Responding to the overnight suspected enforced disappearance of human rights lawyer and director of the NGO Egyptian Coordination for Rights and Freedoms, Ezzat Ghonim, Amnesty International’s North Africa Campaigns Director, Najia Bounaim, said:
“Given the highly charged political climate in Egypt and the clampdown on dissent in the lead up to the presidential elections, we are deeply concerned that Ezzat Ghonim may have been forcibly disappeared.
“The Egyptian authorities have a notorious reputation for the use of enforced disappearances to silence human rights defenders and members of the opposition. This appears to be yet another shameless attack on the right to freedom of expression and association. It is a reminder of the incredible obstacles faced by those who are striving to defend the basic rights of the Egyptian people.
“Instead of abducting those who stand up for the rights of others, the Egyptian authorities must protect these activists and facilitate their work. They must disclose any information they have about the whereabouts of Ezzat Ghonim and release him immediately if he is in state custody.”
Amnesty International spoke with the family and colleagues of Ezzat Ghonim about the circumstances of his disappearance yesterday evening. His wife has said she waited for him to return home from his office after he called her at 5:30 pm to let her know he would be home in half an hour. When he had not returned by 6:30 pm, she tried to call his cell phone repeatedly, only to find that it was not available and potentially switched off. She then called Ghonim’s colleagues and acquaintances, before calling local hospitals and police stations without gaining any further information about his whereabouts. She continued trying to reach him through the night, calling Ghonim’s cell phone several times without a response. At 1:30 am she called his cell phone again, hearing it ring for a few minutes without anyone answering. The cell phone has remained unresponsive since.
Ghonim`s wife has since submitted complaints to the Ministry of Interior and the Office of the Public Prosecutor calling on them to reveal his whereabouts.
Amnesty International has already documented several cases of enforced disappearance in 2018. On 4 February, journalist Mustafa al-Aassar and his roommate activist, Hassan al-Banna, disappeared on their way to work in Giza. On 8 February, the deputy head of the Misr al-Qawia opposition party also disappeared. Despite numerous complaints by family members and lawyers, the Egyptian authorities refused to reveal the whereabouts of the men. However, the three men later appeared at the Office of the State Security Prosecution. Prosecutors ordered their detention on trumped up charges of publishing false information with intent to harm national security and for joining “banned groups”.
Enforced disappearance is the method of choice for the authorities when they are looking to hide further abuses against dissidents, such as ill-treatment, torture and extra-judicial executions.
Published on Amnesty International on March 2, 2018
By MARLISE SIMONS
M. Cherif Bassiouni, a renowned Egyptian-American jurist who helped found two war-crimes tribunals and was widely regarded as a godfather of modern international criminal justice, died on Sept. 25 at his home in Chicago. He was 79.
The cause was complications of multiple myeloma, a form of cancer, his family said.
Mr. Bassiouni (pronounced bass-ee-YOU-nee), a descendant of a prominent Egyptian family, was a mix of quintessential intellectual, diplomat and human rights activist, as comfortable in the academy as he was investigating and denouncing crimes in conflict zones. He taught at universities, worked for the United Nations and advised governments.
In books, law journals, seminars and reports from conflict areas, Mr. Bassiouni elaborated on definitions of the gravest international crimes, including crimes against humanity and genocide. And he helped shape new ways to hold perpetrators accountable before the law.
In the early 1990s, long before trials were held, he denounced the large-scale sexual abuse of Muslim and Catholic women in Bosnia as war crimes and said that Bosnian Serbs were using rape as a tool of ethnic cleansing, to drive entire communities from their land.
With his erudition and ebullient presence, he trained a cohort of international lawyers and judges. While running institutes in the United States and Europe and teaching courses in many places, he was also a workaholic author whose writings cover several shelves: 35 books, close to 40 edited volumes and more than 270 essays and law review articles. And he never stopped.
“When I saw him, he was working on his memoirs, dictating to his assistants,” said William Schabas, a longtime friend who teaches law at Middlesex University in London and visited him less than a week before his death.
With his direct knowledge of the Muslim world, Mr. Bassiouni wrote influential texts on interpretations of jihad and of Islamic law, running seminars on those subjects for lawyers and western military personnel as Islamist violence expanded.
He drew ire for his candor and passion, particularly when his opinions and fact-finding ran afoul of the intentions of diplomats.
