has halted its work, several sources told Human Rights Watch. If nothing is done, migrant children will have to wait for weeks or even months without accommodation or access to basic services while they wait for their age assessment.

While they are waiting, or after they are determined to be “adults” for often arbitrary reasons, children live on the streets, at the railway station, or find shelter in the Collectif 59 Saint-Just squat, an overcrowded building owned by the Catholic Church, which has threatened the occupants with eviction. Médecins Sans Frontières opened three emergency accommodation centers at the beginning of January 2020 to prevent children from ending up on the streets.

Volunteers from Collectif 59 Saint-Just told Human Rights Watch that without the squat, unaccompanied migrant children, as well as other migrants, would be living on the streets but that they were at capacity and could not accept new people.

These precarious living conditions do not allow migrant children to follow the prevention and containment measures imposed by the government in response to coronavirus. People living in the squat are sharing rooms with many other people, making it impossible to practice social distancing or self-isolation.

Unaccompanied migrant children in this situation include children waiting to have their age assessed. For some, a juvenile judge has issued decisions ordering the departmental authorities to provide them with housing while waiting to go through the age assessment process. Lawyers representing unaccompanied migrant children and members of the Unaccompanied Children Commission of the Marseille Bar have called on the department to provide accommodation for all unaccompanied migrant children regardless of their status. The department often does not comply with the judge’s order, saying it does not have enough places.

Saint-Just squat volunteers have managed to get many children enrolled in schools, but it is impossible for them to take part in distance learning because the squat has no internet connection.

Hearings to challenge negative age assessments are also indefinitely postponed. In the meantime, the department should ensure that all those who say they are unaccompanied children are provided with adequate, safe housing regardless of where they are in the process.

“Local and national authorities must put the protection of those most excluded and at risk of contracting the disease at the heart of their response to Covid-19. Unaccompanied migrant children in very precarious situations in Marseille and elsewhere in France are clearly among them,” Jeannerod said.

For additional details about the situation, please see below.

Human Rights Watch interviewed 16 unaccompanied migrant children in Marseille in March 2020, along with volunteers from several groups that help migrant children and three lawyers who represent unaccompanied migrant children. After the French government announced travel restrictions and other containment measures to address the COVID-19 epidemic, Human Rights Watch undertook additional interviews with volunteers, aid workers, and lawyers by telephone.

Abandoned by Authorities

When youths who say they are children arrive in Marseille, they must register with ADDAP 13, a nonprofit agency mandated by the Bouches-du-Rhône department to assess their age. When children register, ADDAP 13 tells them they will be told when there is a place to stay to carry out their age assessment. The agency only carries out the age assessment after it finds available accommodation, a process that can take four to five months.

While they wait, children are on their own, without the emergency shelter and access to child protection services to which they are entitled by law. To keep them from sleeping on the street, since December 2018 the Collectif 59 Saint Just has occupied a building owned by the Catholic Church, where about 200 migrants, mainly unaccompanied children and families, stay.

Nearly 500 unaccompanied children have passed through the squat since it opened. “Before Saint-Just, the youths slept at the train station … The squat is a remedy for the dysfunction of the authorities,” a volunteer told Human Rights Watch during a visit on March 2. In January 2020, because the squat was full, Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) decided to open three emergency shelters for what was intended to be a limited period of 3 months, which was then renewed for an additional 2 months, until the end of May. The MSF shelters now house 60 unaccompanied children.

“Today, 200 people [women with children, a few couples, and about a hundred children] live in overcrowded conditions that do not allow for the necessary distancing. Neither the solidarity workers nor the residents have protective masks and hydro-alcoholic gel. There are not enough water points and do not allow people to wash their hands often,” a volunteer from Collectif 59 Saint Just in Marseille told Human Rights Watch.

Unaccompanied migrant children awaiting age assessment or appeal before the juvenile judge are forced to live in extremely precarious and overcrowded conditions that do not let them follow prevention and containment measures imposed by the government in response to coronavirus.

Bouches-du-Rhône Authorities Defy Court Directives

Juvenile judges have issued some temporary placement orders directing local authorities to take unaccompanied migrant children into care pending age assessments. Local authorities usually do not comply with these orders, Human Rights Watch found.

Faced with local authorities’ refusal to comply with judicial orders, lawyers regularly file urgent proceedings before the Marseille Administrative Court, which has repeatedly ordered the Departmental Council to provide accommodation and care for migrant children, with a fine in the event of delay.

One lawyer filed a new urgent proceeding on March 18, two days after the French government announced containment measures to deal with COVID-19. In a court filing seen by Human Rights Watch, the Bouches-du-Rhône department asked the court to reject the request, arguing it does not have sufficient accommodation: “In the context of the current pandemic, some hotels that were housing children have decided to close, forcing the department to urgently seek new places and thus considerably increasing the difficulties.” The department also called on the state “to intervene to help the Department deal with this situation and thus enable it to fulfil its legal obligations” and “requests that it participate in the accommodation and care of the youth.” The Administrative Court once again ordered the department to take the youth into care, but with no penalty for noncompliance.

On March 16, the lawyers of the Unaccompanied Minors Commission of the Marseille Bar wrote to the department’s Deputy Directorate General of Solidarity (DGAS) to request that all unaccompanied migrant children with unfulfilled temporary placement orders or awaiting assessment be provided with emergency housing without delay, noting that in the meantime, these children are “forced to live in conditions that expose them heavily to the epidemic.” The department had not responded to this request at time of writing.

Inadequate Protection in the Hautes-Alpes

Human Rights Watch also spoke by telephone with volunteers from Réseau Hospitalité and a member of the Médecins du Monde team working in Gap. They all reported an alarming situation for 23 unaccompanied migrant children living at the Césaï squat in downtown Gap, while awaiting an appeal before the juvenile judge. The Césaï squat hosts 70 residents in total.

“The migrant children are living there because of the authorities’ failure to provide them with accommodation. They are mostly living in unventilated spaces, infested with bedbugs, all over each other and the building only has one water point. In the current epidemic situation, the situation is explosive,” Françoise Martin-Cola, a volunteer doctor from Réseau Hospitalité, told Human Rights Watch in a telephone interview on 24 March.

“The overcrowded conditions in which these children live exposes them and jeopardizes the preventive actions put in place. It is imperative that they are urgently provided with accommodation in conditions that meet the measures required to deal with the Covid-19 epidemic,” Carla Melki, a representative from Médecins du Monde said.

The Regional Health Agency (ARS) and Médecins du Monde have set up mobile medical teams that are going to the Césaï squat among other places.

Local aid groups called the Hautes-Alpes authorities to provide these children with emergency housing and care. In a letter that Human Rights Watch was able to view, the Prefect informed the groups that those children awaiting appeal will not be given shelter and care: “As for the other youths whose names you have sent me, some were not recognized as children after assessment by the departmental council, while others are not known by these services or mine and cannot therefore be taken into care.”

Meeting Obligations

Each department in France is responsible for ensuring that unaccompanied migrant children are provided with emergency shelter and care.

On March 21, 2020, Adrien Taquet, Secretary of State for Child Protection, sent a letter to the Presidents of the Departmental Councils, in which he said: “Priority must be given to [the] accommodation [of unaccompanied children] even if the conditions for assessing the minority are disrupted.”

“The protection of minors, particularly those presenting themselves as unaccompanied minors, must be guaranteed through systematic accommodation,” the letter said.

This recommendation was reiterated in a tweet on March 22: “[...] Whether he is deemed a minor or an adult, every youth who requests it will be provided with shelter. State and departmental services are mobilized to ensure this.”

It is understandable that the age assessment interviews are suspended due to the current health situation, but the Bouches-du-Rhône department should place children awaiting assessment in adequate emergency accommodation where they can be protected, have access to basic hygiene, and have an Internet connection that allows them to continue their education online as offered by the Ministry of Education to all pupils in France, Human Rights Watch said.

For children in Marseille and Gap waiting for a hearing to appeal the rejection of their juvenile status, and deprived of accommodation, the wait will be even longer, as judges are no longer hearing appeals. These children should also be given accommodation to protect them from the coronavirus.

Departmental councils elsewhere in France should also ensure unaccompanied children’s right to adequate housing and provide them with the care and protection they need, including during any period of age assessment or judicial review of adverse age assessments.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Two Syrians walk along a fence near the Turkish-Syrian border in Gaziantep province, Turkey, November 30, 2016. Syrians who arrived in Turkey since late 2017 have been unable to register for temporary protection and receive basic services.

© 2016 Umit Bektas/Reuters
(Istanbul) – Turkish authorities in Istanbul and nine provinces on or near the Syrian border have stopped registering all but a handful of recently arrived Syrian asylum seekers. The suspension is leading to unlawful deportations, coerced returns to Syria, and the denial of health care and education.

The European Commission has recently praised Turkey’s asylum system and plans to release the second batch of €3 billion under its March 2016 migration deal which includes support for refugees in Turkey. European Union institutions and governments have stayed publicly silent on the suspension and other refugee abuses committed by Turkey, suggesting their primary concern is to halt the movement of asylum seekers and migrants from Turkey to the EU.

“While the EU supports Turkey to deter asylum seekers from reaching Europe, it’s turning a blind eye to Turkey’s latest steps to block and discourage people fleeing Syria,” said Gerry Simpson, associate refugee program director at Human Rights Watch. “But forcing Syrians who manage to get past Turkey’s border guards to live in legal limbo only risks driving them underground and onward to the EU.”

Syrian refugees queue for food aid in Gaziantep, Turkey on May 20, 2016. Turkey’s suspension of Syrian refugee registration blocks them from receiving such aid.

© 2016 Kyodo/ AP Images
The suspension of registration is Turkey’s latest effort to deny new asylum seekers protection. Over the past three years, Turkey has sealed off its border with Syria, while Turkish border guards continue to carry out mass summary pushbacks and to kill and injure Syrians as they try to cross.

Between early 2011 and the end of May 2018, Turkey had registered almost 3.6 million Syrians, making it the world’s largest refugee hosting country. That generosity does not absolve it, or its international partners, of the duty to help newly arrived asylum seekers, Human Rights Watch said.

In mid-May 2018, Human Rights Watch interviewed 32 Syrians in Turkey’s Hatay province about their attempts to register for a temporary protection permit in Hatay, Gaziantep, and Istanbul provinces. A permit protects Syrians from arrest and the risk of deportation. It also entitles them to get health care and education, to work, and to seek social assistance, including the EU-funded Emergency Social Safety Net for the most vulnerable Syrians.

Syrians said Turkish police deported them in groups of up to 20 people for not having a permit and that hospitals and schools refused to take them in without permits. Some said they returned to Syria so they, or their relatives, could get urgent medical care. Others said they decided to return to Syria because only some family members had been able to register. All said, they lived in constant fear of arrest and deportation and severely restricted their movement to avoid the police.

Turkey is bound by the international customary law rule of nonrefoulement, which prohibits the return of anyone in any manner whatsoever to a place where they would face a real risk of persecution, torture or other ill-treatment, or a threat to life. This includes asylum seekers, who are entitled to have their claims fairly adjudicated and not be summarily returned to places where they fear harm. Turkey may not coerce people into returning to places where they face harm by denying them legal status or access to essential services.

On October 30, 2017, the Hatay governor’s office said that to discourage smugglers from helping Syrians enter Turkey through Hatay, the province would no longer register newly arriving Syrians for temporary protection permits. In early February 2018, Turkey’s Interior Ministry said Istanbul province would also no longer register Syrians.

Eight other provinces on or near the Syrian border have also suspended registration for newly arriving Syrians since late 2017 or early 2018, according to three agencies working closely with Syrian refugees, as well as a European Commission official and a Turkish public official who previously worked on migration issues. The provinces are Adana, Gaziantep, Kahramanmaraş, Kilis, Mardin, Mersin, Osmaniye, and Şanlıurfa.

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© 2018 DigitalGlobe and © 2018 Human Rights Watch

Since late August 2015, only registered Syrians who obtain a special travel permit have been allowed to travel within Turkey. In practice, the vast majority of Syrian asylum seekers enter Turkey irregularly through the few remaining gaps in Turkey’s border wall in Hatay province. Blocked from registering there, they are unable to lawfully leave Hatay province and travel to other provinces where registration has not been closed. This forces them to live illegally in Hatay province, or to use smugglers to reach other parts of Turkey, risking arrest and deportation.

According to three confidential sources, Turkey has rejected proposals for a new system that would allow Syrians arriving in Hatay, and to a far lesser extent in other border provinces, to register in other parts of Turkey where fewer refugees live.

Refugee agencies told Human Rights Watch that Turkey’s strict controls on international and local refugee agencies prevent them from finding and helping unregistered Syrians. This lack of aid agency monitoring means that there are no statistics or estimates on the numbers of Syrians denied registration, deported, or refused urgently needed services.

In response to a June 13 letter presenting the Human Rights Watch findings, the migration authorities in Ankara denied that any of the country’s 81 provinces, including Hatay and Istanbul, had suspended registration of Syrians. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) told Human Rights Watch that as of mid-May, the authorities had reassured them that registration of Syrians was ongoing, including in Hatay and Istanbul. Other aid agencies that support refugees say that the authorities in the 10 provinces have only continued to process Syrians pre-registered at the time of the suspension, and to register urgent medical cases referred from Syria and babies born to registered Syrians in Turkey. Two refugee aid agencies also said that in some cases they have managed to convince the authorities in Hatay and Osmaniye provinces to register particularly vulnerable unregistered Syrians.

In early 2018, the authorities in Hatay opened a new registration center in Antakya. Representatives of three aid agencies and two Turkish security personnel working in Antakya said the center is exclusively for unregistered Syrians to request help to return to Syria, while registered Syrians can request help to return at other migration authority-run centers.

Turkey does not allow any independent monitoring of whether unregistered Syrians signing up for return are in fact returning voluntarily or whether they are effectively being coerced. In contrast, Turkey does allow independent monitoring of some registered Syrians’ decision to return to Syria.

Turkey should protect the basic rights of all newly arriving Syrians, regardless of registration status, and register those denied registration since late 2017. The European Commission and EU member states with embassies in Turkey should support Turkey to register and protect Syrians and press Turkey to allow all agencies working for refugees to freely assist and help protect all Syrians, including all unregistered Syrians.

“Unregistered Syrians in Turkey may be conveniently out of sight, but they shouldn’t be out of mind,” Simpson said. “EU states and the commission should speak up and support all Syrians in Turkey, not just those who got in before Turkey started driving them underground.”

Asylum Seeker Registration

The first Syrian refugees fled to Turkey in early 2011 and in the subsequent three-and-a-half years, Turkey adopted an ad hoc approach to their registration, without conferring a clear legal status with related rights. Although Turkey ratified the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, the country maintains a geographical limitation that excludes anyone not originally from a European country from full refugee recognition. That means it does not fully grant asylum to people fleeing violence or persecution in Syria and any other non-European country.

In 2013, Turkey adopted its own legal framework on the protection of asylum seekers and refugees. In October 2014, Turkey also adopted a regulation under which it grants Syrians temporary protection. As of June 28, 2018, Turkey said it had registered 3,562,523 people under the regulation. Registered Syrians are entitled to assistance. Even though the regulation says Syrians who fail to register will not be deported to Syria and will only face an “administrative fine,” Human Rights Watch found that unregistered Syrians have been deported for not having temporary protection permits.

The Hatay governor’s office and the interior minister said registration has been suspended for newly arriving Syrians in Hatay and Istanbul. Refugee aid agencies and Syrians in Hatay’s main city, Antakya, told Human Rights Watch that police carried out mass arrests of Syrians in November and early December, just after registration was suspended.

Five sources told Human Rights Watch that since late 2017 and early 2018, migration authorities in eight other border provinces followed suit and turned away all newly arriving Syrians seeking registration.

As of June 28, seven of the provinces that suspended registration were in the top 10 provinces hosting Syrians: Adana, Gaziantep, Hatay, Istanbul, Kilis, Mersin, and Şanlıurfa. Together they were sheltering 2,422,804 registered Syrians, or 68 percent of the total in Turkey. The other three – Kahramanmaraş, Mardin, and Osmaniye – were sheltering 235,549, or just under seven percent.

Aid agencies say that, in practice, the authorities in affected provinces continued to process Syrians pre-registered at the time of the suspension and to register people with urgent medical needs referred from Syria. They also continued to register babies born to registered Syrians in Turkey, an estimated 306 each day. Agencies with first-hand knowledge of the suspension of registration in the 10 provinces say the registration of these Syrians may explain the claim authorities made to Human Rights Watch that eight of the provinces on or near the border registered a total of 116,059 Syrians between November 1 and June 20.

One refugee aid agency with close knowledge of registration procedures in all of Turkey’s provinces told Human Rights Watch that in a few exceptional cases, authorities in Hatay and Osmaniye province have registered children in urgent need of medical care, together with one caregiver. Another refugee assistance agency that sometimes deals with unregistered Syrians said that between late 2017 and late April 2018, it had convinced the Hatay authorities to register a few dozen newly arrived Syrians on an exceptional basis because they had specific needs, but that even then it was a “headache” to get them through police checkpoints to registration offices. Agencies estimate that as of mid-May, the total number of such vulnerable cases of unregistered Syrians whom the authorities have registered on an exceptional basis was in the low hundreds.

Turkey’s travel permit system for registered Syrians prohibits unregistered Syrians from traveling from border provinces to register elsewhere. Seven Syrians told Human Rights Watch they paid smugglers to drive them from Antakya, in Hatay province, to Istanbul to register. But security officials at migration authority offices in Istanbul told them registration had been suspended for newly arriving Syrians.

