The continued appalling treatment of Gehad el-Haddad in the notorious al-Aqrab prison is cruel, inhuman and unacceptable, said Amnesty International today, in response to fresh information that prison authorities have confiscated his wheelchair and other belongings and moved him back to solitary confinement after spending a month in Liman Tora prison awaiting medical treatment which he did not receive.
“Amnesty International is deeply concerned about Gehad el-Haddad’s deteriorating health and the abusive conditions in which he is being held. The inhumane conditions Gehad has been subjected to since his detention in 2013, including prolonged solitary confinement, have resulted in much of his ongoing suffering, pain and the need for a wheelchair. When he arrived in prison he was a healthy man in his early 30’s. Now he can’t move to perform ablutions or use the bathroom without help,” Said Najia Bounaim, North Africa Campaigns Director at Amnesty International.
Today, Fair Trials and REDRESS have released a new report which reveals how the use of evidence obtained by torture is still widespread in criminal trials across the world, and calls on States and UN bodies to do more to tackle the problem.
The report – “Tainted by Torture” – is a comparative analysis of the law and practices regarding the exclusion of torture evidence in 17 countries from Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas, and was produced with support from Allen and Overy LLP. It explores some of the serious flaws in domestic and international law which mean that the international prohibition on torture evidence often fails to be implemented in reality.
The report highlights how torture is often used by police, intelligence services, the military and others as a short-cut in criminal investigations, as a tool of exerting control over detainees; to gather “intelligence”; to solicit leads; and to obtain confessions. Often, authorities resort to torture because relevant domestic legislation does not prohibit such evidence, or because judges fail to declare such evidence inadmissible. In many countries, confessions are used as the main piece of evidence for convictions, exacerbating the risk of torture.
The report calls on States to put in place stronger safeguards to prevent the use of torture evidence and calls on United Nations bodies to do more to emphasise the importance of the exclusion of torture evidence to combat torture. In particular, it calls on the United Nations Committee Against Torture to engage with States and civil society, with a view to clarify international standards in this area.
Jago Russell, Chief Executive of Fair Trials, said: “Justice is impossible if the courts rely on evidence that is tainted by torture. In theory, reliance on torture evidence is already prohibited the world over but, in practice, torture evidence is being used to convict people on a daily basis. We must stop this practice, and remove one of the incentives for torturers the world over.”
Rupert Skilbeck, Director of REDRESS, added: “In too many countries the police use torture to force people into confessions, but using evidence obtained by torture is unreliable and leads to unsafe convictions. By excluding these torture statements from the courtroom, international law eliminates one of the root causes of torture around the world. But this report reveals that many states do not apply the rule properly, or at all.”
The report is being launched today at an event in London, hosted by Allen & Overy, which will feature a panel with global experts on the prevention of torture in criminal justice systems, as well as international human rights lawyers who have first-hand experience of challenging the use of torture evidence.
REDRESS and Fair Trials are very grateful to Allen & Overy for their pro-bono support.
A partner at Allen & Overy said: “Nearly 70 years after the Universal Declaration of Human Rights articulated the rights and freedoms to which every human being is equally entitled, including freedom from torture, this report raises some challenging issues regarding the admissibility of evidence obtained by torture. We all still have a role to play to make universal rights a reality and for this reason, lawyers from across 12 of our offices were pleased to contribute pro bono research to allow Fair Trials and REDRESS to bring these issues to the fore.”
The full report and recommendations are available here.
Published on Fair Trials on May 16, 2018
Armed Islamist groups in Burkina Faso have executed suspected government collaborators, intimidated teachers, and spread fear among civilians throughout the country, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. In response, Burkinabè security forces conducted counterterrorism operations in 2017 and 2018 that resulted in extrajudicial killings, abuse of suspects in custody, and arbitrary arrests. The Burkinabè government has promised to investigate these allegations.
The 60-page report, “‘By Day We Fear the Army, By Night the Jihadists’: Abuses by Armed Islamists and Security Forces in Burkina Faso,” documents the killings and harassment of villagers in the Sahel region caught between Islamists’ threats to execute those who collaborated with the government, and the security forces, who expected them to provide intelligence about the presence of armed groups, and meted out collective punishment when they didn’t. The report also addresses the brutal 2016 and 2017 armed Islamist attacks in Ouagadougou and documents detention-related abuses of suspects by the security forces.
“The growing insecurity in Burkina Faso has led to terrible crimes by both armed Islamists and state security forces,” said Corinne Dufka, Sahel director at Human Rights Watch. “The government should follow through on its important commitment to investigate alleged abuses by state forces, and the armed Islamists should stop attacking and threatening civilians.”
