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(Cairo) - Egypt's Higher Military Council should take immediate steps to free those detained during the recent unrest, lift emergency laws, and make a clear commitment to end torture and police abuse, Human Rights Watch said today. On February 13, 2011, the council ordered the suspension of the constitution and the dissolution of parliament.

"The first priority of Egypt's military authorities should be to create a government that respects human rights and establishes the rule of law," said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch. "A good place to begin would be for the Higher Military Council to end the state of emergency and demonstrate zero tolerance for the abusive practices of the past."

In its communiqué number five on February 13, the Higher Military Council announced that it was setting up a committee to draft a new constitution to be submitted to referendum. Human Rights Watch urged the council to ensure that all bodies tasked with drafting the constitution and planning the transition to democracy are inclusive, credible, transparent, and accountable.

The military authorities should take these early measures to build confidence:

  • 1. Immediately release all detainees still in military custody or charge them with a recognizable criminal offense under the regular criminal law, bring them immediately before an independent judge, and try them before a court meeting international fair trial standards;
  • 2. Ensure an independent, thorough, and transparent investigation of all credible allegations of torture by the military police over the past two weeks, including six cases reported to Human Rights Watch;
  • 3. Repeal the Emergency Law that gives the Interior Ministry broad powers to arrest and detain people arbitrarily and that limits the rights to freedom of association and peaceful assembly;
  • 4. Ensure the right to freedom of assembly by allowing for peaceful public protests as well as the right of workers to organize independent trade unions and conduct peaceful strikes;
  • 5. Publicly announce a policy of zero tolerance regarding torture or ill-treatment and enforced disappearance by State Security Investigations and other ministry of interior officers as well as military officers. Instruct all security forces and members of the armed forces to refuse to obey any order to carry out such abuse and warn that they will face criminal prosecution;
  • 6. Instruct the Public Prosecutor to initiate investigations against ministry of interior officials, including senior officials, who have ordered, condoned, or carried out torture in the past, and in particular investigate State Security Investigations officers who allegedly "disappeared" detainees and subjected them to torture.

"The Egyptian military command says they intervened to guarantee the wishes of the people," said Roth. "The paramount desire of a people who had long suffered under authoritarian rule is to uphold the rule of law and protect fundamental human rights."

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