UNHCR and some diplomats in Turkey told Human Rights Watch they have been encouraging Turkey’s Directorate General for Migration Management to adopt a referral system under which authorities in Hatay, or other border provinces where Syrians first arrive, would pre-register Syrians and then refer them to other provinces where fewer Syrians live to register. Some EU member states have proposed that if such a system were to be adopted, the EU should help support job-creation for Syrians and Turkish citizens in the provinces to which Syrians are referred. But all attempts to convince Turkey to set up a referral system have failed.

Consequences of Suspended Registration

In mid-May 2018, Human Rights Watch interviewed 32 Syrian asylum seekers in Antakya, the capital of Hatay Province, and the first city most Syrians reach after being smuggled across the closed Turkish border. They said the authorities in Antakya, the nearby town of Reyhanli, and in Gaziantep province had refused to register them during the first few months of 2018. They also described how not having a temporary protection permit – or “kimlik,” as it is popularly called (a Turkish shorthand for identification card) – had affected them. Human Rights Watch explained the purpose of the interviews, gave assurances of anonymity, and obtained interviewees’ consent to describe their experiences.

All said they were turned away from registration offices at least twice. Only three said they managed to register after brokers bribed registration officials between US$300 and $500.

Most said officials simply said “no more kimliks here” or “no one gets a kimlik” and told them to leave. Two said they also tried to register in Gaziantep in April, but that saw a sign on the office that said “no kimliks.”

Four said that only some members of their family had been registered, leaving the rest in legal limbo and that as a result, the entire family was contemplating returning to Syria. One man said his sick wife was given permission to enter Turkey for emergency medical treatment in Antakya, and was allowed to register there, together with their newborn baby. When he and their five other children, aged 6 to 14, managed to enter Turkey and tried to register in Antakya, they were turned away.

Three Syrians said that Turkish police had previously summarily deported them to Syria for not having a temporary protection permit. One, a 22-year-old man from Aleppo governorate, said he entered Turkey in early April and was refused registration in Antakya. In early May, he said, police stopped him at about 8 a.m. near the Antakya bus station and asked for his permit. When he said he tried to register, but had been turned away, the police drove him to a local police station, recorded his personal details, and then drove him and about 20 other unregistered Syrians to the Bab al-Hawa border crossing and deported them. He said 15 of the 20 told him they had been caught without temporary protection permits in Istanbul and the other five said they had just entered Turkey a few days earlier and were arrested after arriving at a smuggler’s house in Antakya. A few days later, he managed to return to Turkey with smugglers.

Another former deportee, a 28-year-old man from Idlib, said he and his brother entered Turkey together in January and were denied registration in Antakya. He said his brother traveled with a smuggler to Istanbul to find work there, but Turkish police arrested him on May 17 and the next day, took him to the Bab al-Hawa border crossing and deported him.

On May 22, Human Rights Watch spoke to a 31-year-old man from Hama who said the authorities in Antakya had arrested his brother a few hours earlier, were holding him in the new center for unregistered Syrians to sign up to return to Syria, and said they were about to deport him. Human Rights Watch alerted UNHCR, which intervened and prevented the deportation.

Human Rights Watch interviewed four Syrians at the newly established center for unregistered Syrians who wish to sign up for return to Syria. They decided to go back because their relatives had been denied urgent medical care, or because some family members who arrived after registration was suspended could not register.

Two Syrians said they heard from other Syrians in Antakya about many cases in which the wives of men who had been deported told Turkish authorities they planned to go back to Syria because they and their children could not survive alone in Turkey.

All of the 29 other unregistered Syrians interviewed said they lived in constant fear of arrest and deportation and said they heard of many cases involving the deportation of unregistered Syrians. Eight said they reduced their movements to a minimum, often staying at home for days at a time. A 17-year-old boy who said he never left his uncle’s house in Antakya out of fear of arrest said “this feels like prison.”

Three unregistered Syrians said they regularly use Syrian-owned driving services which use back roads to avoid police checkpoints or informal police stop-and-search patrols in Antakya.

Nine said they attempted to get medical treatment in clinics and hospitals in Antakya, but had been refused treatment because they were not registered. Four others said they did not even try to access medical care, because they heard others were turned away, and because they were afraid local hospitals would call the police to arrest them for not having a permit.

A 27-year-old woman from Idlib province seeking cancer treatment said two hospitals in Antakya refused to treat her because she did not have a permit.

A 34-year-old, eight months’ pregnant woman from Aleppo, with four children all born by caesarean section, said she was too afraid to go to the local hospital to ask for a checkup and prepare for her delivery, because she had been told hospitals turn away unregistered Syrians and was afraid of being arrested and returned to Syria.

Similarly, a 31-year-old woman whose entire family was refused registration in March said her husband was extremely sick with a serious lung condition, but he would not go to a hospital out of fear of being arrested and deported. She said he never left the house and lived in constant fear of being discovered.

A nongovernmental organization working with Syrians in Hatay province said that during the first few months of 2018, they heard of dozens of cases of Syrians in Antakya seeking emergency medical care, many of them pregnant women, who were turned away by hospitals because they had been denied registration.

Six Syrians interviewed by Human Rights Watch said their children were unable to go to school, because schools would only take registered Syrians.

Nowhere to Turn for Help

The Turkish authorities consider Syrians denied registration to be in the country unlawfully. Nongovernmental groups working with refugees said the government only allows them to work with lawfully present asylum seekers and refugees.

Six organizations working with refugees in Turkey’s provinces on the Syrian border – which asked to remain anonymous for the staff’s security – said Turkey strictly controls and monitors their work in various ways.

Some said they must get special permission to assess registered Syrians’ assistance needs or to visit registered Syrians’ homes, in some cases in the presence of staff from the Ministry of Family and Social Policies. The agencies said the rules are applied in an ad hoc and unpredictable way, depending on the local authorities, and they are never certain of what refugee outreach activities are allowed.

As a result, they said, they found it difficult to identify Syrians blocked from registration procedures, including the most vulnerable, for example those in urgent need of medical or other care. They also said the situation in Hatay province – through which almost all newly arriving Syrians using smugglers enter the country due to continued gaps in the border wall – is particularly sensitive.

Because of the restrictions imposed by the Turkish authorities, aid agencies said they cannot proactively identify unregistered Syrian refugees. At best, they can only react if they are made aware of unregistered Syrians who are seeking help, or if they come across them by chance. They said they sometimes raise the most vulnerable of such cases with the authorities in the hope that they will allow those in urgent need to register.

One agency working in the border areas said: “It’s very simple, we can’t just reach out to registered or unregistered Syrians. We need approval for everything and we’d never get approval to help unregistered Syrians.” Another agency worker said: “We have repeatedly asked the authorities for permission to do protection outreach work, but we’ve been refused every time.”

Agencies said their extremely limited contact with unregistered Syrians means they can neither estimate how many unregistered Syrians now live in Hatay and other provinces, nor the extent to which the registration suspension has led to deportation and denial of service access. EU member states and other donors funding Syrian refugee assistance and protection projects in Turkey therefore don’t know the extent to which Turkey’s registration suspension is excluding Syrians from receiving help.

European Union Remains Silent

EU member states and the European Commission have remained publicly silent on Turkey’s registration suspension, as they have on Turkey’s long-standing abuses against Syrian asylum seekers at the border.

Turkey’s suspension of registration could drive many Syrians underground and onward to the EU, or coerce them into going back to Syria. The suspension, Turkey’s ongoing border abuses, and its recent abuses against Afghan asylum seekers means that any attempts to return Syrians from Greece to Turkey is also likely to be met with significant resistance by lawyers challenging return attempts on the grounds that Turkey is not a safe third country to which to return asylum seekers.

On April 17, the European Commission released its latest update on whether Turkey is meeting the EU’s criteria for becoming an EU member state. As part of its assessment of Turkey’s asylum system, the commission said: “There have been reports of alleged expulsions, returns and deportations of Syrian nationals, in contradiction of the non-refoulement principle,” without going into any further details or citing the sources.

In March, the European Commission promised to release the second batch of €3 billion under its March 2016 deal with Turkey. Under the deal, the EU maintains that Turkey is a safe country to which to return Syrian asylum seekers. In fact, Turkey does not meet the EU safe third country criteria.

Recommendations

Turkey should resume temporary protection registration for all newly arriving Syrians and register those denied access to registration since late 2017. If necessary, Turkey should pre-register Syrians in its provinces on the Syrian border and require Syrians to move to, and live in, other provinces with fewer Syrians. In the meantime, Turkey should instruct all medical facilities to provide emergency medical treatment to any Syrian in need, regardless of registration status. Schools should also take in Syrian children pending their registration. All Turkish public officials should refer unregistered Syrians to the nearest registration center.

Turkey should also allow all refugee agencies working with Syrians to actively work to identify unregistered Syrians, help them access registration procedures, and raise with the authorities all cases of unregistered Syrians deported to Syria or denied access to health care and education.

To help ensure protection for Syrians in Turkey, the European Commission and EU member states with embassies in Turkey should press Turkey to resume registration of all newly arriving Syrians and guarantee their access to health care and education in line with existing policies. If Turkey requires help to resume registration, they should respond generously. They should also press Turkey to allow all agencies working with refugees to freely carry out protection monitoring work throughout Turkey to identify and assist unregistered Syrians and to publicly report on any abuses, including forced return to Syria, and denial of assistance.

Finally, the European Commission should proactively seek information and publicly report on credible accounts of killings, injuries, and mass deportations by Turkish security forces at the Syrian border, including in its regular reports on Turkey’s accession process and the European Agenda on Migration.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am
 
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France: Migrant Kids Left to Sleep in the Street

Child protection authorities in Paris are using flawed age assessment procedures for unaccompanied migrant youths, excluding many from care they need and are entitled to. Hundreds of unaccompanied children sleep on the streets of Paris each night, according to estimates from lawyers and nongovernmental organizations.

(Paris) – Child protection authorities in Paris are using flawed age assessment procedures for unaccompanied migrant children, excluding many from care they need and are entitled to, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Hundreds of these young migrants find themselves homeless, often condemned to sleep on the streets of Paris.

The 57-page report, “‘Like a Lottery’: Arbitrary Treatment of Unaccompanied Migrant Children in Paris”, found that arbitrary practices can lead to unaccompanied children being erroneously considered adults, leaving then ineligible for emergency shelter and other protection given to children. Many youths who request protection from the child welfare system are turned away summarily and inaccurately, based on appearance alone. Others are rejected without written decisions after interviews lasting as little as five minutes, contrary to French regulations.
 

“These children have suffered through incredibly difficult and dangerous journeys, only to be deprived of the protection and care they need,” said Bénédicte Jeannerod, France director at Human Rights Watch. “Deeply flawed procedures mean that children may be arbitrarily turned away at the door of the evaluation office, denied protection after a short interview, or tied up in arduous court procedures and left in limbo for months.”

Human Rights Watch interviewed 49 unaccompanied children and reviewed age assessments in an additional 35 cases. Human Rights Watch also spoke with lawyers, health care providers, staff and volunteers of humanitarian agencies and informal associations, and government officials.

Youths who receive full interviews are often denied recognition as children if they lack identity documents, Human Rights Watch found. But international standards and French regulations establish that the primary method of establishing approximate age should be through interviews, recognizing that documents may be lost during arduous journeys.

Even those who have documents are frequently rejected. Child welfare authorities and judges question birth certificates, passports, and other identity documents despite the rule in French law that such documents are presumptively valid unless there are substantiated reasons to believe otherwise.

The review of case files found other invalid grounds for concluding that a person was an adult. Work in the home country or on the journey to Europe was frequently cited, even though millions of children around the world work, including in hazardous or harmful forms of labor. Child protection authorities also often cited the youth’s decision to travel without parents, though many thousands of children travel on their own to Europe each year.

In other cases, examiners told youths from French-speaking countries that they spoke French too well. Imrane O., from Côte d’Ivoire, who gave his age as 15, told Human Rights Watch that his examiner “said that I was answering her questions too well. Because I could answer her questions, I couldn’t be a minor. How is that? I did eight years of schooling, in French. Of course I could answer her questions.”

In the cases studied, child protection authorities also frequently relied on subjective factors such as “bearing” or comportment. Some youths received adverse age assessments based in part on expressing irritation with repeated questioning or presenting their case forcefully, behaviors that can be exhibited at any age. Many more were simply told they had the bearing of an adult, without further explanation.

When children seek review of adverse decisions, some judges regularly order bone tests to determine their age. Medical bodies in France and elsewhere have repeatedly found that bone and other medical examinations are not a reliable means of determining age, particularly for older adolescents, and have called for ending their use.

The cumulative effect of arbitrary decision-making is that age assessments in Paris are “like a lottery: sometimes you win, but most of the time you lose, even if you’re underage,” an aid worker with the nongovernmental organization Utopia 56 told Human Rights Watch.

The number of unaccompanied migrant children arriving in Paris, as well as in France overall, has increased in recent years. France’s child welfare system took just under 15,000 unaccompanied migrant children into care in 2017. Nearly half of unaccompanied children who seek protection from the child welfare system in France do so in Paris. In February 2018, when Human Rights Watch began this research, an estimated 400 unaccompanied children were “sleeping rough” (outside) in the French capital, according to estimates from lawyers and nongovernmental organizations. Current estimates are lower.

Ordinary citizens, on their own and in groups, have stepped in to address some of these children’s needs, providing food and other services, organizing football clubs, improvisational theatre, and other activities, and in some cases opening their homes to give children a place to stay for a night or two, or even longer.

But these laudable efforts, along with services provided by nongovernmental groups such as Médécins sans Frontières and Utopia 56, depend on volunteers and cannot meet the need. In contrast, France has both the means and the obligation to provide appropriate care and protection to all children within French territory, regardless of migration status.

French national and departmental authorities should ensure that age assessments are used only when authorities have well-founded doubts about an individual’s claim to be under 18, Human Rights Watch said. In such cases, they should take appropriate steps to determine age and establish eligibility for services, bearing in mind that all age assessments will be estimates. These steps should include interviews by professionals with the expertise to work with children, as international standards recommend.

France also should end the use of bone tests and similar discredited medical examinations.

“Instead of giving youths the benefit of the doubt, as they should, child protection services seem to be doing everything they can to exclude youths from the child care system,” Jeannerod said. “The French authorities should immediately put an end to arbitrary age decisions and provide sufficient resources to take care of and protect unaccompanied migrant children.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

(New York) – The Afghan government is failing to protect tens of thousands of children, some as young as 5, from hazardous conditions in the workplace, in violation of Afghanistan’s labor laws.

Helal, 10, works as a brick maker at a brick kiln outside Kabul. He told Human Rights Watch that the brick mold is heavy and his hands hurt working with wet clay. Helal doesn’t go to school because he has to work. 

© 2016 Bethany Matta/Human Rights Watch

The 31-page report, “‘They Bear All the Pain’: Hazardous Child Labor in Afghanistan,” documents how child workers work dangerous jobs in Afghanistan’s carpet industry; as bonded labor in brick kilns; and as metal workers. They perform tasks that could result in illness, injury, or even death due to hazardous working conditions and poor enforcement of safety and health standards. Many children who work under those conditions combine the burdens of a job with school, or forego education altogether. Working compels many children in Afghanistan to leave school prematurely. Only half of children involved in child labor attend school. 

“Thousands of Afghan children risk their health and safety every day to put food on the family table,” said Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The Afghan government needs to do a better job of protecting its children – and the country’s future – by enforcing the law prohibiting dangerous work for children.”

Video

Video: Kids at Work, Out of School in Afghanistan

The Afghan government is failing to protect tens of thousands of children, some as young as 5, from hazardous conditions in the workplace, in violation of Afghanistan’s labor laws. 

The government has failed to enforce prohibitions against child labor in hazardous industries, and has stalled in its effort to overhaul its labor law to bring it into line with international standards, Human Rights Watch said. Government institutions responsible for enforcing the law often lack the capacity to inspect workplaces, with the result that children working in prohibited jobs go unnoticed and unprotected.

In 2014, the Afghan government published a list of 19 hazardous occupations prohibited for children. These jobs include carpet weaving, metal work, and brick making. While a lack of resources is an important factor in the persistence of child labor in hazardous industries, the Afghan government has also failed to enforce its labor laws through penalties for violators and a strategy to end exploitative labor conditions.

A brick kiln manager in Kabul told Human Rights Watch: “There are children here, starting from 10 years or 8 years of age to 15 or 16… They wake up at 3 in the morning and work until about evening… They complain of pain, but what can they do? The kids are here to make a living. They bear all the pain to do all the work.”

Extreme poverty often drives Afghan children into hazardous labor. Afghanistan remains one of the poorest countries in the world. Landlessness, illiteracy, high unemployment, and continuing armed conflict in much of the country are among the most important factors contributing to chronic poverty and, as a result, child labor.

A 13-year-old metal worker in Kabul said, “My fingers have been cut from the sharp edges of the metal and slammed by the hammer. My finger has also been caught in the trimming-beading machine. When your nail gets hit by a hammer or caught in the machine, it becomes black and eventually falls off.”

Thousands of Afghan children risk their health and safety every day to put food on the family table. The Afghan government needs to do a better job of protecting its children – and the country’s future – by enforcing the law prohibiting dangerous work for children.

Phelim Kine

Deputy Director, Asia Division

While work that is appropriate to a child’s age and under healthy and safe conditions can be beneficial to the child’s development and allow them to contribute to their family’s basic needs, work that interferes with a child’s education, or is likely to jeopardize their health or safety, is generally considered “child labor” and is prohibited under international law.

Although pilot projects extending community-based schools to reach vulnerable children have been promising, support for these schools is inadequate to the need. Eradicating child labor in Afghanistan is not feasible so long as extreme poverty continues, but the government and its donors can take steps to protect children from the risks associated with working in particularly dangerous or unhealthy conditions.

