December 15, 2004
His Excellency Habib al-`Adli
Ministry of the Interior
Al-Shaikh Rihan Street
We are writing to you with respect to the situation in al-`Arish and the Governorate of Northern Sinai following the October 7 attacks against the Hilton hotel in Taba and two tourist campsites in the Taba vicinity. Human Rights Watch strongly condemned those attacks in a statement issued shortly afterwards as violating the most fundamental principles of humanity.
We recognize the duty of the government of Egypt to investigate these brutal and unjustifiable acts, and to bring those responsible to justice. We expect that the government will pursue its obligations in this regard in a manner that upholds Egypt’s Constitution and its obligations under international human rights law.
In late November 2004, several Egyptian human rights organizations independently published reports alleging widespread abuses by the Egyptian authorities in the conduct of this investigation, in particular by the State Security Investigation (SSI) forces under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of the Interior. These allegations included reports of mass arrests of between 2,500 and three thousand persons, arbitrary detention, torture and ill-treatment, and taking family members hostage in order to secure the surrender of wanted persons. The large number of persons detained has been attributed to remarks by a high government official in al-`Arish. The government of Egypt has not publicly responded to these allegations, so far as we are aware, or provided any information on the numbers or whereabouts of those detained.
Human Rights Watch subsequently conducted its own investigation into these allegations by visiting al-`Arish and neighboring areas. During our visit, we contacted the governor, Gen. Ahmed `Abd al-Hamid, and the deputy head of SSI in al-`Arish, `Isam `Amr; we regret that both Gen. Hamid and SSI officials refused to meet with our representative. Human Rights Watch also sent a request by fax to your office on December 7, 2004, and by hand delivery to the Ministry the following day, requesting a meeting with Your Excellency for our representative visiting Cairo, Mr. Joe Stork, the Washington director of our organization’s Middle East division. The response of officials in your office was that the Ministry would contact Mr. Stork if officials wished to meet with him. As of December 12, no response was forthcoming.
Human Rights Watch is preparing a report concerning these developments in and around al-`Arish. Because we would nevertheless like to reflect the government’s views in its upcoming report, we request your response to the following questions.
While visiting al-`Arish and the area, we spoke with Egyptian citizens who told us in detail of their own detention and in some cases severe torture at the hands of SSI officers. Dozens of mothers and fathers, and wives and sisters, told us of their sons and husbands and brothers who had been taken in pre-dawn raids “for just five minutes.” Weeks later, in some cases nearly two months later, they still have no idea where their loved ones are, or whether they too have suffered the torture and ill-treatment that they all believe to be a routine feature of internment at the hands of the SSI. In no case did the arresting authorities provide a judicial warrant, or cite any legal basis for the arrest.
We would therefore appreciate learning from the Ministry
Most of the individuals with whom we spoke have asked us not to reveal their names, or those of their missing relatives, out of fear of reprisal from the authorities. The cases we raise by name below, therefore, by no means represent an exhaustive list of known missing persons. We request that the authorities make their present whereabouts known to Human Rights Watch and to their families:
We would appreciate knowing, in addition to the legal basis for arrest and continued detention of these and countless others held in round-up since October 7, whether they have had access to legal counsel and to visits by immediate family members.
We would like to know if the Ministry has undertaken any investigations into allegations of torture and ill-treatment of persons detained in connection with the Taba attacks.
Your Excellency, the pattern of abuses that our investigation has verified is extremely disturbing. Of particular concern is the fact that many family members have been unable to learn the whereabouts of their loved ones subsequent to their arrest. In addition, many of those arrested are government employees, and in a number of cases that we investigated family members informed Human Rights Watch that the detained person’s employment and salary had been terminated. When the family informed the employer that the person had been detained by the authorities, they were told they must provide proof of detention, which they have been unable to obtain.
Human Rights Watch is gravely concerned that policies of secret and incommunicado detention place detainees in situations of great vulnerability where they are at risk of torture and “disappearance,” which are grave offences under international human rights law. We are extremely disturbed by the credible testimonies of torture that we received as well as reports that torture and ill-treatment of detainees rounded up in connection with the attacks has been widespread.
It is therefore vital that the government take steps immediately to make public the names of persons in detention, their whereabouts, and the legal basis for their detention. We also request that the Ministry immediately allow access by Egyptian and international human rights monitors to those detention sites where these individuals are incarcerated in order to address numerous and credible reports of torture and ill-treatment by SSI officials.
We would appreciate the response of the Ministry of the Interior to this letter at your earliest opportunity. In order for your views to be reflected in the report we are preparing, we request that we receive the response by December 24, 2004.
Thank you in advance for your attention to this important matter.
Sarah Leah Whitson