Egypt’s security forces and police routinely torture and abuse detainees, particularly during interrogation, and the government’s failure to address the problem has created an atmosphere of impunity, Human Rights Watch said in a new briefing paper released today.

The 9-page briefing paper, “Egypt’s Torture Epidemic,” provides an overview of the country’s torture problem and documents the government’s failure to investigate credible allegations of torture and ill-treatment. An appendix details 17 cases of death in detention in 2002 and 2003 in which torture is known or suspected to be the cause of death.

“Egypt’s security forces used to employ torture primarily against political dissidents, especially suspected Islamist activists and sympathizers,” said Joe Stork, acting executive director of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East and North Africa Division. “Nowadays, ordinary Egyptians who find themselves in police custody for any reason whatsoever risk being tortured.”

The briefing paper recommends policy initiatives and legal reforms to address the problem. Human Rights Watch called on the government to establish an independent body of judicial and medical experts to oversee prompt investigations of torture allegations against law enforcement officials.

Egypt acceded to the Convention Against Torture in June 1986. As a state party to this international treaty, Egypt is obliged to investigate allegations of torture, prosecute perpetrators and sentence those found guilty to penalties that take into account the grave nature of the offense.