Those steps include increasing the number of labor inspectors to adequately cover the entire country; giving priority to monitoring hazardous sectors; and offering the Afghan government targeted technical assistance in devising and implementing policies, standards, and regulations against child labor. Both the government and its foreign donors should devote more resources to expanding educational support to all working children.

The government has a legal obligation under international law to take immediate action to eradicate hazardous child labor. Both Afghanistan and its foreign donors should take urgent steps to protect children from the risks associated with working in particularly dangerous or unhealthy conditions.

“When children are of legal age and work in safe conditions, they can help provide vital livelihood support for many Afghan families,” Kine said. “But the Afghan government has an obligation to enforce the laws that protect children in the workplace, and ensure that they neither have to sacrifice their education or safety as the price for supporting their families.”
 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Zama Neff is the executive director of the children's rights division of Human Rights Watch. She also co-chairs the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA). Neff has conducted fact-finding investigations and is the author of reports and articles on a range of issues affecting children, including access to education, police violence, refugee protection, the worst forms of child labor, and discrimination against women and girls. She has published on op-ed pages in major international and US publications and speaks regularly to the media. During a sabbatical, she ran a protection monitoring team for the Norwegian Refugee Council in Sri Lanka. Before joining Human Rights Watch in 1999, Neff clerked for a US federal judge, advocated on behalf of immigrants and refugees in the US, and worked with community development and women's organizations in Honduras. She is a graduate of Davidson College and New York University School of Law.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

A screenshot of an officer with five youths locked inside a dog cage after breaking curfew in Laguna province, the Philippines on March 20, 2020. 

© 2020 Facebook

Philippine authorities have subjected children to absurdly abusive treatment for violating curfew and quarantines rules imposed to limit exposure to COVID-19.

Police and local officials in several parts of the country have mistreated people detained for violating COVID-19 regulations, including by confining them to dog cages and forcing them to sit for hours in the midday sun.

Reports shared with Human Rights Watch by child rights groups in Manila show that children are among those facing cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment for violating pandemic emergency measures.

In Cavite province, two children were locked in a coffin on March 26 as punishment for violating curfew. On March 20, officials in Santa Cruz town, Laguna province, locked five young people inside a dog cage. In Binondo, Manila, village officials arrested four boys and four girls on March 19 for violating curfew. They forcibly cut the hair of seven of the children while the one who resisted was stripped naked and ordered to walk home.

Even when adults are arrested it can create risks for children. As of March 30, the authorities had arrested more than 17,000 people for violations of COVID-19 emergency measures, according to Rappler. In some cases, children’s caregivers have been arrested for violating COVID-19 regulations. In Tacloban City, a mother was arrested on March 24 for allowing her children to play outdoors.

Things could get worse. On Wednesday, President Rodrigo Duterte, whose murderous “war on drugs” has killed thousands of people since 2016, said that his orders to the police and military during the pandemic were “if there is trouble, … shoot them dead."

The Philippines already has a terrible record of criminalizing children, with members of Congress attempting to lower the age of criminal responsibility from 15 to 12, with some having proposed it to be lowered to 9. If enacted, this could put more and younger children behind bars in dangerous detention facilities.

Human Rights Watch has urged governments to prioritize the right to health and respect everyone’s human rights as they respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. Locking up people for violating emergency measures such as curfews and quarantine rules may actually increase disease transmission if people are placed in close proximity to one another in detention facilities. Children should not face criminal sanction for violating emergency measures.

Philippine authorities should focus on measures that could actually help stop the spread of COVID-19.

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

Bosnia and Herzegovina’s blanket bans on certain age groups from going outdoors during the pandemic are not only harsh, arbitrary, and discriminatory – but also risk worsening public health outcomes.

In response to the spread of COVID-19, both entities in Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Republika Srpska, have imposed strict bans on anyone over 65 from leaving their home for any reason, even for a short walk, to get groceries, or go to the pharmacy.

The Federation has also banned children from going outdoors. Anyone in either age group found violating the orders may be fined. This is not theoretical; 217 people over 65 have already been fined in Republika Srpska.

These orders remain in effect until further notice in the Federation and until April 13 in Republika Srpska. As of March 27, authorities in the Federation had amended the order to allow children with disabilities to go outdoors, within 100 meters of their home, and on March 30 Republika Srpska moved to allow people over 65  to go out on Tuesdays and Fridays between 7am and 10am.

The motive behind the bans is to protect people potentially at high risk if infected and reduce the spread of COVID-19. But the bans are ill suited to achieving those goals and impose overly harsh restrictions on both age groups in a way that is ultimately arbitrary and discriminatory. The authorities in both entities should roll them back, and stop imposing punitive fines on older people and children.

Bosnia and Herzegovina is not alone in using age as a determinant for developing guidance to particular populations, but has taken it to extremes by creating a punishable offence that only certain age groups can be charged with.

The rights group Human Rights Watch has received official data showing that between March 20 and 30, police in Republika Srpska issued 217 fines to older people, and that police in the Sarajevo Canton issued 20 such fines, some to children. 

The spokesperson for the Interior Ministry in the Canton of Sarajevo said that older people who ask for permission to leave their homes in exceptional circumstances, for example, to visit a doctor, will not be fined. The spokesperson also clarified that the average fine was 500 Marks, or about 255 euros, which is higher than the average monthly pension in either the Federation [less than 420 Marks] or Republika Srpska [less than 380 Marks].

International law permits restrictions on certain rights, and at times, such as during the COVID-19 pandemic, more extensive restrictions may be justified. But they still have to be evidence-based and neither arbitrary nor discriminatory. And they also need to be limited in duration, subject to review, and necessary and proportionate to achieve the objective.

The orders in Bosnia and Herzegovina do not meet these criteria. First, singling out age as the sole determinant is problematic. While older people are among those at high risk of death from COVID-19, there are also increased risks for people of any age with certain underlying health conditions. These include heart and lung diseases, including asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, liver disease, diabetes, cancer and compromised immune systems, and likely current or recent pregnancy. Growing evidence globally shows that adults across all age groups may ultimately require hospitalization if they contract COVID-19.

If the objective of the order is to protect people at high risk, limiting it to people over 65 is arbitrary. There are effective ways to prevent exposure, such as social distancing and strict hygiene including hand washing and not touching your face. Banning people from going outside is not strictly necessary.

Research also suggests that children with COVID-19 have less severe symptoms and lower mortality rates than other age groups. There is little evidence that children play a significant role in asymptomatic transmission, and there is no need to restrict their right to go outdoors, if they adhere to the same social distancing restrictions as adults.

The order can also be a burden on parents and a challenge for children if they must stay confined for extended periods of time. One mother of two boys, aged three and 11, told us: “The kids have been confined to the house for 15 days now. The boys are restless and nervous. They are bored. They sleep less. The older one has tantrums and the younger one cries more often. …I’ve always been in favour of avoiding gatherings, playrooms and parks full of children during flu season, for example. But I don’t understand why now they cannot even go out a few meters from our apartment building or get in and out of [the] car.”

Older people subject to such extreme social isolation may struggle to get food, health services and medicine, and their health and mental well-being may be harmed as a result. The daughter of a 72-year-old woman who lives alone in Zenica told us: “Fortunately, neighbours help out and make sure she has food…. [It’s] more the psychological impact. It is not easy to handle this isolation, especially for people who live alone.

“What really made me sad the other day was when mom told me: ‘If I could just go out to throw away the trash’ …How terrifying it is that it would mean something to her to be able to walk for 20 or 30 meters to the trash container!” 

Many governments in Europe and beyond are taking extraordinary measures to protect public health during the pandemic. In some cases, it will be difficult to determine whether responses are proportionate and comply with international norms. But blanket measures that impose an undue burden on certain age groups, and may in fact create other risks for them, are neither strictly necessary nor based on the best evidence.

Indeed, they can undermine public health, not least by leading other people to believe that they face minimal or no risk, or undermining the important message of other more effective preventive measures. The authorities in both entities should immediately end the system of fines and misdemeanours, revoke the current orders, and drop a criminal law approach.

Better to opt instead to require everyone to practice evidence-based measures, including social distancing, hand washing, and isolation of those who become sick or who have been exposed. Such measures, which can be monitored and reviewed as the pandemic runs its course, will help protect the right to health and prevent disease transmission without discrimination.   

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

© 2017 Marco Tibasima for Human Rights Watch

(Washington, DC) – The World Bank has approved a US$500 million education loan to Tanzania without requiring the government to end its policy of expelling pregnant schoolgirls, Human Rights Watch said today. On March 31, 2020, the World Bank Board of Executive Directors voted to provide the loan to fund Tanzania’s secondary education program.

Tanzanian President John Magufuli has vigorously supported a ban on pregnant students and vowed to uphold it throughout his term. Tanzanian schools routinely force girls to undergo intrusive pregnancy tests and permanently expel those who are pregnant. The authorities have arrested some schoolgirls for becoming pregnant. An estimated 5,500 pregnant students stop going to school every year, although previous estimates indicate that close to 8,000 students have been forced to drop out of school each year.

“The World Bank should be working with governments to move education systems toward full inclusion and accommodation of all girls in public schools, including those who are pregnant or parents,” said Elin Martinez, senior children’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Instead, the World Bank failed to use its leverage and caved to Tanzania’s discriminatory ban and practices, undermining its own commitment to nondiscrimination.”

The World Bank loan includes funds to build a system of “alternative education pathways,” a fee-based parallel system of nonformal education centers for children who drop out of formal education, and a cornerstone of Tanzania’s Secondary Education Quality Improvement Program (SEQUIP). This program was developed as a response to the World Bank’s decision to withhold a $300 million loan for secondary education in Tanzania in part because of the government’s mistreatment of pregnant girls.

Under SEQUIP, studying in these alternative centers is the only option for girls expelled from schools for being pregnant. But these alternative education pathways cannot be portrayed as providing the equivalence of education in formal public lower secondary schools. These centers will not be tuition-free, and will provide a condensed version of the curriculum.

In its endorsement of the loan, the World Bank considered that girls who are pregnant or have a baby merely “drop-out” of school. In framing the issue this way, the World Bank disregarded independent evidence that shows that girls are expelled, humiliated by school officials and teachers when forced to take a pregnancy test or discovered to be pregnant, and rejected by their own peers as a result.

The World Bank did not address the concerns about the ban in approving the loan, Human Rights Watch said. The Tanzanian government has not adopted a policy or decree that clarifies girls’ right to stay in school during and after pregnancy or provided assurances that it will reintroduce the “re-entry” policy struck down by Parliament in 2017.

All governments should take immediate measures to ensure that secondary education is available and accessible to all free of charge and make education compulsory through the end of lower secondary school, Human Rights Watch said.

The World Bank should not disburse the initial tranches of the loan until the government respects its obligations to guarantee equal access to free and compulsory primary education and equal access to lower secondary education for girls. The government should immediately end the discriminatory ban and adopt a ministerial decree that instructs all schools to immediately cease pregnancy testing and stop expelling pregnant girls.

Tanzania is one of two African countries that explicitly ban pregnant girls or adolescent mothers from government schools. In recent years, many African governments have made strong commitments to ensure that pregnant girls and mothers can attend school. Human Rights Watch research has found that laws, policies, and guidelines that protect pregnant girls’ and adolescent mothers’ right to education are key to ensuring girls are not discriminated against at school.

All African governments should adopt human rights-compliant “continuation” policies that are fully put into effect nationwide, spelling out girls’ rights so that school and ministry staff have clear guidance on how to support and provide special accommodations for young mothers at school, Human Rights Watch said.

The World Bank’s backtracking on pregnant girls’ right to education also raises concerns about the bank’s broader commitment to implementing its Environmental and Social Framework, which guarantees that bank loans will not be used to further discrimination. Other groups that are subject to state-sponsored discrimination in Tanzania, including lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people, may be at greater risk if the government sees indications that the bank is not upholding its own nondiscrimination principles.

“Contrary to the World Bank’s portrayal of the Tanzanian loan, ‘alternative pathways’ will never match what children get in formal, compulsory education,” Martinez said. “Unlike most out-of-school children who have a choice of returning to school, pregnant girls are arbitrarily denied the right to return to school and forced into a parallel system.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Migrants hold a banner reading "SOS isolated minors unprotected and on the street = abuse" as they demonstrate against the living conditions of unaccompanied migrant children and the lack of accommodation, outside the departmental council building in Marseille, southern France, on January 11, 2019.

© 2019 Gerard Julien/AFP via Getty Images

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) has ordered France to take steps to protect a child who was sent back to the streets in early March in the midst of the COVID-19 epidemic.

The victim, or applicant, is a Guinean boy, who on March 9 ended up back on the streets after the Haute-Vienne department, in central France, refused to recognize him as a child in need of protection. He appealed the decision to a juvenile judge, who has yet to rule on his case. Due to the urgency of the situation, his lawyer requested the ECtHR to intervene.   

On March 30, the ECtHR ordered France to ensure the boy has “access to housing and food until the end of the [COVID-19] lockdown imposed on the population.”

Despite the threat posed by COVID-19, child protection authorities in several departments – including in Gap, in the Alps region, and in Marseille – are abandoning unaccompanied migrant children who are forced to live in unsanitary and sometimes overcrowded places where they have no protection against transmission of the virus or other illness.

In Marseille the authorities refuse to provide unaccompanied migrant children with housing and care despite juvenile and administrative judges’ orders to do so.

Despite the Secretary of State for Child Protection’s announcement in a recent tweet that “every youth who requests it will be provided with shelter,” whether “deemed a minor or an adult,” 23 unaccompanied migrant children rejected by the Hautes-Alpes department and awaiting appeal are currently living in very precarious conditions in a squat in downtown Gap.

In Paris, despite the announcement by the authorities that unaccompanied children awaiting an age assessment were to be accommodated in a gymnasium, an estimated 200 unaccompanied children have not been provided with shelter.

These children should be treated as children – and given care and shelter –  until an age assessment procedure has been completed in accordance with relevant regulations, and a juvenile judge has handed down a decision on their case. This presumption of minority is an essential protection, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child and other international authorities have concluded.

By abandoning these children to inadequate living conditions, authorities are breaking the law and expose these children to the risk of COVID-19 infection. The ECtHR’s protection order reminds France of its child protection obligations. France should finally respect them.

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

A group of students walk to school in Sierra Leone. © Purposeful

(Nairobi) – The Sierra Leone government’s decision to allow girls who are pregnant or have a child to attend school is an important step to improve education for girls in the country, Human Rights Watch said today. On March 30, 2020, President Julius Maada Bio and Education Minister David Moinina Sengeh announced the immediate end to the school ban against pregnant girls and teenage mothers in place since 2010.

“By ending the 10-year ban against pregnant girls and teenage mothers attending school, the Sierra Leone government is finally addressing a longstanding injustice,” said Elin Martinez, senior children’s rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “This measure gives every girl the chance to achieve her full potential and succeed in getting her education.”

Sierra Leone was among a handful of countries in Africa that explicitly banned girls who became pregnant or are mothers from its schools. In December 2019, in a case brought by a coalition of Sierra Leonean and international groups, the Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) ruled that the ban was discriminatory and ordered the Sierra Leone government to revoke it. The court also found that alternative schools for pregnant students, a largely donor-funded government program, was also discriminatory.

Teenage pregnancy is endemic in Sierra Leone. Thirty-six percent of all pregnancies in the country occur among adolescent girls. Only 38 percent of girls are enrolled in secondary schools. In late 2018, Sierra Leone’s first lady, Fatima Bio, opened a national campaign “Hands Off Our Girls.” Her campaign focused on reducing child marriages and teenage pregnancies in the country, in part to tackle the spike in teenage pregnancies following widespread rape during the Ebola crisis. Reflecting on this campaign, President Bio stated “We have wasted a lot of time in restricting the potentials of women and girls.”

Following the decision, the Ministry of Basic and Senior Secondary Education (MBSSE) will lead a collaborative and consultative process to develop a comprehensive policy setting out its vision of “radical inclusion” and “comprehensive safety,” in which “all children are encouraged and supported to realize their right to universal education, without discrimination.”

The Sierra Leone government should adopt a human rights-compliant “continuation” policy to ensure that the decision is fully put into effect nationwide, and that it spells out girls’ rights so that education staff have clear guidance, Human Rights Watch said.

Some African countries already have such policy measures, stating explicitly that pregnant students are allowed to remain in school for as long as they choose to, without prescribing a mandatory absence after giving birth. The policy should also provide special accommodations for young mothers at school, for instance time for breast-feeding, time off when babies are ill or to attend health clinics, and access to nurseries or early childhood centers close to schools. Girls and their families should also be able to get school-based counselling services.

The government should also address the root causes of early and unplanned teenage pregnancies. The authorities should provide adolescents with access to sexual and reproductive health services, include comprehensive sexuality education at school and in the community, and ensure access to a range of contraceptive methods and safe and legal abortion.

“The Sierra Leone government should accompany this announcement with clear directives for school officials to accept, include, and support pregnant students and teen mothers in schools,” Martinez said. “It should also broadcast messages of inclusion nationally, and work with communities to ensure that girls, their families, teachers, and community leaders know that all girls belong in school."

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am
Hye Jung Han is a researcher and advocate in the Children’s Rights Division, where she specializes on children’s rights and technology.
 

Before joining Human Rights Watch, she worked at UNICEF, where she advised teams across the world on the ethical use of data and technologies to deliver assistance to the world’s most vulnerable children. She has also worked to deliver humanitarian aid to children and families with UNICEF South Sudan and with the United Nations Peacekeeping Mission in South Sudan, and was seconded to the World Food Progamme to support cross-border negotiations.