Beginning in 2016, armed Islamist groups, including Ansaroul Islam, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and its affiliates, and the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) have attacked army bases, police, and gendarme posts, and purely civilian targets in Burkina Faso’s north, and in the capital, Ouagadougou. The violence has killed scores of people and driven more than 12,000 from their homes.
In February and March 2018, Human Rights Watch interviewed 67 people including victims and witnesses; justice, defense, and education ministry officials; teachers; health workers; local government officials; diplomats and aid workers; security analysts; and religious and community leaders. The abuses documented took place in the northern Sahel administrative region, and in Ouagadougou, between 2016 and early 2018.
Human Rights Watch documented the alleged execution-style killings of 19 men from 12 villages by armed Islamist groups. The Islamists accused the victims, including village chiefs and local officials, of providing information to the security forces.
One witness said that armed Islamists carried off two elderly men near Djibo in February. They were found several days later with their throats slit. Another described the April 2018 killing of the mayor of Koutougou Commune, which was later claimed by ISGS. One terrified witness said he “was being hunted” by the armed Islamists, who had killed several of his relatives. “I heard the sound of motorcycles which are forbidden at night, so I knew it was them,” he said. “I heard gunshots and later saw the people they killed.”
Armed Islamists also murdered 47 civilians in two attacks in Ouagadougou in 2016 and 2017. A waiter who survived the 2016 attack said: “Each time I come to work, I see the dead…I live that day again and again and again.”
Education workers described threats and attacks against schools and teachers, including the abduction of a teacher and killing of a school director. “The message is clear,” one teacher said. “‘Don’t teach in French and if you insist, we’ll kill you.’” The threats led to the closure of more than 200 schools and have left 20,000 students out of class.
Witnesses also implicated Burkina Faso security forces in at least 14 alleged summary executions and said that four other men died of alleged severe mistreatment in custody. The forces implicated include soldiers, gendarmes, and, to a lesser extent, members of the police force.
Many witnesses described seeing bodies – often blindfolded and with their hands bound – along local roads and footpaths in northern Burkina Faso. The majority of victims were last seen in the custody of government security forces.
Among the cases were eight men, including two brothers, detained by the army during an operation in late December 2017 who were shot the next day. In September 2017, gendarmes based in Djibo summoned a local government official. His body was found the next day. In March 2018, soldiers arrested a local trader at the Nassoumbou market. “We heard gunshots and found his body, the next day…face down, with his eyes bound,” a witness said.
Community leaders said that security forces appeared to randomly detain men who happened to be in the vicinity of attacks by armed Islamist groups. Most were released after preliminary investigations, but numerous men were severely mistreated and four died in custody. Witnesses said that two men, one with a mental disability, died in early February when police and soldiers near Baraboulé detained and beat them. Health workers said they have treated men for cuts, hematomas and gashes sustained in detention.
Islamist armed groups and government forces should halt abuses and threats against civilians and detainees, Human Rights Watch said. The government should investigate and prosecute members of the security forces implicated in serious rights violations. And Burkina Faso’s international partners should privately and publicly call for prompt and credible investigations.
On May 9, Human Rights Watch sent the Burkinabè government a letter detailing the report’s major findings and recommendations. On May 15, Defense Minister Jean-Claude Bouda, responded in a letter which noted his government’s commitment to respect human rights and said it would carry out the key Human Rights Watch recommendations.
“The government undertakes to conduct inquiries into all the cases of abuse cited which had not previously been brought to its attention,” his letter said. He noted that the government is aware of some allegations of abuses against civilians committed during the course of ongoing counterterrorism operations in northern Burkina Faso, and that these allegations have given rise to “immediate action.”
The government’s commitments are encouraging, and the authorities should faithfully follow through on them in a comprehensive and transparent manner, Human Rights Watch said.
“The logic of killing and mistreating suspects in the name of security will only fuel and deepen insecurity in Burkina Faso,” Dufka said. “The Burkinabe governments should make good on their promise to investigate allegations of abuse and take concrete measures to prevent any further ones.”
Published on Human Rights Watch on May 21, 2018
“The first time I saw Hisham after his arrest was in the hospital. He described his solitary cell to me. He could not see anything in the darkness of the cell. It was hard for him to breathe there was no window or source of air. He said it felt like being buried alive. When the prison guards finally moved him from the cell, it felt like being reborn. But after just a few months in the prison’s hospital, he was put back into solitary confinement again.”Said Manar el-Tantawie, Hisham Gaafar`s wife who has been held in solitary confinement in al-Aqrab Prison.
New research by Amnesty International reveals that prisoners detained on politically motivated charges are being held in prolonged and indefinite solitary confinement in Egypt – at times for several years – which in and of itself amounts to torture. They are locked in their cells for 24 hours for weeks at end, denied any human contact and kept in horrific cell conditions.