Mahmoud Cherif Bassiouni was born in Cairo on Dec. 9, 1937. His father was a diplomat, his grandfather a president of the Egyptian senate. Lisa Capitanini, his stepdaughter, said that though his parents were Muslims, they sent Cherif, their unruly and precocious only son, to a Jesuit-run Catholic boarding school in Egypt.
“Cherif often told us that the rigorous Jesuit regime came as a shock to an aristocratic kid like him, but it introduced him to the disciplined and scholarly lifestyle he never lost,” Ms. Capitanini said.
Mr. Bassiouni was studying law in Dijon, France, when he returned to Egypt to fight in the Suez conflict of 1956. He was wounded and decorated, but then put under house arrest for denouncing what he called the extreme torture and disappearances taking place under President Gamal Abdel Nasser.
He was released after seven months, thanks to his family connections, but the government kept his passport.
Dan Swift, a lawyer in Mr. Bassiouni’s office, said that when Mr. Bassiouni was threatened again for speaking out, he escaped from Egypt in 1961 by stowing away on a ship leaving for Italy.
Mr. Bassiouni emigrated to the United States in 1962 and became a naturalized citizen. He studied law in Egypt, France, Switzerland and the United States, collecting doctorates, including honorary ones, and a long list of medals and awards. He was a founder of the International Human Rights Law Institute at DePaul University in Chicago, where he taught for 45 years. He also created an influential perch in Europe when he helped found the Siracusa International Institute in Italy.
Veterans of the institute say it was a place where Mr. Bassiouni ran lively seminars for judges, prosecutors and defense lawyers, mixing people from different cultures and legal traditions.
“It was a place where he galvanized generations of doctoral students,” said Christine van den Wyngaert, a judge at the International Criminal Court in The Hague and one of his early Siracusa students. “He had an essential impact on my thinking. He held brainstorm sessions in the ’70s about a future worldwide criminal court, long before we could conceive it would happen.”
Many who attended his seminars became lawyers and judges at international courts, she said.
Mr. Bassiouni worked on wide-ranging projects. He was co-chairman of the committee that drafted the United Nations Convention Against Torture. He helped draft the laws to prosecute apartheid. And he was sent as a United Nations expert to report on war crimes in Afghanistan, Bahrain, Libya and Iraq.
The United Nations appointed him as an independent monitor in Afghanistan in 2004, but the next year, after he issued critical reports on extensive human rights abuses by American forces there, Washington successfully pressed the Human Rights Commission to abolish the mission. A State Department spokesman at the time denied that Mr. Bassiouni had been targeted and said that American officials had simply concluded that a special human rights monitor was no longer necessary.
Mr. Bassiouni first made his name outside academia in 1992, when the United Nations Security Council appointed him chairman of a commission to document war crimes in the conflict then raging in Bosnia and other parts of Yugoslavia as the country was breaking up.
Finding his mission underfinanced by an ambivalent Security Council, “he defied senior bureaucrats in the United Nations by raising funds from private foundations,” Professor Schabas said.
The Bassiouni report, a strongly worded document with voluminous details on torture, rape, prison camps and killings, described the largely Serbian-instigated violence as part of a systematic policy of ethnic cleansing. It irked diplomats and politicians, including the British and Russians, who wanted to shelve it rather than disrupt a possible peace process. But it created the political momentum that produced the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in 1993, the first such institution in a half-century.
The report also opened the way for a similar tribunal to address the genocide in Rwanda. Both tribunals prepared the ground for the permanent International Criminal Court, which Mr. Bassiouni also helped shape. Having worked on a draft statute for such a court over the years, he was named chairman of the drafting committee of the 1998 Rome Treaty, which created the court.
With his restless mind, Mr. Bassiouni liked to surprise his audiences. In 2007, when he received the Hague Prize for International Law from the T.M.C. Asser Institute, a Dutch a research center on international law, he was allowed to choose the topic of an accompanying colloquium. Mr. Bassiouni picked “Jihad” and gathered scholars from Islamic countries and the West to debate its many interpretations.
Despite their differences, the participants agreed that they should work urgently to prevent radical Muslim groups from monopolizing the interpretation of Islam.
In 2010, Mr. Bassiouni shocked a law conference in Washington when, after fighting long and hard to create the International Criminal Court — it opened in 2002 — he delivered a stinging speech saying that the court had become overly bureaucratic and that it was “doubtful” it could be successful as long as powerful countries did not want an independent international criminal justice system. China, Russia and the United States are not members.