These experiences have given her a keen understanding of the realities of how technologies can reach, or fail to reach, the lives and rights of children. She holds a B.A. in international relations from Stanford University and a dual M.A. in conflict management and international economics from Johns Hopkins University. She speaks fluent Korean and English.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Child performing educational activities with distance learning resources in the city of Curitiba, Brazil, March 24, 2020. 

© 2020 Robson Mafra/AGIF (via AP)

The educational disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic is unprecedented in speed and scale. As of today, over 160 countries have closed schools. Education authorities are scrambling to provide remote learning for more than 87% of the world’s student population now missing class. But in the frantic rush to figure out which internet education technologies – EdTech – to use, governments and schools need to factor data privacy considerations in their selection criteria.

Children’s education data are far less protected than health data. Many countries have regulations that govern the appropriate uses and disclosures of personally identifiable health data, even during emergencies. But while children’s school data may be just as sensitive – revealing names, home addresses, behaviors, and other highly personal details that can harm children and families when misused – most countries don’t have data privacy laws that protect children. This means that governments will struggle to hold EdTech providers accountable for how they handle children’s data.

A list of popular distance learning options published last week by UNESCO – the UN’s education organization – illustrates these concerns. ClassDojo, for example, drew criticism over collecting vast amounts of data on children, raising questions about whom it shares this data with, and where it is stored. The company pointed to its privacy and data retention policies, including its policy of deleting data in inactive accounts after one year, and noted it does not rent or sell information to third party providers.  

Alibaba’s DingTalk, known for its integration with a Chinese government propaganda app and for enabling intrusive surveillance on office workers, was recently accused of allowing teachers to remotely monitor students without consent. DingTalk did not respond to our request for comment.  

Similarly, the Italian government’s list of suggested EdTech includes Google’s G Suite for Education. The company was recently sued by the state of New Mexico for collecting information on children without parental consent. A Google representative pointed to the company’s privacy policies and noted that the company does not use personal information from users in primary and secondary schools to target ads. The company has previously said that the lawsuit’s claims were “factually wrong.”

Products adopted now – and the data they collect – may long outlast today’s crisis, so governments should perform due diligence to ensure any technology they select protects children’s privacy rights.

No solution will be perfect, and countries will need to use their best judgment during this unprecedented time. But by keeping the rights of children at the forefront, parents, teachers, schools, and governments can better understand the risks while planning for equitable and accessible remote learning.

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

Egypt: Security Forces Disappear, Torture Children

EU, US Should Stop Security Support Until Abuse Ends

Hamza

Hamza spent his 15th birthday standing on his toes with sharp nails under his heels. The teenager had spoken to someone else in his cell – something the guards had forbidden.

“He hates his birthday now, he does not want to celebrate it again,” a relative told Human Rights Watch.

Hamza was asleep when National Security forces came into his home one night in 2016 and arrested the then-14-year-old for taking part in a demonstration outside the Three Pyramids Hotel in Giza.

His father tried to go with them, but they threatened him, and refused to tell the family which police station they were going to. Hamza wouldn’t be heard from again for more than a month.

Eventually, at a hearing, Hamza found a sympathetic soldier who called his family and told them Hamza was being sent to a Central Security Forces camp in Cairo.

Officials at first denied holding the boy, but admitted it when the family returned five days later. After nine days, the were allowed to see him, and learnt what had happened to him.

“During the first two days of his interrogation, officers used electric shocks on his genitals, head, and tongue. On the third day he was suspended by his arms, which dislocated both his shoulders,” his relative said.

Hamza was then left on the floor of a corridor for three days in winter. Eventually, he was taken to an underground cell where another detainee, who was a doctor, was able to fix his dislocated shoulders.

Even after his reappearance, Hamza was not allowed to talk to a lawyer until his second hearing, about 48 days after his arrest. At the end of his trial, the boy was sentenced to ten years in prison for taking part in the anti-government protest in 2016.

He is behind bars at the Central Security Forces’ camp, where his family visits him once a week for about five minutes. Hamza has taken his school exams while in detention and came second in his year at his school – because political prisoners who were in cells with him helped him study.

Amr

Amr’s family endured three months of threatening, anonymous phone calls after Amr, then 17, was arrested and disappeared.

“Come take his corpse from Cairo,” the voice at the end of the line would say, or “come to the hospital.” They had no idea if Amr was alive or dead.

Amr was arrested in August 2016 when he was on the way to see his tutor. The men who took him did not show him an arrest warrant. More than three months later, in November 2016, his family received word that Amr had been brought before the State Security Prosecution in Cairo, accused of participating in a protest that damaged a public building. He was then transferred from National Security detention to a child detention facility.

“His family barely recognized him. He had been in the same clothes for three months, no shower, no water, nothing,” a relative told Human Rights Watch.

During the first two days of his interrogation, officers used electric shocks on his genitals, head, and tongue. On the third day he was suspended by his arms, which dislocated both his shoulders

Hamza's Relative

Amr would not tell his family what had happened to him during those three months, but they knew that the National Security officers who detained him waited for the torture marks to disappear before they formally presented him for prosecution.

Amr slowly began to recover while in juvenile detention, but when he turned 18 he was moved to another police station. Police there either stole or never delivered the food and medicine his family brought for him.

He joined a hunger strike to demand better conditions, but instead was transferred to the maximum security “Scorpion Prison.” Since then, his family have only seen him during court hearings, as he stood in a soundproof cage.

“We were both signaling to each other but not understanding anything,” the relative said. On March 6, a military court acquitted Amr of any wrongdoing in the case.

Abdullah

Abdullah was 12 when he was taken from his mother’s home in the night. She wouldn’t see him again for more than six months.

In prison, he suffered horrific torture including beatings, electric shocks, and waterboarding. At one point, the boy was handcuffed and suspended by his physically disabled right hand, causing immense pain.

He also described seeing his own father being tortured, but was unable to speak to his father. The two were taken a few weeks apart because, the family thinks, Abdullah’s older brother was a member of an ISIS affiliate before he was killed in April 2019. The family still doesn’t know if Abdullah’s father is alive.

Abdullah said he was held in multiple detention centers in Egypt’s North Sinai Peninsula.

He resurfaced in a Cairo police station in July 2018, and his ordeal continued. He was interrogated without a lawyer, charged with terrorism offenses despite the lack of evidence, and placed in solitary confinement for 100 days. Police denied him family visits, medical care, and the chance to bathe, which caused boils on his skin, according to his lawyer.

Fourteen days after receiving a December 2018 court order to release him, authorities transferred the boy to a police station in al-Arish. That January, a police officer at the station told Abdullah’s older sister to sign a document confirming that she had her brother, promising to give him to her the next day.

When she came to pick up her little brother, officers said they didn’t know where he was. Today, his family does not know what happened to him.

Several of the children interviewed said they had been suspended from the ceiling until their shoulders dislocated.

© 2020 Mohamed El-Masry for Human Rights Watch

Yahia

When 17-year-old Yahia was brought in front of a judge, his clothes were covered in blood, both his shoulders were dislocated, and he couldn’t walk.

When he said he’d been tortured, the prosecutor responded: “You watch a lot of action movies, don’t you?” and threatened to send him back to the same man who had tortured him unless he confessed to charges of joining a terrorist organization, participating in an attack, and “spreading a pessimistic atmosphere” in the country.

Yahia had been buying an ice cream when he was snatched off the street and thrown into a van in the winter of 2015. The police were responding to a nearby protest that Yahia hadn’t even known was happening.

At the police station he was dragged around by his hair, blindfolded, beaten on the head with a leather truncheon, shocked with electricty, and suspended off the ground until his shoulders dislocated. After seven days of torture and being handcuffed to a group of eight men and forced to sleep in an unheated room with the window open, the boy made a false confession.

After his torture claims were dismissed in court, he spent 30 days in a cell with 80 other people, mostly adult men.

Eventually, he was sent to a youth detention facility, but was transferred back to a police station when he turned 18, where it was impossible for him to continue his studies.

He went on an 11-day hunger strike, and was eventually transferred to a prison, but then his case was taken over by a military court 12 hours away. Yahia said he and others were transported to and from the hearings in an overcrowded truck, and that prison officials sent him to court in the truck when he had no hearings as punishment.

In late 2016, after nearly two years in detention, he was sentenced to three years in jail, including time served, and has since been released.

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

Egyptian police, National Security Agency, and military officials arbitrarily arrested, forcibly disappeared, and tortured children as young as 12 while prosecutors and judges turned a blind eye, Human Rights Watch and the rights group Belady: An Island For Humanity said in a report released today.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

 

 

Summary

Since the Egyptian army forcibly removed Egypt’s first elected president, Mohamed Morsy, in 2013, the government of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has greenlighted a nationwide crackdown on protesters, dissidents, political opponents, independent journalists, and human rights defenders. Egypt’s security apparatus has arbitrarily arrested and prosecuted tens of thousands of persons. Human Rights Watch has found that torture crimes against detainees in Egypt are systematic, widespread and likely constitute crimes against humanity. The United Nations Committee against Torture found in June 2017 that that the facts “lead to the inescapable conclusion that torture is a systematic practice in Egypt.”

As an integral part of this crackdown, police and officers of the Interior Ministry’s National Security Agency have arbitrarily arrested, mistreated and tortured hundreds of children. Prosecutors and judges have exacerbated these abuses through due process violations and unfair trials.

Karim Hamida Ali is just one child victim of the government’s crackdown which has weakened the rule of law in Egypt to the point of extinction. International law and Egypt’s Child Law prohibit the use of the death penalty for children. But Egyptian judicial authorities provisionally sentenced Karim to death in April 2019 for crimes allegedly committed when he was 17 years old, during a protest that damaged the façade of a hotel but caused no injuries or deaths. National Security Agency officers detained Karim for more than a month in secret, leaving his family with no idea of his whereabouts, and tortured the boy until he confessed, his family told us. In October 2019, after a public outcry, the judge in the case cancelled Karim’s death penalty, claiming he had not known the defendant was a child, but sentenced him to 10 years in prison. The court did not order any meaningful investigation into Karim’s alleged torture, as required by Egyptian and international law, and used his confession as the basis for his conviction. “No one cared he was a child,” a relative of Karim’s said.

Video

Egypt: Security Forces Disappear, Torture Children

EU, US Should Stop Security Support Until Abuse Ends

This report, a collaboration between Human Rights Watch and Belady: An Island for Humanity (hereafter: Belady), documents human rights abuses by Egyptian security officials against 20 child detainees, including Karim, who were all arrested or prosecuted for allegedly participating in protests or politically-motivated violence. Authorities detained the children in locations across Egypt, including the Alexandria, Cairo, Dakihlia, Damietta, Giza, Ismailia, Mansoura, North Sinai, Qalubiya, and Sharqiya governorates. In the North Sinai case, security officers forcibly disappeared 12-year-old Abdullah Boumadian for six months, waterboarded and tortured him with electricty, then placed him in solitary confinement for about 100 days, apparently because his older brother had joined the Islamic-State local affiliate Wilayat Sina’ (Sinai Province). Human Rights Watch previously documented that security forces in North Sinai subjected other children to arbitrary arrest, enforced disappearance, and extra-judicial execution. 

Two of the other children in this report were only 13 years old when they were arrested, including one girl, Nadeen N. All of the children were arrested arbitrarily, without warrants, and at least nine were detained with adults, which Egyptian law prohibits.

The cases documented in this report represent a fraction of the hundreds of cases of abuse by Egyptian security forces against children and other detainees – including children investigated on suspicion of homosexual conduct – that Belady, Human Rights Watch, other rights organizations and news media have reported since 2014. All available information indicates that arbitrary detention and abuse of detainees, including children, under al-Sisi’s government have been widespread and systematic.

Torture and Ill-Treatment

Fourteen of the children whose cases are documented in this report said they were tortured in pre-trial detention, usually during interrogation. In two additional cases, one child was verbally threatened into confessing to crimes, and another was badly beaten by prison guards.

One boy said his interrogators tied him to a chair for three days. Seven children said security officers shocked them with electricty during interrogation, including two children who said officers subjected them to shocks in the face with stun guns, and two who said officers applied electric shocks to their genitals. A boy whom authorities forcibly disappeared and tortured at age 16 told a relative that he was worried he might “never marry or be able to have children” because of what security officers had done to him during interrogations.

Two other children, ages 14 and 17, detained in separate cases, said after authorities forcibly disappeared them security officials suspended them from their arms and dislocated their shoulders. The 14-year-old said that another prisoner who happened to be a doctor was able to re-set his joints in their prison cell. The 17-year-old said that during one interrogation, an officer forced his mouth open and spat in it. After a week of being tortured in detention, he confessed to destroying public property.

In other cases, security officials inflicted torture or cruel, humiliating, and degrading treatment on children. Two children said security officers denied them blankets or warm clothing for days in unheated cells or corridors in security facilities during winter. Three children were placed in solitary confinement, and at least three have been denied any family visits during years in detention. A security officer forced Hamza H. to “stand on his toes with sharp nails placed under his [bare] heels” for hours, after prison officials overheard the boy speaking to another detainee in his cell, which they had prohibited, a relative said. It was his birthday, “and he hates his birthday now, he does not want to celebrate it again.” Sharif S., who was suffering from serious burns at the time of his arrest said that when he asked police for medical care they “replied by beating me, hard,” and that when he refused to cooperate with police instructions to help them arrest another suspect, “the gates of hell were opened,” and officers beat and shocked him with electricty for four hours.

Arbitrary Detention and Enforced Disappearances

None of the children whose cases are documented in this report was arrested on the basis of a judicial warrant, as required by both Egyptian and international law, except arrests during an ongoing crime. All but one of the 20 children were subjected to enforced disappearance by security forces, in one case for more than a year, and detained at National Security Agency offices, Central Security Forces training camps, and other locations that are not official detention facilities under Egyptian law. Security forces disavowed any knowledge of the children’s whereabouts to their families until the children were finally brought before the prosecution, usually weeks or months later. Egyptian law requires authorities to present all detainees before a prosecutor within 24 hours, but in 19 cases, security officials broke this law with impunity. The prosecution falsely reported the date of the child’s arrest as occurring the day before or the same day they were presented to the prosecution.

Enforced disappearance, under international law, is a crime involving the arrest or detention of a person by state officials, agents of the state, or persons acting with the authorization, support or acquiescence of the state, followed by a refusal to acknowledge the arrest or to reveal the person’s fate or whereabouts.

Due Process Violations and Unfair Trials

Prosecutors accused the children of over-broad, vague charges, or charges that violated their freedom of expression and assembly. A court convicted one girl, 14, of planning to participate in an illegal protest which had, in fact, been cancelled. A judge later commuted her two-year jail sentence. A boy, 14, was tortured, subjected to a month-long enforced disappearance, and held in pre-trial detention for three years on charges relating to what authorities described as “spreading a pessimistic atmosphere” as part of an alleged conspiracy to disseminate “false news” harmful to Egypt.

Of the nine children documented here whose cases went to trial, none was given a meaningful opportunity to prepare a defense. Authorities are prosecuting one boy, arrested at age 16, in a case with 300 other suspects, mostly adults, who are being tried simultaneously in mass hearings without any real chance to speak to or even meet their lawyers.

Five of the nine children have been tried before military courts, which have expansive jurisdiction over national security issues, attacks against the military, and alleged attacks against public property. Children should not be tried before ordinary criminal courts with adults in the first place, and no civilians, let alone children, should be subject to trials before military courts, which limit due process and fair trial rights. Human Rights Watch previously documented that a military court sentenced a 3-year-old boy to life imprisonment in a February 2016 mass trial of 116 defendants over alleged protests. The military later acknowledged that they had intended to prosecute a 16-year-old fugitive with the same name.  

Other children appear to be victims of bogus, abusive prosecutions. Police arrested Tarek T., then 16, during a raid on the home of a family friend, a supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood, whom he was visiting, and prosecuted Tarek for joining a banned organization. Police detained Tarek in a local police station with other children, some of whom “tried to block their cell door” due to fears of being transferred to a distant child detention facility that would be far from their families and where they thought conditions would be worse, his father said. Authorities then charged all the children, including Tarek, with rioting, and a court sentenced them to two years in prison. When Tarek had served his sentence and was due to be released, prosecutors put him on trial before a military court for attacking a National Security Agency facility, even though he was in the child detention facility at the time of the alleged attack.

Lack of Alternatives to Detention

Because of the lasting harm that any amount of time in detention can cause children, under international law they should be detained only as a matter of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period. Egypt’s Child Law prohibits placing children under 15 years old in detention, and detaining children with adults.

Of the 20 cases documented in this report, Egyptian authorities allowed an alternative to detention for one boy, who must now report twice a week to a police station, but this was only after they detained him for 11 months, including nearly 5 months in a police station cell so crowded that inmates, mostly adults, slept in 6-hour shifts.

Poor Conditions of Detention and Denial of Education  

Children whom authorities held incommunicado in unofficial detention facilities, as well as children who were held in official places of detention, described overcrowded cells, being detained with adults, and denied adequate food in detention. Amr A., 17, said National Security forces forcibly disappeared and tortured him before transferring him to a child detention facility where his mother was finally able to see him three months later. At first, she did not recognize her son: “The boy had become a skeleton,” she said. Another boy said that he would “go into interrogations while hungry” after being given nothing to eat all day, and that he and other detainees divided the scraps of police officers’ left-over food.

Several children were denied the chance to study while in detention, as is their right under Egyptian law. One boy, detained in a police station where he was unable to study or take his school examinations, went on hunger strike to demand a transfer to a prison where it would be possible for him to continue his education. In another case, a boy was forcibly disappeared for 13 months during which it was impossible for him to study because he was not officially in detention – as is the case for all persons while they are forcibly disappeared. Another boy’s relatives said they had been unable to re-enroll him in school for months after his release.  

