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Letter Regarding Arrests and Prosecutions of People Living with HIV/AIDS

April 7, 2008  
 
To: Egyptian Ministry of Health and Population  
 
Egyptian Doctors’ Syndicate  
 
cc: National AIDS Program  
 
Dear Minister El-Gabaly,  
 
We are 117 human rights organizations based in 41 countries around the world, working in the fields of health and human rights. We write you urgently to voice concern over the arrest and trial of men in Egypt for alleged homosexual conduct, apparently based on men’s suspected HIV serostatus. We are concerned that medical personnel may have been complicit, or actively participated, in acts violating the international norm prohibiting torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. We are further concerned that the Ministry’s involvement with the detention and interrogation of suspects in these cases condones or gives credit to myths about HIV/AIDS, in a way that is incompatible with the Ministry’s public health responsibilities and can only contribute to the epidemic’s spread.  

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We are profoundly disturbed by these arrests and by the destructive attitudes they display. We urge you, as custodians of public health in Egypt and as leaders in the national struggle against AIDS, to affirm in your statements and, more importantly, to embody in your actions the reality that respecting human rights is the way to protect health.  
 
In the last four months, Cairo police have arrested at least twelve men in an apparent campaign against people whom authorities suspect of being HIV-positive.  
 
This crackdown began in October 2007, when police stopped two men having an altercation in downtown Cairo. After one told the police he was HIV-positive, police arrested both of them, charged them with the “habitual practice of debauchery,” beat them and coerced them to sign confessions, and interrogated them to extract the names of contacts, thus beginning the ongoing wave of arrests.  
 
Doctors employed by the Ministry of Health and Population subjected the men to HIV tests without their consent. Doctors from the Forensic Medical Authority forcibly subjected the men to intrusive, medically valueless, and abusive forensic anal examinations to “prove” they had engaged in homosexual conduct. All those testing positive for HIV were held in Cairo hospitals, chained to their beds, until February 25, when it appears that an order was given to remove their handcuffs. One man reports that a prosecutor informing him that he was HIV positive told him, “People like you should be burnt alive. You do not deserve to live.”  
 
A Cairo court convicted four of these men on January 13, 2008 under Article 9(c) of Law 10/1961, which criminalizes the “habitual practice of debauchery [fujur]” – a term used to penalize consensual homosexual conduct in Egyptian law. According to defense attorneys, the prosecution based its case on the coerced and repudiated statements taken from the men, without providing witnesses or other credible evidence to support the charges, which all the men denied. On February 2, 2008, a Cairo appeals court upheld their one-year prison sentences. Five more men were indicted on March 4 and face trial on April 9. Charges were dropped against the remaining three.  
 
It is evident from this case that the Ministry of Health and Population has failed both to protect the rights of patients under its care, and to help ensure police and criminal-justice authorities do not act on the basis of false information about HIV prevention and transmission.  
 
We are grateful for the removal of chains from those kept in hospitals, as well as the dropping of charges against a small number of those arrested. However, we note that court files in the case initially contained a questionnaire from the Ministry of Health and Population, titled “A questionnaire for patients with HIV/AIDS.” It includes “yes” or “no” questions evidently used by doctors from the Ministry in this case to gather information from the men about whether they had sexual relations “with the other sex” or “with the same sex,” or “with one person” or “with more than one person.” Its inclusion suggests not only that private, patient information which should be confidential is shared with law enforcement, but that it may have been used by the prosecutors as evidence against the men. Information gained from patients should not be submitted in a criminal proceeding that itself violates human rights standards.  
 
We recall that:
     
  • International law forbids discrimination on the basis of real or perceived HIV serostatus. Detaining people on the basis of their declared HIV status and testing them without their consent for HIV infection violate the prohibition of discrimination and the right to bodily autonomy.
  •  
  • As Human Rights Watch has documented in its research on Egypt, forensic anal examinations to detect “evidence” of homosexuality are medically spurious, and, conducted without consent under conditions of incarceration, constitute torture.
  •  
  • Beatings and physical abuse of people in detention also violate international legal prohibitions of torture and other ill-treatment. The United Nations’ “Principles of Medical Ethics Relevant to the Role of Health Personnel, Particularly Physicians, in the Protection of Prisoners and Detainees Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment” state that it is a “gross contravention of medical ethics, as well as an offence under applicable international instruments, for health personnel, particularly physicians, to engage, actively or passively, in acts which constitute participation in, complicity in, incitement to or attempts to commit torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”
  •  
  • Criminalizing consensual, adult same-sex sexual conduct violates Egypt’s obligations under international human rights law to respect and protect individual privacy and personal autonomy. The imprisonment of individuals for actual or alleged consensual same-sex relations between adults in private is a serious violation of human rights, and individuals held solely on that basis are victims of arbitrary detention who should be immediately and unconditionally released.
 