Friends described Mr. Bassiouni as a magnetic speaker and a gregarious host and raconteur who loved wine and music. Others who worked closely with him said he was a demanding perfectionist.
“Cherif was a tough taskmaster,” wrote Mohamed Helal, who teaches law at Ohio State. He said he regarded Mr. Bassiouni as an adoptive father. “He was an obsessive micromanager who paid close attention to every substantive and procedural detail of his work,” Mr. Helal said, “but he also cared deeply about our lives.”
Oddly enough, Mr. Bassiouni, a peacemonger, was a great admirer of Napoleon and had collected thousands of toy soldiers, his family said.
Besides his stepdaughter, he is survived by his wife, Elaine Klemen-Bassiouni, and two stepgrandchilden. He was widowed twice.
On the day he died, a farewell message went out from his email account that he had dictated days earlier. It included quotations from the Prophet Muhammad, Pope Paul VI and Rabban Simeon ben Gamaliel.
Mr. Swift, who dispatched the message, said it was very reflective of its author.
“Cherif often quoted from the Quran, the Bible, the Talmud,” he said. “He liked to build bridges and point to the similarities between the faiths instead of the differences.”
Published on The NY Times on October 5, 2017.
The undersigned civil society organisations express our serious concern over the recent escalation of restrictions on civil society and the public vilification of human rights defenders in Egypt. We call on the Egyptian authorities to uphold their international obligations and ensure that civil society and human rights defenders can work in a safe and enabling environment without fear of reprisals.
On 24 May 2017, President Abdel Fatah El Sisi signed a highly restrictive law that provides the government with extraordinary powers over NGOs and stifles the activities of civil society. The bill was approved by Parliament in November 2016 but was put on hold after an outcry by local and international civil society organisations to prevent the President from passing it into law. Law 70 of 2017 severely limits the functioning of civil society organisations and unduly restricts the rights to freedom of expression and association. It introduces hefty fines and prison terms for civil society groups who publish a study or a report without prior approval by the government or engage in activities that do not have a developmental or social focus. These new restrictions make it practically impossible for human rights organisations to carry out their work.
The law provides unprecedented authority to government bodies to interfere in the day-to-day operations of civil society organisations, including their cooperation with any entities outside of Egypt. Worryingly, the law includes overly broad and vague provisions that could lead to its arbitrary application and targeting legitimate activities. Article 13 of the law broadly prohibits civil society organisations from conducting activities that could be deemed harmful to national security, public order, public morality, or public health. The law further violates the right to freedom of association and criminalises activities considered to be of a “political nature” as well as legislative reform work thereby impeding the important work of independent civil society groups in Egypt.
In addition, the government has imposed unwarranted restrictions on the right to freedom of expression online and the ability of individuals to communicate freely and seek and receive information. On 25 May, the government blocked 21 websites and accused them of spreading “terrorism and extremism” and “publishing lies". The block was carried out without any legal process or judicial oversight. These websites include Mada Masr - one of the few independent news outlets that carries out investigative journalism.
On 25 May 2017, more than 10 media outlets published articles and reports as part of a smear campaign against human rights defenders who had travelled to Rome a few days before to participate in a meeting with civil society representatives from other countries. The articles labelled the human rights defenders “traitors,” and urged the Egyptian intelligence service to try them on criminal charges upon their return. This smear campaign is intended to discredit and delegitimise the work of peaceful activists by tarnishing their reputation.
Human rights defenders continue to be intimidated and harassed by the authorities. On 24 May, human rights activist and Director of the Egypt Programme for the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), Mohamed Zaree, was released on bail of 30,000 EGP (1,650 USD) after being interrogated for several hours by a judge. He was accused of receiving foreign funding for CIHRS, together with other civil society organisations, and for using the funds to promote activities that the authorities perceive to be against national security. He was also accused of tarnishing the reputation of Egypt by preparing human rights reports for the United Nations Human Rights Council.
Over the past few years, Egyptian authorities banned 24 human rights defenders and NGO staff from traveling abroad, and froze the assets of seven human rights organizations and 10 human rights defenders. These punitive measures have been implemented by an investigative judicial panel appointed to investigate the activities of human rights organizations.