Ways Out

A May 2019 study found that Egyptian courts have sentenced 11 children to death since 2013, not including Karim Hamida Ali. Those children have since been acquitted or sentenced to lesser punishments. The government of Egypt should immediately commute any death sentences against children. The government should amend the military jurisdiction law so that no child may be prosecuted before a military court regardless of the alleged crime. And it should hold security officials to account for abuses, including alleged torture of children.

Egypt’s 1996 Child Law established special courts and protections for children in conflict with the law, such as alternatives to detention and penalties for detaining children with adults. However, authorities apparently flouted these and other key provisions with impunity in all of the cases documented in this report. Part of the problem is an exception in the Child Law that allows the Public Prosecution or State Security Prosecution to send children accused of crimes with an adult accomplice to criminal courts. Egypt should revoke this exception. It should end the widespread practice of detaining children, often on illegitimate political grounds rather than for   reasons of law enforcement and public safety.

Egypt’s security forces, with the support of the Public Prosecution, the State Security Prosecution, military prosecutors, and judges, have a record of impunity that has become more flagrant under the current government. The government should invite UN and African experts on torture, arbitrary detention and enforced disappearances to conduct visits, commit to protect their missions against reprisals, and carry out their recommendations.

Foreign governments should suspend arms sales to Egypt’s government until it ends the widespread and systematic serious abuses of detainees including children by the police and National Security Agency. Following the mass killings of protesters in Egypt in August 2013, EU member states agreed to review their security assistance and suspend arms exports that could be used in internal repression. Yet at least 12 European countries ignored this agreement, including the Czech Republic, a main supplier of small arms to the Egyptian police, and France, which supplies Renault MIDS and Sherpa vehicles that the police have used extensively, including to suppress peaceful protesters in September 2019.[1] The US provides around $3 million annually in funding to Egypt’s police and National Security forces for anti-terrorism work and $2 million for police training and “respect for human rights in law enforcement.”[2]

Foreign governments providing aid to Egypt’s government should publicly press for accountability for gross abuses of children’s rights. The Egyptian government has received more than €100 million in EU grants each year since 2014.[3] The US administration invoked national security to waive congressional conditions on part of the $1.3 billion in US military aid to Egypt for fiscal 2019 that would have required Egypt to release political prisoners, investigate enforced disappearances, and hold accountable security forces and officers who violated human rights.

 

Recommendations

To the Government of Egypt:

  • Urgently review and commute all cases where children have been sentenced to death.
  • Investigate and ensure accountability for torture, enforced disappearances, and other ill-treatment of children by Egyptian National Security Agency, police or military officials.
  • End the routine detention of children and enforce the use of alternatives to detention.
  • Ensure all children in custody on suspicion of a crime are promptly presented to judicial officials and are represented by a lawyer, in accordance with Egypt’s Child Law.
  • Publicly prohibit any military court prosecution of children, and immediately refer any child currently being prosecuted before military courts to civil prosecution or release him or her.
  • Suspend the enforcement of, and repeal any laws, including article 122 of the Child Law, that allow for the prosecution of children along with adults, such as if the child is accused in a criminal case with adults.
  • Issue a standing invitation to the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, the UN Working Group on Forced or Involuntary Disappearances, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and commit to full protection and cooperation with their missions, including access to children in detention in police stations and National Security facilities as well as prisons.
  • Allow international human rights treaty bodies to receive individual complaints from children about torture, enforced disappearances, or other serious abuses, including by ratifying the first Optional Protocol to the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the third Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and making a declaration under Article 22 of the Convention Against Torture.
  • Ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances.
  • Ensure no children are detained with adults and that children’s detention facilities meet international standards.
  • Ensure all children in detention have easy access to textbooks, study materials, instruction, places to study, and can take examinations.

 

To the European Commission, EU member states, the US, and other states supporting Egypt’s government and security forces:

  • Suspend assistance to all Egyptian government forces including the military, police, and National Security Agency, responsible for widespread and systemic serious human rights violations including the unlawful arrest, detention and abuse of children, pending meaningful accountability measures for officers credibly alleged to have abused human rights, and reforms to abuses against detainees.
  • Publicly press the Egyptian government on meaningful steps to end human rights abuses by security forces, including ending and ensuring accountability for enforced disappearances, torture, ill-treatment, detention with adults, due process violations and unfair trials of detainees including children.

To the member states of the UN Human Rights Council:

  • Condemn abuses in detentions in Egypt, including abuses against children.
  • Call on third parties to condition support to Egypt’s security forces and government on ending and ensuring accountability for enforced disappearances, torture, ill-treatment, detention with adults, due process violations and unfair trials of detainees including children.

 

Methodology

This report is based on interviews conducted with five former child detainees who had been released, and with relatives of 15 children currently in detention, by researchers with Belady and Human Rights Watch. The children’s ages at the time of arrest and detention range from 12 to 17. The children and their families provided informed consent to the interviews. The alleged offenses that those children were arrested for occurred between 2014 and 2019.

In cases where children were already convicted and sentenced, families and the lawyers representing the children had access to copies of court documents, which they shared. In some cases, families or lawyers were able to provide case numbers and details about the courts trying the children, which researchers could corroborate through media reports. The organizations reviewed other corroborating evidence such as letters from family members to prison officials requesting medical care or permission to take school examinations, or posts on social media. In some cases, lawyers who represented the children also witnessed abuse against them by officials.

Names have been changed to pseudonyms unless otherwise noted, and identifying details, such as locations and precise dates, have been obscured, in order to protect the detainees and their families from retribution by Egyptian authorities.

 

I. Security Forces’ Abuse of Children

Human Rights Watch and the US-based rights organization Belady-IH documented the cases of 20 children who had been abused by security forces in detention, in governorates across Egypt. According to the children and their families, all were subjected to arbitrary arrest. Security officials are required by law to bring detainees before prosecutors, who are part of Egypt’s judicial branch, within 24 hours of their arrest, but met that deadline in only one of the cases documented in this report. The other 19 children were forcibly disappeared for periods lasting from 5 days to 13 months. At least 13 of the children were physically tortured during interrogation, another was verbally threatened to confess to crimes, and at least one more child was badly beaten by prison officials.

In no case in this report did prosecutors or courts effectively investigate the abuses or coerced confessions the children alleged. In one case, the child said the prosecutor explicitly threatened to “send me back to the officer” responsible for torturing him if he did not confess to his alleged crime. In addition to complicity in abuses by security forces, prosecutors compounded the harm to children by ordering their pre-trial detention for extended periods; one boy was in pre-trial detention for 30 months despite a 2-year maximum in Egyptian law. In at least nine cases, children were detained with adults, in violation of Egyptian law and despite the oversight of prosecutors and the courts. At least nine of the children described being subjected to poor conditions of detention including overcrowded and unsanitary cells, lack of adequate nutritious food, and denial of access to medication, adequate medical care, and education. In all cases where children were sent to trial, they were tried by regular civilian and military courts, rather than the specialized children’s courts provided for by Egypt’s Child Law.  

Karim Hamida Ali, 17

A group of plainclothes and uniformed men who identified themselves as National Security officers arrested Karim Hamida Ali, at home in January 2016, in al-Omraniya, Giza. At the time of his arrest, he was 17 years old. More than three years later, a court convicted Karim and sentenced him to death on charges of possessing explosives and damaging public facilities under anti-terrorism laws in Case 45 of 2016. The judge later reduced his sentence to 10 years in prison when it was pointed out that Karim was a child at the time of his alleged offense.

The case, which involves 26 defendants including 11 other children, is based on a 2016 protest in which demonstrators set off fireworks and damaged the façade of the Three Pyramids Hotel in the Haram district of Giza, but did not cause any deaths or injuries, according to Interior Ministry accounts of the incident.[4] National Security officials arrested and allegedly subjected Karim and at least one other child in the case -- Hamza H., whose case is described below -- to enforced disappearance and torture.

Karim’s family was unaware of his whereabouts until he appeared at the State Security Prosecution on February 9, more than a month after his arrest, which was also the first time he was able to contact a lawyer. His family said they eventually learned that National Security officers had detained and tortured Karim, including with electricity, at the al-Omraniya police station, then transferred him to a National Security facility in 6th of October City. Karim’s family were able to contact him when he was transferred to another police station, in the Haram neighborhood, lost contact again after he was sent to prison, but are currently able to visit him in detention, according to the family.

Karim stated to the prosecutor he had been tortured to confess, but according to his family and the lawyer, the prosecutor did not investigate his claim, as required by Egyptian law. Eventually, he falsely confessed to crimes including joining an illegal group, possessing explosives and damaging public facilities. “No one cared he was a child, the court even sentenced him to death despite his age,” a relative of Karim’s said.

The Egyptian Front for Human Rights, an independent rights group, identified 11 of the 26 defendants in the case, with ages ranging from 15 to 17, of whom 9 are in detention.[5] The rights group reported that 21 of the 26 defendants tried in the case were forcibly disappeared from periods of 2 weeks to 3 months, and 19 did not have access to a lawyer during their first interrogation by a prosecutor. Thirteen defendants alleged they were tortured, but prosecutors referred only four for forensic examinations, and court records lack any reference to the examinations.[6]

Article 111 of Egypt’s Child Law stipulates that “no accused person shall be sentenced to death, life imprisonment, or forced labor” if he was under 18 years old at the time of the crime. Nonetheless, on April 6, 2019, Judge Nagy Shehata of the Giza Criminal Court sentenced Karim to death, along with six adult co-defendants.[7] The ruling came under public criticism due to Karim’s status as a child, after Judge Shehata sent the verdicts to the Grand Mufti, Egypt’s top religious authority, for his opinion, as provided in Egyptian law.[8]   The judge then argued that “the indictment list and court documents did not indicate Karim was a child,” and reduced Karim’s punishment to ten years in prison.[9] Karim can appeal his decade-long prison sentence.[10]

Karim completed secondary school in prison, and is now in his second year as a commerce student at Helwan University, studying from prison.

According to Reprieve, an international rights organization, Egyptian courts have sentenced at least 12 other children to death since 2011, including 10 preliminary death sentences handed down for alleged crimes during al-Sisi’s tenure.[11] Courts confirmed five of those preliminary sentences.[12] As of March 2020, all of these children had either been acquitted or were sentenced to lesser penalties.[13]

Abdullah Boumadian Nasreddin Okasha, 12

Abdullah Boumadian was asleep at his mother’s home in the city of al-Arish, in North Sinai, when military forces raided it and arrested him on the night of December 31, 2017. The boy was 12 years old at the time. Military forces had earlier arrested Abdallah's father, Boumadian Nasreddin, on December 5, 2017, and forcibly disappeared him. Family members suspect the two arrests were related to Abdullah’s older brother, Abdelrahman, then 21, who had called the family days before their father’s arrest to say that he had joined the Sinai Province, the local ISIS affiliate.

Security officials forcibly disappeared Abdullah for more than six months. When he surfaced in Cairo’s Azbakeya police station in July 2018, he told a lawyer that he had been detained in several detention centers in North Sinai including at the National Security building in al-Arish, and at the Military Battalion 101 base, and that officials had subjected him to harrowing torture -- beatings, electirc shocks, and waterboarding.  They had handcuffed and painfully suspended him by his right hand, which had a physical disability, he said. Interrogators lit a fire under an iron bedframe and forced Abdullah to lie on the hot metal. Security officials deprived the boy of adequate food and the chance to bathe. At one point, while he was detained in a police station in North Sinai, Abdullah told his lawyers, he heard continuous screams of women apparently being tortured, and officers threatened that his mother would endure the same fate if he did not disclose information about his brother.

During the early part of his detention, in the National Security building in Arish, Abdullah said, he saw but could not communicate with his father as officers stripped his father’s clothes off and tortured him. The family does not know whether or not the father is still alive.

Abdullah was first heard of after his arrest when he was transferred to the Azbakeya police station in Cairo in July 2018. From the police station State Security Prosecution officers took the boy to Cairo’s Fifth Settlement branch, where on July 2 they interrogated him without a lawyer, in violation of Egyptian law. The prosecution charged him with joining a terrorist group, helping to plant explosives, and endangering national security, and added his name to State Security case 570 of 2018. His brother Abdelrahman was charged in the same case. Pro-government newspapers have reported that at least 12 defendants in the case are “relatives” of deceased or convicted men in terrorism cases.

Officers at the Azbakeya police station put Abdullah in solitary confinement in the station’s juvenile detention section for the next 100 days, according to his lawyer. During this period, police denied the boy family visits, medical care, and the chance to bathe, which caused boils on his skin, according to his lawyer. International law prohibits imposing prolonged solitary confinement on children. The police gave the boy the same food all other prisoners received, a piece of bread and a piece of cheese each day. Over time, Abdullah’s treatment improved slightly, as police allowed his lawyer to bring him fresh clothes and to bring him more food, soap, and sanitary supplies.

Abdullah’s health deteriorated in detention due to lack of adequate medical treatment for his chronic respiratory allergy, and the lack of physical therapy needed to treat the physical disability in his right hand, according to a joint statement by seven Egyptian human rights organizations in October 2018.  On October 11, 2018, Abdullah’s lawyer filed urgent complaints with the Public Prosecutor and with the child hotline of the National Center for Childhood and Motherhood (NCCM). Six days later, the NCCM informed the lawyer that it had contacted the Interior Ministry’s internal human rights bureau about Abdullah’s case. The authorities did not contact Abdullah.

Abdullah was in seventh grade at the time of his arrest and was unable to continue his education during his disappearance and detention, according to his lawyer.

Egyptian authorities have ignored court orders and broken their own promises to release Abdullah to his family. On December 27, 2018, the Court of Juvenile Appeals ordered Abdullah’s release and the transfer of custody to his guardians. Fourteen days after the order, authorities transferred the boy to the second police station in al-Arish. On January 18, 2019, a police officer at the station told Abdullah’s older sister to sign a document confirming that she had taken receipt of her brother, and promised to transfer him to her custody the following day. When she returned to receive him, officers denied knowledge of his whereabouts. The family lost access to him again.

On April 12, 2019, Abdullah’s brother Abdelrahman was killed in an attack in al-Arish city, according to his family.  Human Rights Watch reviewed an August 2019 court order to the Ministry of Interior to reveal Abdullah’s whereabouts. As of February 2020, the ministry has not complied, according to his lawyer. The boy’s sister last saw him in al-Arish police station on January 18, 2019, according to several telegrams, seen by Human Rights Watch, that the family sent to judicial and security authorities.

Hamza H., 14

National Security forces arrested Hamza, then aged 14, at home late at night in early 2016 for participating in a demonstration outside the Three Pyramids Hotel in Giza, the same protest that led to the arrest of Karim Hamida Ali.[14] The State Security Prosecution charged him with joining an unlawful organization and planning attacks targeting state institutions.[15] The judge in the case, Nagy Shehata, sentenced Hamza to ten years in jail.[16]  

According to a source close to the family,

Hamza was asleep, there was a school exam in the morning. They woke him up and asked him for his ID, but he told him that he didn’t get one yet [children apply for national ID cards at age 16]. The officer made many phone calls to tell [other officials] he is a child, but in the end he decided to take him. [His] father tried to go with them, but they threatened him, and they refused to tell us which police station they were going to.

For more than a month, Hamza’s family was unable to obtain any information about his whereabouts: none of the five police stations they visited acknowledged holding him, and they received no replies to their written requests for information from the attorney general and public prosecutor. At the hearing before the State Security Prosecution, he found a sympathetic soldier and “asked him to call us,” a relative said. Through the soldier, Hamza informed them that he was being sent to a Central Security Forces camp in Cairo.

When relatives went to the camp, officials denied holding the boy, but acknowledged detaining him when the family returned five days later, his relative said. After nine days, officials permitted family members to visit Hamza, who told them some of what he had experienced, according to his relative:

When he was arrested, they took him to a police station. The next morning, he was moved to a National Security facility. During the first two days of his interrogation, officers used electric shocks on his genitals, head, and tongue. On the third day he was suspended by his arms, which dislocated both his shoulders. He was left in a corridor for three days. It was winter, and he was on the floor with no covers. Then he recalls going many floors underground to a cell. Another detainee in his cell happened to be a doctor. Soldiers agreed to bring an antibiotic and medicine, and the doctor fixed his shoulders.

About three weeks after his arrest, an officer entered Hamza’s cell in the National Security facility while he was talking to another detainee, which was prohibited. The officer brought him out of the cell and forced him to stand on his toes with sharp nails placed under his heels. He stayed like this for hours, he told his relative.

Over the next two months, the State Security Prosecution repeatedly renewed Hamza’s detention. He was not able to talk to a lawyer until his second hearing, some 48 days after his arrest. The prosecution file, which Belady and Human Rights Watch reviewed, contained a false date of arrest: the same date that Hamza was first presented to the prosecution, rather than the date some six weeks earlier when he was arrested and forcibly disappeared.[17] Human Rights Watch and Belady have documented the use of false arrest dates in other cases of enforced disappearance. The prosecution then referred his case to the terrorism branch of the Cairo Criminal Court.


 

Hamza’s family visited him at the Central Security Forces’ camp once per week, for about five minutes. They expect him to be transferred to prison after his 18th birthday, along with three other children who had been detained with him in the camp. He was detained with adults, a relative said.

While in detention, Hamza was permitted to take school exams, “and in the 11th grade he came second in his school,” because political prisoners who were detained with him had helped him study, a relative said. However, he delayed his final year in secondary school “because he has no one to help him, so he can’t study.”