 
We urge you to:
     
  • Support the setting aside of the convictions of four men already sentenced for the “habitual practice of debauchery,” and the immediate release and dropping of these charges against all others still facing trial.
  •  
  • Seek a cessation of police and prosecutors conducting arbitrary arrests based on HIV status.
  •  
  • Call for the repeal of Article 9(c) of Law 19/1961, the enforcement of which only drives groups vulnerable to the HIV/AIDS pandemic underground and beyond the reach of prevention or treatment.
  •  
  • Ensure that personnel affiliated with the Ministry of Health and Population, or the National AIDS Program, neither condone nor participate in torture, ill-treatment, or criminal interrogations of detainees, and immediately report any instances of torture or ill-treatment to the appropriate authorities.
  •  
  • End the practice of chaining detainees in need of medical attention to their hospital beds.
  •  
  • End the practice of forcible HIV testing of detainees without full, informed consent. Ensure that all persons who test positive for HIV receive appropriate and immediate counseling as well as treatment.
  •  
  • End the practice of forensic anal examinations for spurious traces of same-sex sexual conduct.
  •  
  • Ensure that all detainees receive the highest available standard of medical care for any serious health conditions.
  •  
  • Provide training to all criminal-justice officials on medical facts and international human rights standards in relation to HIV.
 
 
We look forward to your reply.  
 
Sincerely,  
 
Acción Solidaria  
Caracas, Venezuela  
 
Action Canada for Population and Development (ACPD)  
Canada  
 
African Council of AIDS Service Organizations (AfriCASO)  
African Region  
 
African Services Committee  
United States  
 
Agua Buena Human Rights Association  
San Jose, Costa Rica  
 
AIDES  
France  
 
AIDS and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa  
African Region  
 
AIDS Committee of Guelph/Wellington  
Canada  
 
AIDS Concern,  
Hong Kong, China  
 
AIDS Law Project  
South Africa  
 
AIDS Saint John  
Canada  
 
Aizhixing Institute  
China  
 
Aksion Plus  
Albania  
 
Alternative Law Foundation,  
Bangalore, India  
 
 
 
Alternatives – Cameroun  
Cameroon  
 
Al-Nadeem Center for the Psychological Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence Egypt  
 
Amnesty International  
United Kingdom/International  
 
Arab Network for Human Rights Information  
Egypt/Middle East Region  
 
Arc En Ciel Plus  
Cote d’Ivoire  
 
ARDHO  
Burundi  
 
Asia Pacific Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS (APN+)  
Asia Pacific Region  
Spain  
 
Associació de Voluntaris i Amics de l'Hospital (A.V.A.H.)  
 
Association de Lutte Contre le Sida (ALCS)  
Morocco  
 
Association de Lutte Contre le Sida (ALS)  
France  
 
Association de Protection Contre le Sida (APCS), Oran  
Algeria  
 
Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID)  
International  
 
Association HIV.LV  
Latvia  
 
Association Ruban Rouge  
Morocco  
 
Brazilian Interdisciplinary Aids Association (ABIA)  
Brazil  
 
Budgetary and Human Rights Observatory  
Egypt  
 
C.A. Odyseus  
Slovak Republic  
 
The Canadian AIDS Treatment Information Exchange (CATIE)  
Canada  
 
Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network  
Canada  
 
Caribbean Vulnerable Communities Coalition  
Caribbean Region  
 
Centre for AIDS Rights (CAR)  
Thailand  
 
Centre for Human Rights  
University of Pretoria  
South Africa  
 
Center for Reproductive Rights  
United States/International  
 
Center for Women’s Global Leadership  
United States/International  
 
China Orchid AIDS Project  
China  
 
Coalition for a Feminist Agenda  
Australia  
 
Coalition for Sexual and Bodily Rights in Muslim Societies (CSBR)  
International  
 
Coalition of Asia Pacific Regional Networks on HIV/AIDS (7 Sisters)  
Asia Pacific Region  
 
Colibri Cameroun  
Cameroon  
 
DAWN - Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era  
Nigeria/International+  
 
Doctors for Human Rights  
United Kingdom/International  
 
Donbas-Soc Project  
Ukraine  
 
Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights  
Egypt  
 
ELSA Platform “Together, let’s fight AIDS in Africa”  
France  
 
Etablissement International Excellence  
Cameroon  
 
Eurasian Harm Reduction Network  
Lithuania/Europe and Asia Regions  
 
European AIDS Treatment Group  
Belgium/Europe Region  
 
François-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights  
Harvard University  
United States  
 