We urge the Egyptian authorities to repeal Law 70 of 2017, close the ongoing criminal investigation into the work of human rights groups and ensure a safe and enabling environment in which civil society organisations and human rights defenders can carry out their work without fear of reprisals.
Andalus Institute for Tolerance and Anti Violence Studies
Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression
Front Line Defenders
International Women’s Health Coalition
Nazra For Feminist Studies
MENA Women Human Rights Defenders Coalition
Muslims for Progressive Values, Nederland
The Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy
Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition
Published on Transparency International on June 8, 2017.
A new law signed by Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, imposing unprecedentedly harsh restrictions on NGOs, could be a death sentence for human rights groups in the country, Amnesty International said today.
“This is a catastrophic blow for human rights groups working in Egypt. The severity of the restrictions imposed by this law threatens to annihilate NGOs in the country, at a time when the authorities’ escalating crackdown on dissent makes their work more important than ever, said Najia Bounaim, Campaigns Director for North Africa at Amnesty International.
“This law, which gives the government extraordinary powers to control NGOs and imposes harsh punishments and fines for any violation of its draconian provisions, is the latest ploy by the Egyptian authorities to silence all independent voices.”
After the law was approved by parliament in November 2016, Amnesty International called on the President not to sign it due to its conflict with Egypt`s constitution and international obligations. However, the President signed the law without addressing any of the concerns raised by Egyptian or international human rights organizations.
Over the past three years, Egyptian authorities have orchestrated a targeted campaign against human rights organizations. Twenty-four have been banned from travel, and seven organizations and 10 individuals have had their assets frozen.
Most recently, investigative judges summoned two NGO directors, Mohamed Zaree from Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies and Mustafa el-Hassan from Hisham Mubarak Law Center. Both were released on bail.
Even in the past week repressive measures have intensified against other critical voices. On 23 May, Egyptian authorities arrested the former presidential candidate Khaled Ali on charges of committing acts that violate public decency.
The Public Prosecution released him on bail the second day and referred him to trial. The authorities have also recently blocked more than 21 websites, among them the prominent news platforms Mada Masr and Daily News Egypt.
“For too long the international community has turned a blind eye to the steady erosion of human rights in Egypt, thus encouraging the authorities to ramp up their attacks on peaceful criticism without fear of being held to account,” said Najia Bounaim.
“We are calling on them to urgently pressure the Egyptian authorities into closing the ongoing criminal investigation into the work of human rights groups, which together with the new law will have devastating consequences for human rights in Egypt.”
Law 70 of 2017 gives Egypt's NGOs one year to comply or face being dissolved in court.
Among its restrictions are a ban on field research and surveys without government permission, forcing NGOs to adapt their activities to government priorities and plans or face up to five years in prison.
The law also gives the authorities wide powers to dissolve NGOs, dismiss their board of administration and subject their staff to criminal prosecution based on vaguely worded terms including “harming national unity and disturbing public order”.
Published on Amnesty International on May 30, 2017
In 2016 and 2017, an Egyptian court issued a number of travel bans, arrests and asset freezes against human rights defenders in a case dealing with the funding of local and foreign NGOs. In September 2016, asset freezes were ordered against Hossam Bahgat, founder of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights; Gamal Eid, director of the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information; Bahey el-Din Hassan, director of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), Mostafa al-Hassan, director of the Hisham Mubarak Law Center; and Abdel Hafez Tayel, director of the Egyptian Center for the Right to Education (ECRE).
The court also froze the assets of CIHRS, the Hisham Mubarak Law Center, and ECRE. A few months prior to that, the judges ordered an asset freeze against the Andalus Center and its Director, Ahmed Samih. In December 2016, an asset freeze was ordered against Azza Soliman, head of Lawyers for Justice and Peace, as well as her private law office, and in January 2017, the judge decided to freeze the assets of Mozn Hassan, founder and director of Nazra for Feminist Studies, as well as Mohamed Zarea and Atef Hafez, both of the Arab Penal Reform Organization. The asset freeze orders come on top of travel bans against at least 12 rights activists imposed by investigating judges.
We invited Ahli United Bank to respond to concerns regarding its role in the asset freeze of Ms. Azza Soliman. The response is provided below. We will continue to monitor allegations against relevant banks and will consider inviting them to respond in due course.
Published on the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre's website on May 2, 2017.