Wesam W., 17

Wesam was arbitrarily arrested in December 2017. He was 17 years old at the time. Security authorities detained him for more than a year before his release.   The reason for his arrest is not known, although at the time of his arrest he was on his way a protest in Cairo against the US decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.   A plainclothes security officer ordered him to hand over his ID and mobile phone and transferred him to the custody of a group of police. They took Wesam to a police station with four other people he did not know, including, according to Wesam, “a guy [who] was walking with his girlfriend and he asked the patrol how to reach a place in the area, so they arrested him.”[18]

Two days later, police sent Wesam to the State Security Prosecution, where he said officials threatened him: “If you speak we will let you free. If you do not speak we will imprison you.” After being interrogated continuously for six hours, until 3 a.m., without being allowed to see a lawyer, he confessed to participating in the protest. He was subjected to continued interrogations over the course of several days, during which time “we had nothing to eat but the leftovers of the soldiers’ and guards’ meals,” he said. “We would go to interrogation while hungry.” The State Security prosecutor ordered Wesam detained for 15 days, when he still had no access to a lawyer, and charged him with joining a terrorist group.

Wesam’s parents searched for him at hospitals and a security directorate, but his family and friends were unable to find out where he was for three days, until he was taken from the prosecution building back to the police station, where he was detained for almost five additional months. His cell measured 3 by 3 meters and held from 15 to 18 detainees, including adults. Wesam said his cell was so tightly-packed that inmates “slept on a shift schedule: a group of us sleeps for six hours, and another group wakes up.” The lack of adequate sleep exacerbated a pre-existing chronic neurological illness, he said. It took several weeks before a prison doctor approved his family’s request to send Wesam his medication. Family visits were allowed but lasted just five minutes, he said.

Wesam was later transferred to a Cairo prison where his cell was larger, he was able to sleep at night, and he was allowed outdoors. Instead of access to education, “I learned beading at the prison,” he said. Authorities released him in 2019 on condition that he check in daily at a police station but are continuing the criminal investigation against him.

Badr B., 16

Security officers at Cairo Airport arrested Badr, who was 16 at the time, in 2017 while he was trying to travel to attend school abroad, according to his relative, Susan B., who had gone with him to see him off.[19] “Security officers at the airport took him to a private office and said the procedures would end soon. He did not appear after that. A few hours later a National Security officer said that Badr had been transferred to National Security, and then he disappeared,” without explaining which branch or city, Susan said.

Security officers presented him before a public prosecutor in Cairo several days later, but only after “he had been heavily tortured,” his family said. Authorities alleged that Badr had planned to travel to Syria and join Ahrar al-Sham, an anti-government armed group there.

Badr was unable to contact a lawyer or his family for several months, despite having been presented before the prosecutor. After his initial detention at an unknown National Security facility, officers transferred him to a police station where he was detained with adults, and then to a Central Security Forces camp. Prison officials beat him and injured his back during an inspection by the prison administration, “but the prison administration refused to treat him until his condition became critical and he could not stand on his feet,” a relative said.

The month after his arrest, National Security officials called one of Badr’s relatives and said she could meet him at a National Security facility. Instead officers arrested her on arrival and accused her in relation to the same case. “She would appear in court handcuffed to [him],” another relative said. Authorities arbitrarily detained Badr and his relative for several weeks after a judge had ordered their release in 2018.

Susan said that while Badr was in detention, his family had unsuccessfully appealed to the Ministry of Education to allow him to continue his studies. Authorities released Badr without trial after more than 19 months in detention. His family had also been unable to “complete the procedures so he can resume his studies,” but had been “redirected from one office to another because of his political situation,” a relative said.

Maged M., 14 at time of alleged crime

Security forces in armored vehicles arrested Maged in early 2017 when he was at a relative’s home. He was 17 at the time of his arrest. According to a relative, earlier that day, when he was at school, a teacher had asked him his name and then picked up the phone, and said, ‘Maged is with me’, suggesting that security services had told the teacher to notify them of the boy’s whereabouts. His family repeatedly contacted the authorities but was unable to learn where he was being detained for more than four months.

His family first learned of his whereabouts when he appeared before the prosecution more than four months after his arrest.[20] Maged described abuse in detention at that time that his relatives believed amounted to torture. In detention, he said, “I was humiliated, so many things happened to me,” according to a relative. He resisted sharing details, but worried that as a result of his torture, “if I am to be released I might never marry or be able to have children.”

Following his arbitrary arrest and incommunicado detention, authorities transferred Maged’s case to a military court in late 2017. He is charged with killing police officers, incitement to murder, illegally possessing weapons, membership in the Hasm movement -- a banned armed group – and the attempted murder of the assistant prosecutor general. The alleged crimes occurred in 2014 and 2015, when Maged was only 14.

He was one of more than 300 defendants, 25 of whom were children at the time of the alleged crimes that comprise the case, known as Military Case 64 of 2017, before the Military Criminal Court.[21] Maged and several other children in the case could have faced the death penalty, but were acquitted by a military court on March 9, 2020.

According to an analysis by Belady and the Egyptian Front for Human Rights of the prosecution documents of 130 defendants in Military Case 64, 120 defendants said they were forcibly disappeared and 77 said they were subjected to physical or psychological torture.[22] The UN expert Working Group on Arbitrary Detention reviewed the treatment of four children in the case and called for their immediate release from arbitrary detention, noting among other abuses that they were not informed of the charges against them for between 56 to 95 days, and were detained without being presented before a judge for between 339 to 439 days.[23]

Security officials had denied or evaded questions before the military court about the date of Maged’s arrest, which would have proven his enforced disappearance, a relative said. “I attended one trial hearing and the judge was asking a National Security officer, when did you arrest him, the officer said, ‘I don’t remember, I don’t recall’.”

Authorities transferred Maged to a high-security prison in 2017, where he is subject to severe restrictions that violate his right to receive visits from his family or lawyer and to prepare a legal defense, according to his family. “He has not been able to see his own lawyer until today. The lawyer is not allowed to visit him in prison, and prison visits are also forbidden for the family,” a relative said. “When you are before the military, it means you are in hell.” Human Rights Watch and Belady reviewed letters the family wrote to the prison authority, asking to be allowed to visit Maged, but without result. Maged has not even been allowed to call his family, they said. “We do not know a single word about his treatment in detention. We know nothing about any specific reasons for his arrests. We always ask why, but we get no answer.”

His family can only see him “in a sound-proof glass box” for the accused during trial hearings, but the room is extremely crowded due to the large number of defendants, a relative said. “Every time we see him it’s from a distance of 12 or 13 meters, separated by glass then a metal wire, and then another layer of glass. All exchanges between us are through signs.” At the hearings, the boy was able to communicate items that he needed in detention, which his family would leave for him in a “safety box” at the prison each month, “things like a t-shirt or a pair of pants, or medications or vitamins to replace sunlight.”

Maged was in his final year of secondary school at the time of his arrest. He was unable to complete the school year due to his prolonged disappearance. Once he was transferred to prison the following year, Maged was allowed to sit for his final exams in two courses, but prison officials “didn't allow us to give him any books in prison,” a relative said. Human Rights Watch and Belady reviewed faxes that Maged’s family sent to different prison officials over the course of his detention, requesting that he be allowed to take examinations. Maged failed the exams for which he was prevented from studying. His family approached the secondary school administration, who said that due to university rules against repeating secondary school exams more than twice, he would have only one more chance to sit for his exam. “So we decided to delay [the exam], praying to God to help him.”

Amr A., 16 at time of alleged crime

Amr is also detained in Military Case 64 of 2017, for alleged crimes that occurred in 2015, when he was 16 years old. Security officials in street clothes arrested him without presenting a warrant in August 2016 as he was on his way to study with a private tutor in his home town in the Nile Delta, according to his family. He was 17 at the time of his arrest. They blindfolded him and took him to a police station for one night, and then detained him for almost three months at a National Security facility. According to family members and another source, security officers tortured Amr, detained him with adults, and failed to present him before judicial authorities. His family had no information as to his whereabouts during this time. Instead, they received taunting anonymous phone calls, a relative said. “More than once we received calls saying, ‘Come take his corpse from Cairo,’ and once, ‘Come to the hospital.’ One call would claim he is alive, another would claim he is dead. We didn’t know who was calling.”[24]

More than three months later, in November 2016, his family received word that Amr had been brought before the State Security Prosecution in Cairo. He was then transferred from National Security detention to a child detention facility. His relative said:

He arrived there at 2 a.m. The social counselor allowed him to speak to me on the phone.  He told me, “All the food that is nutritious, please bring it. I have not eaten for three months,” so we brought him food, clothes, toothpaste, creams for lesions and wounds he had been suffering from lack of hygiene. He had lost too much weight. When I saw him I was not sure, is this my child or not? … He had been in the same clothes for three months, no shower, no water, nothing. He refused to tell me what had happened to him [in National Security custody] to avoid making me sad, but what I know from him is that they did not present him to the prosecution until the torture marks were gone.

Amr’s family visited the juvenile detention facility every week – driving five hours in total, waiting for about an hour, and seeing Amr for 30 or 45 minutes. He was detained in a cell with 10 or so other children, allowed outside for two hours a day and permitted to exercise, and began to recover from illness his family believed he had developed due to the poor hygiene of his earlier detention. In 2017, the State Security Prosecution transferred his case to the military prosecutor as part of Military Case 64, a family member said.

When he turned 18, Amr was transferred from the children’s facility to another police station, where he was detained for more than a month. He was only allowed out of his cell during family visits, when he told his relatives that the cell was so overcrowded that he was often unable to sleep. According to Amr’s relatives, police either stole or never delivered food, medicine or other items they brought for him. When they would give Amr a bar of soap, “we used to break it in two parts because if it was not broken, [guards] would take it and sell it to the prisoners inside.”

He joined a hunger strike to demand better conditions, but authorities at the police station transferred him to al-Aqrab (Scorpion) maximum-security prison in Cairo.[25] A family member said that another prisoner detained there with Amr had managed to send a letter to his mother, which said that detainees were being denied sufficient food or water as a punishment for their hunger strike.

At the prison, relatives are permitted to send money for detainees to use at the prison’s canteen, but only about 60 percent of the cash reaches the detainee, Amr’s relative said. After thoroughly searching their cells, prison officials once stripped Amr and other prisoners of their possessions other than “the clothes [they were] wearing, and one blanket,” according to messages sent by the different prisoners to their relatives.

Since Amr’s detention, his family has been able to see him only during court hearings. A family member said that during the hearings, they were separated from Amr by about 10 meters, and “there is a line of policemen standing beside the cage [of the detainee], and [relatives] are on the far side, there is a window with wires in front of it, and no hearing. We were both signaling to each other but not understanding anything.” Amr, along with several other children in the case, faced the death penalty, but was acquitted by a military court on March 9, 2020.

Ziad Z., 15

Security forces arrested Ziad, then age 15, in early 2015 at a protest in Cairo while he was escorting an injured person to al-Zaitoun hospital, according to his family. A relative told Human Rights Watch:

We spent three days without knowing where he was, anything, we searched the hospitals, he was a child so he did not have an [ID] card or anything. They said there were cases of unidentified deaths at hospitals. After three days someone called us and told us, “Your son is at the [police] station.”[26]

Security officers beat, shocked with electrcity, and threatened Ziad during three days of interrogation and torture before they presented him to the Public Prosecution, his relative said. A document reviewed by Belady and Human Rights Watch showed that Ziad requested medical care at the police station where, according to his relative, the boy said officers had suspended him by his arms off the floor as a form of torture, in an upstairs room that detainees referred to as “the fridge” [التلاجة]. The relative described Ziad’s appearance when she saw him afterwards:

His whole body was swollen as a result of heavy beating. His legs were damaged, and scars remain on the arch of his foot, and swelling. The top of his feet, may God preserve your good health, their color turned black, with a large lesion. He had a fever and felt tired all the time. No doctor would agree to enter the [police] station and see him, so we went to the mosque [and found] a military doctor who agreed to go.

After police presented Ziad to the Public Prosecutor’s office, he was interrogated without access to a lawyer. The prosecution did not present him to the Child Court, but ordered him detained with adults and tried in the same case as 30 adults, a relative said.

Judges twice ordered Ziad’s release, but then ruled in favor of prosecution appeals to continue his detention. A Cairo criminal court for major offences sentenced Ziad to 10 years in prison on charges of participating in unlawful protests, violence, joining a terrorist organization, and vandalism of private and public properties.

Ziad was detained for two years at one police station, another year in another police station, and was then transferred back to the first. Conditions in detention could be extremely overcrowded. For 12 days during his third year in detention, he was unable to sit down or sleep properly in his cell at all. “There were 150 people [in the cell at that time], they slept in shifts,” his relative said.

Firas F., 14

Firas, a student, was 14 when police first arrested him, in 2014, at home in Cairo for wearing a t-shirt deemed critical of the government. [27] A relative described how security forces violently raided their building, making “noise as if there was an earthquake.”[28] “I told them to take me and leave him, but they took me downstairs and then pushed me and took Firas,” the relative said.

Firas’s family members followed the police car to the station. Although they were prohibited from speaking to him, a police officer relayed messages between them and allowed the family to provide the boy with some toiletries and food. Police arrested several other children in the same case, his family said, because they had worn “Ultras Nahdawy” t-shirts, a group supportive of the banned Muslim Brotherhood, and also t-shirts supportive of Amr Hussein, a member of the Zamalek football club Ultras killed by security forces in 2013. Later, authorities sent Firas to a Central Security Forces camp where he was unable to see his family for weeks and was detained with adults. A lawyer representing Firas and other child detainees told Human Rights Watch at the time that there were up to 160 children detained in that camp.[29] After four months in detention, authorities released Firas without charge.

Security forces arrested Firas again in late 2016 on accusations of joining a terrorist organization and disseminating false information “with the purpose of spreading pessimism” and disrupting the peace. Men in civilian clothes arrived before dawn at his home in armored vehicles, damaged furniture, stole money, and confiscated mobile phones. According to a relative who was present they “threatened to kill him if we ever speak up” about these abuses during the raid. Firas’s family was unable to discover his whereabouts for a month, until they learned that he would be presented before the prosecution in a city north of Cairo. When they met him there, he said he had been detained at a National Security facility, where officers beat him and tortured him with electrcity.

Authorities then sent him to a police station, where he had access to a phone and his family was “able to contact him in the evening, only after sunset,” a relative said. Authorities at the police station detained him with adults, and transferred him to a prison “as soon as he turned 18,” his family said.

Court records do not contain any indication that Firas confessed, despite the torture. Authorities held him for more than three years in pre-trial detention in violation of Egyptian law, which permits only up to two years in detention without trial. He was unable to attend his mother’s funeral when she passed away in January 2018, a relative said. He was conditionally released by court order in the second half of 2019.

Yusef Y., 13

Yusef was a 13-year-old student at the lower secondary school level when he was arrested at home by military and police forces (قوات من الجيش والشرطه) in early 2015. A resident of the building who witnessed the arrest said that “the forces seemed hesitant after they saw that he was a child,” and that he overheard security officers asking for confirmation of the arrest on their radio handsets, “until I heard one say, ‘Bring him’.”[30]

A relative said that the family believed security forces took Yusef to the General Security Directorate, but when the family went there to ask, officials said he had already been transferred to a prison. He was then taken to a military base, the family later learned. The first time the boy was able to see his family was 13 months after his arrest, in 2016, a few days after he appeared before the State Security Prosecution. Until then, officials responded to his family’s questions by “denying he even existed,” a relative said. A former detainee who saw Yusef in secret detention in al-Azoly Prison, inside al-Galaa Military Base in Ismailiya, said that the boy “was treated badly” there.[31]

Yusef is listed as a defendant in State Security Prosecution Case 502 of 2015, for alleged crimes that include plotting and carrying out 27 attacks, including assassination attempts against President al-Sisi and former Saudi crown prince Mohamed Bin Nayef, as part of the Sinai Province, an armed group affiliated with Islamic State.[32] Many of these crimes allegedly occurred while Yusef was in state custody during his 13-month disappearance. According to a family member and a lawyer, prosecution documents falsely state that Yusef was arrested in 2016, shortly before he was presented to the prosecutor, apparently in order to pretend that his detention was consistent with the constitutional requirement that detainees be presented before the prosecutor within 24 hours of arrest.[33]

Case 502 of 2015 included more than 290 defendants, including at least 10 children. On June 21, 2015, the State Security Prosecution refered Case 502 to the military prosecution.[34] In August 2017, the military court decided to drop the 10 children, including Yusef, from the case, and referred them back to the State Security Prosecution.[35] “We were waiting for them to be released, but we were surprised when we found they were brought back into [the State Security] case,” a relative of Yusef said about the children in the case.

In 2016, authorities transferred Yusef, then age 15, to al-Mostaqbal Prison in Ismailiya where he was detained with adults. “He considers the [new] prison a five-star hotel, because he has seen and been through a lot,” a relative said.

He said [the former prison] is one of the worst. After he came out, he was trying to calm us down and telling us, “as long as I still have my mind, I am okay. As long as I am out of [the former prison], consider me at home.” He would get anxiety attacks and convulsions but thank God they have gradually disappeared.

Although Yusef had neurological symptoms, prison officials initially refused his family’s requests that he be seen by a neurologist, despite a doctor’s referral. More than 14 months after he was transferred to al-Mostaqbal prison, a military prosecutor approved the request. The prison doctor sees him once a month but only prescribes painkillers, his family said. They are able to visit him once a week.

