The New York-based rights group released a report on Monday, claiming Egypt has, since 2013, detained and abused children as young as 12 as part of a crackdown on dissent against the country’s military government.
The 43-page report states the crackdown and the use of torture against all detainees, especially minors, has weakened the rule of law in Egypt “to the point of extinction”, as prosecutors and judges exacerbated abuses through due process violations and unfair trials.
Egypt has not responded to the new accusations, but the country’s State Information Service (SIS) has in the past dismissed similar claims as a “smear campaign”.
Titled, No One Cared He Was A Child: Egyptian Security Forces’ Abuse of Children in Detention, the HRW report documents abuses against 20 children who were aged between 12 and 17 when they were arrested.
Fifteen of the 20 children said they were tortured in pretrial detention, usually during interrogation and while being detained incommunicado.
Seven children said security officers tortured them with electricity, including with stun guns.
One boy said his interrogators tied him to a chair for three days. And a boy whom authorities forcibly disappeared and tortured at age 16 told a relative that he was worried he might “never marry or be able to have children” because of what security officers had done to him during interrogations.
In the case of 12-year-old Abdullah Boumadian, who was forcibly disappeared, security officers waterboarded and electrocuted him before placing him in solitary confinement for about 100 days.
Two other children, aged between 14 and 17, recounted how, after they were forcibly taken by security officials, they were suspended by their arms and dislocated their shoulders.
The 1989 United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) set out the conditions under which a child, defined as a person under the age of 18, can be detained for crimes they have been convicted of, but mandates that children be held separately from adults and imprisonment is a measure of last resort.
In Egypt, prison officials do not separate children from adults in places of detention, according to HRW.
Egyptian law requires authorities to present detainees to a prosecutor within 24 hours of arrest. However, prosecutors covered up lengthy enforced disappearances of children by falsely stating when they were arrested, according to HRW. In none of the cases documented by HRW did authorities present an arrest warrant.
“We have found that prosecutors and judges are complicit in these violations, as they tend to protect officers and policemen by ignoring these allegations,” Hussein Baoumi, Egypt researcher at Amnesty International, said.
“This is especially true in cases where the Supreme State Security Prosecution was involved, as they do not open serious investigations into allegations of torture, including when the allegations are made by children.”
According to Amr Magdi, Middle East and North Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch, there is “no effective oversight mechanism” that monitors prison conditions in Egypt.
This is not the first time Egypt is accused of torturing and abusing children in detention.
Amnesty International released a report in 2018 stating children were tortured and involuntarily disappeared by the Egyptian state.
A 2017 report by the UN Committee against Torture found torture was practised systematically in Egypt, including in police stations, prisons and state security facilities and it was perpetrated by police, military officers and prison guards.
Shortly after the release of Amnesty’s 2018 report, the SIS responded saying that Egypt had complied with the CRC and Amnesty’s report was not based on well-informed sources.
The SIS urged Amnesty “as a large and prominent organisation to be more accurate while relaying allegations of human rights violations in Egypt”.
SIS further stated that Egyptian authorities offered “the necessary guarantees of justice” to two children whose cases were mentioned in detail in Amnesty’s report. SIS called on Amnesty not to “take part in the systematic smear campaign that aims to damage the image of the Egyptian state”.
Violation of international law
Experts believe that, by torturing children, Egypt is violating a range of rights contained in the CRC.
Principal among these rights, said Aoife Nolan, professor of international human rights law at the University of Nottingham, was “the prohibition on children being subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”.
“Torture is also a flagrant violation of the state’s duty to ensure [to] the maximum extent possible the survival and development of the child,” Nolan said.
Egypt was one of the first 20 countries to ratify the CRC, and was also one of the six countries that called for convening the 1990 World Summit for Children.
Egypt should enforce provisions of its 1996 Child Law and its 2008 amendments that established special protections for children, such as alternatives to detention and penalties for officers who detained children alongside adults, HRW said.
The rights group called on Egypt to fully cooperate with United Nations and African Union experts on torture, arbitrary detention and enforced disappearances, and to invite them to conduct country visits.
Nolan said: “The impact of torture on children is especially profound. Children have a right to special protection from the state – a duty which is heightened when they are in detention. It is hard to imagine a more serious violation of children’s rights than those documented in HRW’s report.”
Mark Drumbl, professor of international law at Washington and Lee University agreed. “Evidence from the experience of child soldiers suggest that children may have greater susceptibility to trauma than adults.”