Fórum ONGs AIDS de Mato Grosso  
Brazil  
 
Fundación la Amistad-FUNAMI  
Colombia  
 
Fundación en Acción / Revista Indetectable  
Colombia  
 
Fundación Comunicación Positiva  
Colombia  
 
Fundación Seroestatus  
Colombia  
 
Global Network of People Living with HIV (GNP+)  
International  
 
Global Network of People living with HIV/AIDS - North America  
North American Region  
 
 
Global Rights: Partners for Justice  
United States/International  
 
Grupo de Trabajo sobre Tratamientos del VIH (gTt)  
Spain  
 
Health and Human Rights Programme  
School of Public Health and Family Medicine, University of Cape Town  
South Africa  
 
Health GAP (Global Access Project)  
United States/International  
 
Hisham Mubarak Law Center  
Egypt  
 
"Hope" Club for Women Living with HIV/AIDS, Rostov-on-Don  
Russia  
 
Human Rights Watch  
United States/International  
 
International AIDS Society  
Switzerland/International  
 
International Council of AIDS Service Organizations (ICASO)  
Canada/International  
 
International Treatment Preparedness Coalition in Eastern Europe and Central Asia (ITPCru)  
Russia/Europe and Asia Regions  
 
Jamaica AIDS Support  
Jamaica  
 
International Commission of Jurists  
Switzerland/International  
 
Ipas: Protecting Women’s Health, Advancing Women’s Reproductive Rights  
United States/International  
 
The Italian Association for Women in Development (AIDOS)  
Italy  
 
Justice and Peace Commission, Durango  
Mexico  
 
Kamukunji Paralegal Network (KAPLEN KENYA)  
Kenya  
 
Lambda Istanbul Solidarity Association  
Turkey  
 
Katiró de Manaus/Amazonas  
Brazil  
 
Kenya AIDS Intervention Prevention Project Group (KAIPPG International)  
United States/Kenya  
 
Living Positively  
Part of the Global Youth Coalition on HIV/AIDS  
International  
 
Medios y sida (Media & AIDS resource center)  
Spain  
 
Mouvement Francais pour le Planning Familial  
France  
 
Movimiento Mexicano de Ciudadanía Positiva  
MSM: No Political Agenda (MSMNPA)  
Trinidad and Tobago  
 
MULABI  
Argentina/Latin American Region  
 
Naz Foundation International  
India/United Kingdom  
 
Network of People living with HIV/AIDS in Nigeria (NEPWHAN)  
Nigeria  
 
Pastoral Ecumenica VIH-SIDA  
Argentina  
 
Persia +  
Iran  
 
"Phoenix PLUS" Orel  
Russia  
 
Physicians for Human Rights  
United States/International  
 
PILIPINA Legal Resources Center  
Philippines  
 
Projeto Esperança - Apoio e Prevenção ás DST/HIV/Aids  
Brazil  
 
Provida  
Colombia  
 
Red Colombiana de Personas que Viven con VIHSIDA (RECOLVIH)  
Colombia  
 
Réseau sur l'Ethique, le Droit et le Sida (REDS)  
Cameroon  
 
Renaissance Santé Bouaké (RSB)  
Cote d’Ivoire  
 
Russian Harm Reduction Network  
Russia  
 
SASOD  
Guyana  
 
SERES  
Portugal  
 
Sexuality Information and Education Council of the U.S. (SIECUS)  
United States  
 
Sexuality Policy Watch  
Brazil/United States  
 
SIDACTION  
France  
 
Sida Info Service  
France  
 
"Socium” Mutual Help Group for People Living With HIV/AIDS  
Rostov-on-Don  
Russia  
 
Solidarité Sida  
France  
 
Southern African Media and Gender Institute (SAMGI)  
African Region  
 
TARSHI (Talking About Reproductive and Sexual Health Issues)  
India  
 
Thai Aids Treatment Action Group  
Thailand  
 
Treatment Action Campaign (TAC)  
South Africa  
 
Tunisian Association Against STDs/AIDS  
Tunisia  
 
Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office  
United States  
 
United Belize Advocacy Movement  
Belize  
 
“Well-Being of Generations" NGO, Rostov-on-Don  
Russia  
 
Women for Women’s Human Rights – New Ways  
Turkey  
 
Women's Global Network for Reproductive Rights  
International  
 
World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)  
Switzerland/International  
 
Youth Empowerment Foundation of Grenada  
Grenada  
 

 

 
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