Even though education is compulsory in Egypt until age 15, authorities denied Yusef all access to education and he was unable to take his examinations for his first two years in detention, his family said, despite written requests they submitted to prison officials. He was unable to take his exams during his first year in detention “because he wasn’t officially there,” as he was detained illegally. After he was transferred to al-Mostaqbal Prison, his family followed a lengthy procedure, which took another year: they obtained a notice that he had been arrested, confirmation from his school that he was a student there, and an affidavit that he needs to take his exams. He completed the educational year and exams for the ninth year of basic education while in detention.

In 2018, the State Security Prosecution ordered the conditional release of the children in Case 502, including Yusuf; after the case was brought to trial in 2019, a court cancelled the conditions and ordered the children’s full release, according to Egyptian news reports.[36]

Tarek T., 16

Tarek has faced charges in three different cases, apparently intended to keep him in detention since he was arrested at age 16 in January 2014. In the most recent case, authorities held him in pre-trial detention for more than 30 months, in violation of Egyptian law that limits pre-trial detention to two years.[37]

In January 2014, a few months after police arrested his father, a lawyer who defended political prisoners, Tarek accompanied a relative visiting a private home when the police raided it, in a city in northern Egypt. “They knew he was a child, and were asking, ‘Where’s his father,’ but when they found out who the father was, they took him to jail” along with four adults, another relative said. Tarek, whose family is supportive of the Muslim Brotherhood, was charged with joining a banned group, along with dozens of other children and young men.

Almost a year later, a judge acquitted Tarek and ordered his release, but in the meantime prosecutors issued new charges stemming from his earlier January 2014 detention. He was held along with dozens of other children in a children’s detention facility, according to a relative and court documents. “The children learned authorities were going to transfer them to another children’s facility in Cairo. Some of them closed the door to their cell and tried to prevent police officers from entering,” Tarek’s relative said. Police beat them and used a single, badly-overcrowded vehicle to transfer them to the detention facility.[38] Tarek, like the other children in the case, was sentenced to two years in prison for inciting a riot and attacking police officers, according to news media reports and prosecution documents that the family provided to Human Rights Watch. Tarek began serving the sentence at the children’s detention facility.

A secondary-school student at the time of his arrest, Tarek applied unsuccessfully to the Ministry of Education to instruct the children’s detention facility to allow him to take his school exams. When he turned 18, authorities transferred him from the children’s facility to a prison, where his family succeeded in obtaining textbooks for him, but study was difficult, a relative said. “There were no teachers or tutors. The cell was only four by four meters, with a toilet in the corner, and there were 25 guys in there, or at worst, up to 40. There was no room to study in.” Tarek was in the midst of taking his secondary school exams when he completed his second prison sentence, according to a relative and court records that the family provided to Human Rights Watch, but prison authorities transferred him to another facility for five days, preventing him from finishing all his exams that year.

Tarek should have been released in 2017, but a prosecutor accused him of new, even more serious criminal offenses: participating in a protest that damaged a government building. The alleged offense took place in 2016, when Tarek was detained in the children’s facility. He was transferred to a maximum-security prison and tried before a military court. “The only witness [against him] was a single police officer who doesn’t show up” for hearings, a relative of Tarek’s said at the time. The military court ruled it was not competent to investigate the case and transferred it back to the State Security Prosecution, which began hearings in 2019 and ordered Tarek’s continued pre-trial detention. He is studying commerce while in detention through correspondence with a private university.

Mahmoud M., 16

National Security officers arrested and forcibly disappeared Mahmoud M. in 2017, a few months after security forces had clashed with residents in his town in Damietta governorate. He was 16 years old at the time. “He disappeared for about three weeks until someone called us and told us, ‘Mahmoud is at the prosecution’,” a relative said.[39] He was arrested at home, but the prosecution falsely stated that police arrested him at a meeting held to plan protests and incite violence, the relative said. The Public Prosecution charged Mahmoud with joining a terrorist organization and unlawful possession of weapons.

National Security officers “spent three days torturing him using all kinds of torture, electrification, beating with metal rods, and they would hang him upside down by his legs,” his relative said. “For three days, he did not see any light.” He was then transferred to a camp run by Central Security forces, where according to his relative he was denied adequate food, placed in solitary confinement, denied access to the bathroom, and repeatedly hit and insulted.

Authorities then transferred him to a police station near his town. Three months after his arrest, all charges were dropped and he was released, but his relative said that because he had been targeted once by security forces, his family feared for his future.

Belal B., 17

Belal B. was arrested in 2018 by men who said they were National Security officers and claimed they wanted to question him at a police station. He was 17 years old at the time. For the next four days, Belal, a secondary-school student, was held in solitary confinement and cut off from the outside world. “I knew nothing about my parents and they knew nothing about me,” he said. Belal was not able to contact a lawyer or informed of the charges against him. Authorities then transferred him from the police station to a National Security facility, both in Cairo. Belal said that at the National Security facility, “they tied me to a chair for three days,” causing severe pain. “Every few hours a person would enter, ask me some questions, insult me, and leave,” he said. He asked that no further information be published about his case. “I am afraid. They threatened me to never speak up.”

Sharif S., 16

Sharif S. was 16 when police arrested him in 2015, after he had filmed a protest in the greater Cairo area.[40] He told Human Rights Watch he was burned on his head and hands when participants at the protest threw Molotov cocktails at a company storefront.

Sharif fled the scene but dropped his mobile phone, which police found and tracked him to his home, arrested him and put him in an unmarked microbus. They drove Sharif, who was heavily bandaged due to his burns, to a police station where another officer hit him on the head with a truncheon.

The head of the investigation unit at the police station where Sharif was held told the boy he would be released if he called another suspect and lured him to be arrested, but when Sharif called the suspect, he warned him by saying that he was calling from the police station. Because of his disobedience, “the gates of hell were opened,” the boy said. “They started around 11 p.m., and they kept at it until 3 a.m. They were hitting me on my burns and shocking me with electricity [using stun guns].” When the boy asked for medical care, police “replied by beating me, hard,” he said.

Sharif described in detail how he was tortured for four days and denied medical care and a change of bandages, to force him to confess. He fainted repeatedly due to pain. On the fourth day he lost consciousness after a man who police at the station identified as a National Security officer handcuffed his wrists together behind his back, then his ankles, and bent him backwards, using a third set of handcuffs to attach his arms and legs. Police then threatened him to make him confess, in a video-recorded statement, that he was paid to film videos and take photographs as a member of a Muslim Brotherhood group that intended to burn down important buildings and institutions.

When the police finally presented Sharif to a prosecutor, days after his arrest, another National Security officer beat him in the prosecutor’s presence, he said. The prosecution repeatedly renewed his detention for 15-day periods, then 45-day periods.

Sharif told Human Rights Watch police detained him for four months in an overcrowded police station cell with adult criminal suspects before transferring him to a police camp used as a jail. “I finished my high school exams in prison,” as did five other people detained with him who were arrested as children, he said.

A court ordered Sharif’s conditional release in August 2016, on bail of 5,000 Egyptian pounds (US $321), he said. After his release, he obtained a university scholarship abroad and was able to flee Egypt. A ruling in the case is expected in March 2020.

In addition, a military prosecutor subsequently added Sharif’s name to a military case that accused scores of defendants of alleged membership in a terrorist group that attacked and damaged a bank office and an ATM in early 2015, shortly before the other attack of which Sharif was accused. The three witness statements against Sharif in his military court file, reviewed by Human Rights Watch, do not identify him, or any other defendants, but state that a crowd of roughly 500 unidentifiable, masked protestors broke into the building and damaged the bank and ATM with Molotov cocktails. There is no reference to these attacks in the civilian court charges against Sharif or his coerced confession. The military prosecution did not claim the attacks wounded security forces or civilians. In 2017, the military court convicted Sharif in absentia and sentenced him to 10 years in prison.

In 2019, Sharif said his lawyer in Egypt had informed him that a court had added his name to a “terrorist list,” but that he had no further information. Egyptian courts have designated thousands of people as “terrorists” without prior notification or the opportunity to contest the designation in court, subjecting them to asset freezes, travel bans and the cancellation of their passports.[41]

Sharif had to interrupt his university studies abroad when national authorities there required him to produce an Egyptian police report showing that he had no criminal record, he said. He left and is now seeking asylum in a third country.

Yahia Y., 17

In 2015, shortly after his 17th birthday, Yahia was buying an ice cream in a town in the Nile Delta when three plainclothes police grabbed him off the street and threw him into a van. Police were responding to a nearby protest, but Yahia was not participating and “didn’t even realize what was happening until someone [in the van] hit me very hard on the back of my head and told me to sit with my hands behind my head,” he said.[42]

At a police station, officers dragged Yahia upstairs by his hair, blindfolded him, beat him on the head with a leather truncheon “60 or 70 times,” cuffed his arms behind his back and pulled them up to suspend him off the floor, dislocating his shoulders. Police accused him of damaging public property and applied electric shocks “on my head, ears, toes, hands, genitals and anus” repeatedly. One officer forced his mouth open, “and he spat in my mouth and forced me to swallow it.”

Yahia said he was initially detained in a small room at a police station with eight men, all handcuffed to one another. It was mid-winter but police officials “made us sleep [in an unheated room] with the windows open,” and “an old man chained to me urinated on himself because of the cold.” After seven days, Yahia made a false confession on video, and admitted that he knew other suspects, but in reality, “I only knew [some] of them.” A police officer staged photographs of Yahia and other detainees along with a machine gun and chemical materials.

Five days later, he was brought before the prosecutor, where he was not represented by a lawyer. “I had blood on my clothes, my shoulders were dislocated and I couldn’t walk properly,” Yahia said. He said he told the prosecutor police had tortured him into confessing. The prosecutor responded dismissively to his detailed account of how he was tortured: “You watch a lot of action movies, don’t you?” The prosecutor threatened to “send me back to the officer” who tortured him, Yahia said, unless he confessed to charges of joining a terrorist organization, participating in an attack, and “spreading a pessimistic atmosphere” in the country.  

Yahia spent the next 30 days in the police station detention cell which held 80 people, mostly adults, and became ill. Police sent him to a hospital emergency room but refused a doctor’s referral to an endocrinologist. He was transferred to a children’s detention facility, where he remained until he was sent to another police station after turning 18.

Yahia then asked to be sent to an actual prison facility because “I was studying [for secondary school examinations] and I needed some place to be in, not just the [police] station.” When police officers refused, he went on an 11-day hunger strike, and was transferred to a prison, but his case was then taken over by a military court that was a 12-hour journey away. Yahia said he and others were transported to and from the hearings in an overcrowded truck that lacked ventilation, and that prison officials sometimes punished him by sending him to court in the truck even when he had no hearings. In late 2016, after nearly two years in detention, he was sentenced to three years in jail, including time served, and has since been released.[43]

Nadeen N., 13

Nadeen said she has been arrested five times, the first when she was 13 years old, in 2013, in Cairo. She said she did not know why police took her and two friends to a police station, where they hit, cuffed, and questioned them in vague terms about “‘who are you and what did you do and where have you been,’” she said.[44] When her parents arrived at the station, police prevented them from seeing her. She was released after 2 a.m.

The following year, when she was in the equivalent of the eighth year of basic education, Nadeen and a group of friends were walking after school in another Cairo neighborhood when male plainclothes police officers arrested them, apparently in response to a public protest nearby but which the girls had not joined. “They dragged us by our hair and sent us to the police station, where they beat us when we entered.” The police cuffed the girls and told them to stand in a corridor all night, without food or water, allowing them to go to the bathroom only once. At around 7 a.m., Nadeen said, an officer blindfolded her and took her to a room where another officer electro-shocked her. “‘You were at the protest,’” he said and I told him no, I was in a class. Of course, he did not believe me.” She was questioned for about 10 minutes. At 9 a.m., police took her to the prosecutor at the New Cairo/Fifth Settlement State Security Prosecution. There she was allowed a lawyer and questioned, held in a detention area, and returned to the police station in an overcrowded truck, which forced her to miss her school examinations that day. The following day police brought her back to the prosecution, where she was charged with “protesting, resisting the authorities, and joining a terrorist group,” she said.

At the police station where she was detained the cell was so overcrowded that the girls and women “could not manage to sit down.” She described how male detainees harassed her and other female detainees while they walked to the shower or the bathroom: “the hallway is full of [male] detainees, and the window of our cell can be opened [by men] easily. The cell had some ventilation but a pregnant detainee fainted due to cigarette smoke from the men’s area,” Nadeen said. Family visits only lasted for a few minutes. She was released without charge after four days’ detention following an appeal of the prosecutor’s decision.

In 2014, a court convicted Nadeen in absentia and sentenced her to two years in jail for participating in an unlicensed protest, but her family appealed and her sentence was commuted to community service, according to a review of the case by Belady.

Later in 2014, during Ramadan, police arrested Nadeen at home and detained her along with several other girls for planning to participate in another protest, which in fact had been cancelled and not held, she claimed. Police first detained the girls in a police station and then transferred them to a National Security facility in the same Cairo neighborhood. Officers blindfolded her, required her to unlock her mobile phone, which contained anti-government messages, and interrogated her. After five days’ detention in the police station, the prosecution questioned her “for about 15 minutes” and released her.

In January 2016, when she was 16 years old, police arrested Nadeen again, shortly after detaining some family members suspected of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood, apparently due to her family relationship to her detained relatives rather than any suspicion of individual criminal activity. They took her to a police station where she saw one of the family members. “They took off my headscarf and cuffed my hands,” but later released her without charge, she said.

Arbitrary arrests and disappearances of children during and

after September 2019 protests

Following anti-government protests in cities across Egypt in September 2019, authorities arrested over 4,400 people including protesters, politicians, lawyers, bystanders, and children. Belady documented the names and other information of about 100 of the estimated 180 children who were arrested between September 20 and September 28. Human Rights Watch interviewed three of those children for this report.

Two boys, ages 16 and 17, and a girl, age 17, said they were forcibly disappeared for seven to nine days before appearing before the prosecution. Prosecutors added the children, who were arrested on different dates and in different places, to the same criminal case, on similar accusations of “unlawfully protesting” or “misusing social media,” and “supporting a terrorist organization.”

Farida F., a 17-year-old student in grade 12, was arrested at around 5 p.m. on September 22 in downtown Cairo, after a police officer stopped her. According to a person in contact with Farida that day, the officer took her phone, “opened her WhatsApp and saw her texts with her friends about politics. So, he arrested her.”[45] When Farida stopped responding on her phone and did not return home, her family went looking for her, at around midnight. For the next seven days, “we couldn’t get any information about her,” a relative said, until Farida appeared before the prosecution and a lawyer contacted the family. They learned she was being detained in a police station and sent her a change of clothes and some food, but have not been able to meet or speak with her. As with other defendants in the case, prosecutors accused the girl of misusing social media platforms and supporting a terrorist organization, and twice ordered her pre-trial detention for 15 days, according to her relative.

Police arrested Marwan M., a 17-year-old high school student, along with another family member on the evening of September 20 while they were driving through Cairo’s Tahrir Square, a witness said.[46] According to the witness, a police officer stopped the car because he saw Marwan holding up his smartphone and, believing he was recording a video, ordered him to hand over the phone. Marwan then “disappeared for nine days,” during which time he was detained at a Central Security Forces’ camp, until authorities presented Marwan before a prosecutor and he was able to see a lawyer, who notified his family. Marwan has been transferred to a police station where his family was able to send him food, but not to visit or speak to him. The prosecution added Marwan to the same criminal case as Farida F., and accused him of protesting and supporting a terrorist organization.

Police arrested Zeid Z., 17, a grade 11 student in al-Gharbeya governorate, on September 20 while he was watching a football match on television at a café, a family member said.[47] He managed to send a message to some relatives, saying that he had been “arrested by one man and was in a police car,” but “then his phone got shut off and we couldn’t reach him for ten days,” a relative said. The family sent messages requesting information to security officials and prosecutors in three governorates, as well as to the interior minister and the presidency, without response. In early October, a lawyer notified the family that Zeid had appeared at a prosecution office and was issued a 15-day pretrial detention order. His family was able to see him “for two minutes” the following week, when he was being transferred to a different detention facility, “along with seven other children of the same age,” the relative said. Zeid told his family that the prosecutor had “just asked me three questions and I answered,” but there was no time to discuss his case.

On October 23, Prosecutor General Hamada al-Sawy said in a statement that he ordered the release of “children, women and older people” arrested following the September 20 protests as an act of “clemency.” The prosecutor general also said that the parents of the children released should “rise up to their responsibilities” in raising their children to become “useful for the society.”[48] Authorities released Farida and Zeid after a few months of pretrial detention. However, several weeks after the statement Human Rights Watch and Belady learned that there were scores of children still in custody in the case.

 

II. Violations of International and Egyptian law

The abuses by police and National Security Agency officials as well as judicial officials against children that this report documents occurred in different detention facilities, neighborhoods, cities, and governorates over a period of several years, and no officers have been disciplined or otherwise held responsible.[49] These abuses violate basic tenets of international law and key provisions of Egypt’s Constitution, Penal Code, Code of Criminal Procedure, and Child Law.