Crushing humanity: the abuse of solitary confinement in Egypt’s prisons reveals that dozens of detained human rights activists, journalists and members of the opposition held in solitary confinement are being targeted with horrendous physical abuse, including beatings by prison guards and having their heads repeatedly dunked into a container by human excrement. The intentional mental and physical suffering being inflicted on them, results in panic attacks, paranoia, hypersensitivity to stimuli, and difficulties with concentration and memory.
“Under international law, solitary confinement may only be used as a disciplinary measure of last resort, but the Egyptian authorities are using it as a horrifying ‘extra’ punishment for political prisoners – meted out in a ruthless and arbitrary manner designed to crush their humanity and eliminate their hope in any a better future,” said Najia Bounaim, North Africa Campaigns Director at Amnesty International.
“Prison conditions in Egypt have always been bad but the deliberate cruelty of this treatment shows the wider contempt for human rights and dignity by the Egyptian authorities.”
Amnesty International has documented 36 cases of prisoners being held in prolonged and indefinite solitary confinement six of them are unlawfully isolated from the outside world since 2013.
On 3 May 2018, the Egyptian authorities sent a letter to Amnesty International responding to the findings of the report that were sent to them before the launch. The authorities argued that placing prisoners in individual cells does not amount to solitary confinement prohibited by International Human Rights Law and that accommodating prisoners in these cells is related to the design of many prisons in Egypt and has nothing to do with punishing prisoners for their political backgrounds. However, the authorities` explanation does not justify confining prisoners to their “individual cells” for more than 22 hours a day for a duration that exceeds 15 days, which is the core definition of prolonged solitary confinement that amounts to torture or other ill-treatment.
Former prisoners interviewed by the organization described being beaten by prison officials for extended periods, then being held in restricted spaces, alone, for weeks on end. Six prisoners have been held in solitary confinement for over four years.
Prisoners also receive insufficient food and water and inadequate sanitation and bedding. Former prisoners who spent a long time in solitary confinement told Amnesty International that such experience has had a fundamental effect on them psychologically. They suffer depression, insomnia and an unwillingness to socialise or speak to other people when released back into the prison population.
Those targeted also include members of a range of opposition political parties and movements, including the Muslim Brotherhood and the 6 April Youth Movement.
All documented cases followed a pattern of confinement for more than 22 hours a day, with between 30 minutes and an hour of exercise daily. Contact with other prisoners was not permitted, prisoners denied family visits on regular basis and one prisoner has not received a single visit since October 2016. Prisoners also were not told when their solitary confinement would end, leaving them with no hope of an end in sight.
Solitary confinement is at times used to discipline prisoners who complain of ill-treatment, as well as those caught sending letters communicating poor prison conditions.
In some cases, the practice has been employed to coerce confessions from those detained on trumped up charges. In most cases however, Amnesty International found that there are groups of prisoners held in solitary confinement indefinitely purely because of their past political activism.
“Egyptian prison officials are unlawfully applying solitary confinement as a means of stamping out dissent or any perceived misconduct from prisoners, many of whom have been imprisoned on spurious charges in the first place,” said Najia Bounaim.
“Not only are Egyptian human rights defenders, journalists and members of the opposition being targeted for peacefully expressing their views in the outside world; their persecution also continues behind bars.”
Amnesty International conducted 91 interviews with nine former prisoners and with the family members of 27 individuals who are still imprisoned. The interviews were carried out between March 2017 and April 2018.
Amnesty International submitted a memorandum containing a summary of this research to the Egyptian authorities on 16 April.
“The utter indifference shown for the psychological suffering prolonged and indefinite solitary confinement inflicts on human beings already being punished with imprisonment, often just for their political beliefs, is a demonstration of the brutality that permeates many Egyptian institutions today,” said Najia Bounaim.
Since the replacement of former President Mohamed Morsi on 3 July 2013 by President Abdelfattah al-Sisi, who is now serving a second term, the Egyptian authorities have rounded up tens of thousands of individuals on politically motivated charges.
Solitary confinement is a common practice in all Egyptian prisons. However, Amnesty International focused this report on the experiences of prisoners detained for political reasons because research showed that solitary confinement for these types of prisoners was more likely to be prolonged and indefinite.
14 prisons in seven different governorates in Egypt were examined in this report including Liman Tora Prison, Tora Investigation Prison, Tora Maximum Security Prison 1 (more commonly known as al-Aqrab, or the Scorpion Prison). 20 prisoners of the 36 documented in the report have been held in prolonged solitary confinement in Tora Complex Prisons.
These prisons are located in governorates where security forces have arrested and detained thousands of individuals on politically motivated charges
Published on AI on May 7, 2018