Egypt ratified the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child in 2001, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) in 1990.[50] Like other international human rights treaties, the Convention and Charter prohibit torture and the death penalty for crimes committed while a child, and reaffirm children’s rights to freedom of expression, assembly, and belief, but Egyptian authorities have effectively criminalized and punished many peaceful acts that should be protected on these grounds since July 2013.[51] These treaties oblige states to guarantee children’s due process and fair trial rights, such as the right to be informed of the reason for arrest and to be represented by a lawyer, to be held separately from adults, and to have access to education, health care, adequate food, and other conditions. Under international law, states may detain children only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time and must ensure they can communicate with their families. The Charter states that the “essential aim of treatment of every child during the trial and also if found guilty of infringing the penal law shall be his or her reformation, re-integration into his or her family and social rehabilitation.”[52]

Egypt’s National Council on Childhood and Motherhood, established in 1988, helps oversee the CRC’s implementation.[53] Egypt was last reviewed by the Committee on the Rights of the Child in 2011, which noted its “deep regret” at continued torture and ill-treatment of children.[54] Egypt has cooperated with the United Nations Universal Periodic Review process, most recently in 2019.[55] In the 2019 review, Egypt’s National Center for Human Rights stated that it had received 484 complaints of enforced disappearance, and multiple human rights groups noted that torture is widespread and systematic.[56]

Egyptian criminal law provides punishments of 3 to 10 years imprisonment for security officials who torture detainees in order to extract a confession.[57]  To the knowledge of Human Rights Watch and Belady-IH, Egyptian authorities have opened no investigations and or held to account any security officers in the 13 cases of alleged torture documented in this report. This is consistent with a broader culture of impunity for abuses by security services.[58]

Egypt’s Constitution requires “a reasoned judicial order” in all cases of arrest, search, or deprivation of liberty, and that anyone arrested be notified in writing of the reason for the arrest and allowed to contact a lawyer and their family.[59] The Code of Criminal Procedure prohibits the arrest and detention of any person without a judicial order except where the person is “caught in the act.”[60] Under these laws, police must present any detainee before the prosecuting authority within 24 hours of arrest, and the detainee has the right to a lawyer during questioning by the prosecutor.[61] Egyptian criminal law provides punishments including fines and up to two years imprisonment for unlawful arrest and detention, and up to life imprisonment with hard labor for kidnapping a child.[62]  In none of the cases documented in this report did security officers show children, their families, or lawyers a judicial warrant for the child’s arrest.

Egyptian law prohibits holding children in police stations with adults during their pretrial detention.[63] However, in nine of the cases documented in this report, children were held in police stations with adults, often after they had been forcibly disappeared and detained elsewhere than in official detention facilities. All children whose cases are documented in the report described conditions of detention that appeared to be inhuman and degrading.

Egypt’s 1996 Child Law, extensively amended in 2008, prohibits sentencing a child – defined as anyone under 18 years old – to death or life imprisonment.[64] The law prohibits detaining or placing children in custody alongside adults, and requires that they be segregated according to their ages, gender, and the nature of the crime.[65] If a child under 15 is convicted of a crime, the law outlines a series of alternatives to imprisonment as penalties.[66] However, for children ages 15 or older, the law provides for prison terms of up to 3 years for minor offenses (misdemeanors) and 15 years for major offenses (felonies), though a judge can also opt to place children in a juvenile facility for 5 years for misdemeanors and 10 years for felonies.[67] Egypt’s Child Law allows children to be held in pretrial detention for up to two years, the same time-limit as for adults in the Criminal Procedural Code, subject to “weekly” judicial review.[68] In cases documented in this report, prosecutors often routinely renewed the pretrial detention, not judges, in violation of the Child Law.

The Child Law stipulates that officials appointed by the justice minister shall have arrest powers with regards to crimes committed by children and that specialized Child Courts and Child Prosecution offices should be established to oversee cases of crimes committed by children. However, in all the cases documented in this report, children were detained by police or National Security Agency officers, and prosecuted and tried by ordinary as well as special security or military prosecutors and courts.[69] This is because another provision of the Child Law permits the prosecution and trial of a child along with adults if at least one adult was involved in the alleged crime – a critical loophole in children’s rights protections which authorities have used to try scores of children, alongside adults, before criminal and terrorism courts.[70]

Moreover, the military justice system may prosecute children in the cases that fall within its jurisdiction, which it has the sole authority to determine, under Egypt’s 1966 Code of Military Justice.[71] Since 2014, authorities have referred over 15,500 civilians, including over 150 children, to military prosecution.[72] The Committee on the Rights of the Child, the independent expert body that oversees interpretation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, has endorsed the view “that trials of civilians by military tribunals and State security courts contravene the non-derogable right to a fair trial by a competent, independent and impartial court,” noting that “this is an even more concerning breach of rights for children, who should always be dealt with in specialized child justice systems.”[73]

In four cases documented in this report, children said that prison authorities prevented them from access to education or the ability to take examinations, in violation of international and Egyptian law.[74]

 

Acknowledgments

This report was written by Bill Van Esveld, associate director in the Children’s Rights Division at Human Rights Watch. Research for this report was conducted at Human Rights Watch by Van Esveld; Amr Magdi, researcher in the Middle East and North Africa Division; and by a senior research assistant, and a former senior associate in that division. At the US-based rights organization Belady: An Island for Humanity, research was conducted by Aya Hijazi and Mohamed Hasanien, co-directors, and by research staff.

The report was edited by Joe Stork, Middle East and North Africa Division deputy director, and Bede Sheppard, Children’s Rights Division deputy director. Clive Baldwin, Legal and Policy director, and Tom Porteous, deputy executive program director, provided legal and program reviews. Amr Magdi and Aya Hijazi provided expert review. Production assistance was provided by Alex Firth, Children’s Rights Division associate, and Fitzroy Hepkins, administrative manager.

We would like to thank the children and their families who courageously spoke to us about their experiences.

 

[1] “Exporting Violations: An Outlook on the Status of Exporting Light Weapons from the Czech Republic to Egypt,” The Egyptian Front for Human Rights, October 24, 2019, https://egyptianfront.org/research/analytical-reports/exporting-violatio... (accessed December 9, 2019); “Egypt: How French Arms Were Used To Crush Dissent,” Amnesty International, October 16, 2018, https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/eur21/9038/2018/en/ (accessed December 9, 2019).

[2] Egypt: Background and U.S. Relations, Congressional Research Service, March 12, 2019, p. 24, https://fas.org/sgp/crs/mideast/RL33003.pdf (accessed September 3, 2019).

[3]“European Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations: Egypt,” European Commission, January 10, 2020, https://ec.europa.eu/neighbourhood-enlargement/neighbourhood/countries/e... “Egypt: Key Milestones,” European Commission, September 1, 2016, https://ec.europa.eu/neighbourhood-enlargement/sites/near/files/near_fac... (accessed January 16, 2020).

[4] “سياسة: داعش يتبنى استهداف فندق الأهرام والسلطات المصرية تكذبه,” Al Hayat, http://www.alhayat.com/article/721916/%D8%B3%D9%8A%D8%A7%D8%B3%D8%A9/-%D... (accessed January 12, 2020)

[5] “No Casualties, But the Decision is Execution,” The Egyptian Front for Human Rights, October 13, 2019, pp. 8, 18, https://egyptianfront.org/ar/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/%D8%A8%D9%84%D8%A7-%D8%AE%D8%B3%D8%A7%D8%A6%D8%B1.pdf (accessed January 16, 2020).

[6] Ibid.

[7] Judge Nagy Shehata has convicted thousands of defendants and issued hundreds of provisional and final death sentences in mass trials since he was appointed in 2014 to the bench that oversees “terrorism” cases. “Social media users rally to ‘stop’ infamous Judge Nagy Shehata,” January 18, 2016, Mada Masr, https://madamasr.com/en/2016/01/18/news/u/social-media-users-rally-to-st... (accessed December 3, 2019).

[8] The Grand Mufti may issue a non-binding opinion approving or disapproving the death penalty, for the judge’s review, before the court issues a final verdict that confirms or reduces death sentences.

[9] Ibid.; and see “Stop Sentencing Children to Death,” Belady et. al., June 22, 2019, https://beladyrf.org/ar/node/56?fbclid=IwAR03JyztkHD1xQ0fnk1V5p83xkFgKzF... (accessed December 3, 2019)

[10] Khadiga Afifi, “The Judges’ Statement [Verbatim] in the Three Pyramids Hotel Case,” Akhbar el-Youm, October 12, 2019, https://akhbarelyom.com/news/newdetails/2927041/1/%D9%86%D9%86%D8%B4%D8%... (accessed December 3, 2019).

[11] “Mass Injustice: Statistical Findings On The Death Penalty In Egypt,” Reprieve, May 27, 2019, p. 25, https://reprieve.org.uk/press/scale-of-egypts-death-penalty-crisis-revea... (accessed December 9, 2019).

[12] Ibid.

[13] Email correspondence with Reprieve researcher, March 11, 2020.

[14] Interview with a source close to the family, October 2018.

[15] After the popular uprising against Egypt’s former ruler, Hosni Mubarak, the government changed the name of the State Security Agency to the National Security Agency, which is part of the Interior Ministry. However, the State Security prosecution, which is part of the Ministry of Justice, retained its name, نيابة أمن الدولة.

[16] Khadiga Afifi, “The Judges’ Statement [Verbatim] in the Three Pyramids Hotel’s Case,” ibid.

[17] Amnesty International, "Egypt: State Security prosecution operating as a ‘sinister tool of repression’,” November 27, 2019, https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2019/11/egypt-state-security-pros...

[18] Interview with Wesam W., December 2018.

[19] Telephone interview with a relative of Rashid R., March 2018.

[20] Interviews with Maged M.’s relatives, July 2018.

[21] “Default Situation is Violation: Abuses against Defendants in military Case 64 of 2017,” Belady, July 2, 2018, https://beladyrf.org/en/node/25 (accessed December 6, 2019); “Urgent Appeal to Egypt:  UN experts call for release of four minors facing death penalty,” UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detentions, March 6, 2020, https://www.ohchr.org/en/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=25676&... (accessed March 9, 2020).

[22] Ibid.

[23] Opinion No. 65/2019, UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, A/HRC/WGAD/2019/65, paragraph 47, January 23, 2020, https://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Issues/Detention/Opinions/Session86/A_HR... (accessed March 4, 2020).

[24] Interview with relative of Amr A., July 2018.

[25] “We Are in Tombs”: Abuses in Egypt’s Scorpion Prison, Human Rights Watch, September 28, 2016 https://www.hrw.org/report/2016/09/28/we-are-tombs/abuses-egypts-scorpio....

[26] Interviews with a relative of Ziad Z., March 2018.

[27] Telephone interviews with a relative of Firas F., May 2018.

[28] Telephone interview with another relative of Firas F., December 2014.

[29] Telephone interview with a lawyer for Firas F., December 2014.

[30] Telephone interview with a family member of Yusef Y., April 2018.

[31] Telephone interview with a former al-Azoly detainee, May 2016.

[32] Ahmed Mostafa, "Investigations in Sinai Province Case Reveals Suspects of the President’s Assassination Plan,” Mobtada website, January 23, 2018, https://www.mobtada.com/details/691616 (accessed December 6, 2019).

[33] Telephone interviews with a relative, April 2018 and February 2019. Constitution of Egypt, Art. 54. The Code of Criminal Procedure, Art. 36, requires police to present anyone detained to the Prosecutor within 24 hours, and requires the presence of a lawyer.

[34] Military Case 357 of 2016.

[35] Marwa Heikal, “10 Children Dropped from the Sinai Province Case,” al-Fagr, August 2, 2017, https://www.elfagr.com/2697430 (accessed December 6, 2019).

[36] “ إخلاء سبيل 9 متهمين "قصر" بقضية ولاية سيناء الثانية بتدابير احترازية“, Youm7, April 19, 2018, https://www.youm7.com/story/2018/4/19/%D8%A5%D8%AE%D9%84%D8%A7%D8%A1-%D8... (accessed February 2, 20200; “إخلاء سبيل 11 طفلا متهما في قضية "ولاية سيناء" , Masrawy, April 19, 2018, https://www.masrawy.com/news/news_cases/details/2018/4/19/1328837/%D8%A5... (accessed February 2, 2020).

[37] The Criminal Procedure Code stipulates that pretrial detention cannot be extended for more than six months for misdemeanors, 18 months for felonies, and two years for crimes punishable by death or life imprisonment. Criminal Procedure Code of the Arab Republic of Egypt, Law No. 150 of 1950 as amended, Art. 134, available at: http://helmylawyers.blogspot.com/2010/07/001.html (Arabic).

[38] Prosecution charge document, on file with Human Rights Watch and Belady.

[39] Telephone interview with a relative, April 2019.

[40] Telephone interview with Sharif S., July 2019.

[41] “Egypt: Court Names 1,500 to Terrorist List,” Human Rights Watch, January 24, 2017, https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/01/24/egypt-court-names-1500-terrorist-list.

[42] Interview with Yahia Y., May 2019.

[43] Court documents on file with Human Rights Watch and Belady.

[44] Interviews with Nadeen N., December 2018 and January 2020.

[45] Telephone interview with a relative of Farida F., October 2019.

[46] Telephone interview with a relative of Marwan M., October 2019.

[47] Telephone interview with a relative of Zeid Z., October 2019.

[48] “The Prosecutor General Orders the Release of Children, Students, Women and Older People, in the September 20 Protests’ Case,: al-Shorouk Newspaper, October 23, 2019, https://www.shorouknews.com/news/view.aspx?cdate=23102019&id=5477b33c-4e... (accessed December 9, 2019).

[49] “We Do Unreasonable Things Here”: Torture and National Security in al-Sisi’s Egypt, Human Rights Watch, 2017.

[50] African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, July 1990, CAB/LEG/153/Rev. 2, https://www.acerwc.africa/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/African_Children_Ch... UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, https://www.ohchr.org/en/professionalinterest/pages/crc.aspx.

[51] “Egypt: Events of 2018,” Human Rights Watch, https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2019/country-chapters/egypt.

[52] African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, July 1990, article 18(3).

[53] Egypt National Council on Childhood and Motherhood, http://www.nccm-egypt.org/e3/index_eng.html, accessed September 22, 2019.

[54] “Concluding Observations: Egypt,” 2011, Committee on the Rights of the Child, CRC/C/EGY/CO/3-4, paragraph 48, July 15, 2011, https://tbinternet.ohchr.org/_layouts/15/treatybodyexternal/Download.aspx?symbolno=CRC/C/EGY/CO/3-4&Lang=En (accessed January 16, 2020). Egypt has not submitted its next reports, which were due in March 2016.

[55] Egypt’s submission stated it has prosecuted security officials for torture in 30 cases. “National report,” Egypt, A/HRC/WG.6/34/EGY/1, August 21, 2019, para. 26, https://undocs.org/A/HRC/WG.6/34/EGY/1 (accessed January 20, 2020).

[56] “Summary of Stakeholders’ Submissions on Egypt,” UN General Assembly, A/HRC/WG.6/34/EGY/3, August 14, 2019, paragraphs   6, 31, https://undocs.org/A/HRC/WG.6/34/EGY/3 (accessed January 20, 2020).

[57] Penal Code, Art. 126. The international definition of torture, unlike Egypt’s, is not limited to abuse of an accused person for the purpose of extracting a confession. The Road Ahead: A Human Rights Agenda for Egypt’s New Parliament, Human Rights Watch, January 2012, p. 41, https://www.hrw.org/sites/default/files/reports/egypt0112webwcover.pdf.

[58] Human Rights Watch, “We Do Unreasonable Things Here’: Torture and National Security in al-Sisi’s Egypt.

[59] Constitution of Egypt, Art. 54.

[60] Code of Criminal Procedure, Article 139.

[61] Constitution of Egypt, Art. 54; Code of Criminal Procedure, Art. 36.

[62] Constitution of Egypt, Art. 54; Code of Criminal Procedure, Art. 36.

[63] Penal Code, Art. 280 - 290.

[64] Law No. 12 of 1996 Promulgating the Child Law, Amended by Law No. 126 of 2008, Articles 2, 111, available at http://www.nccm-egypt.org/e7/e2498/e2691/infoboxContent2692/ChildLawno12... (accessed August 30, 2019).

[65] Ibid. Article 112

[66] Ibid., Article 101.

[67] Ibid., Article 111.

[68] Ibid., Article 119.

[69] Ibid., Articles 117 and 120.

[70] Article 122 of the Child Law provides that “The Child Court shall exclusively deal with issues concerning the child when accused of a crime … [except], the Criminal Court or the Supreme State Security Court … shall have jurisdiction over criminal cases where the accused - at the time of committing the crime - is a child above fifteen (15) years of age while the accomplice is not a child and the case necessitated bringing the criminal action against the accomplice jointly with the child.” Id. See also Mahmoud al-Wakea, “Innocence behind bars: the fate of Egypt’s minors at the mercy of criminal and military courts,” Mada Masr, December 8, 2017, https://madamasr.com/en/2017/12/08/feature/politics/innocence-behind-bars-the-fate-of-egypts-minors-at-the-mercy-of-criminal-and-military-courts/ (accessed September 3, 2019).

[71] As amended in 2012, the Code of Military Justice, Article 8 (bis) (1) allows military tribunals to try juveniles when accompanied by an adult who is subject to military jurisdiction, while Article 48 gives the military justice system sole competence to determine its jurisdiction. Human Rights Watch, “Egypt: New Law Keeps Military Trials of Civilians,” May 7, 2012, https://www.hrw.org/news/2012/05/07/egypt-new-law-keeps-military-trials-...

[72] Human Rights Watch, “Egypt: Events of 2017,” https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2018/country-chapters/egypt.

[73] Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 24 on juvenile justice, paragraph 96, 2019.

[74] Convention on the Rights of the Child, Art. 28. Egyptian law 396 of 1956, article 28, and article 15 of the Minister of the Interior decision 79 of 1961, provide that education should be made available to all prisoners, according to their age, sentence, and previous level of education, under the authority of the Director General of the central prison administration and the Minister of the Interior. Mustafa El-Augi, “The El-Katta Open Prison Project in Egypt,” p. 139, Basic Education in Prisons, 1995, United Nations Office at Vienna, Crime Prevention and Justice Branch, https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000111871 (accessed December 12, 2019).

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