May 21st, 2013 by Editor
On Tuesday 21 May 2013, the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR) completed its first training workshop for legal experts in how to deal with crimes of torture. The workshop was held over two days from 21 to 22 May 2013.
The second day of the workshop involved several sessions beginning with Mr. Essam Shiha, a member of the executive committee of the Wafd Party – the nationalist liberal party of Egypt – and a lawyer specialising in cassation law.
He trained the participants on “torture in international law”, stressing the support of states in terms of training within the international framework of the criminalisation of torture, especially after the establishment of the United Nations, which began to establish a ban on torture through a series of declarations and resolutions on human rights.
At a later stage it became more orientated towards the criminalisation of torture through multilateral agreements in order to make it mandatory.
Furthermore, an international concept of torture was deduced from various international documents that eventually stipulated its criminalisation. The international law also provided a method of protection from crimes of torture, whether through the development of international mechanisms aimed at monitoring the practices of states, both in times of peace and war, or through the creation of legal principles that ensure perpetrators of crimes of torture do not escape impunity.
Mr. Shiha added that the definition provided by international law initially seems very broad as it takes the moral and ethical specificities of the countries of the world into consideration. The definition represents the smallest common denominator agreed upon by the member states covering the procedural necessities of getting the greatest possible support of the states. He stressed that the Organisation of American States developed a definition in order to prevent and punish torture defining it as ‘the use of methods upon a person intended to obliterate the personality of the victim or to diminish his physical or mental capacities, even if they do not cause physical pain or mental anguish’. The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court defined torture in 1998 as ‘the intentional infliction of severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, upon a person in the custody or under the control of the accused’. Furthermore, the draft of the Arab Convention for preventing torture and inhuman and degrading treatment, which was formulated by a committee of experts with the support of the International Institute for Criminology in Syracuse, Italy, in 1990 based on the idea that ‘torture is a crime punishable by law, which shall not be forfeited or terminated by the passing of time or prescription’. This project came about as a result of the conference on human rights and the state of justice in the Islamic criminal code, which was held at the International Institute in 1979. It was concluded that the fundamental human rights can be derived from the spirit and principles of the Shari’a, the Islamic code of law, including the right of not having to testify against oneself and the protection against arbitrary arrest, sexual abuse, torture and murder.
Mr Hafez Abu Seada, head of the EOHR, talked about the methods by which to make a complaint within the framework of the United Nations, and stressed the importance of international mechanisms as a means to resort for individuals. The ability to complain in the international arena is especially important in cases where individuals cannot obtain basic rights within the borders of their country, or as a result of weak legislative construction, or in the presence of obstacles preventing access to legal rights.
Mr. Abu Seada added that complaining is an official and legal process in which an individual or a group of people can submit a complaint to an international judicial authority concerning the violation of their personal rights in the form of requests, petitions or letters. He also emphasised the established international complaint mechanisms dealing with individual cases resulting from state violations of their commitments to human rights. The complaint mechanisms are not aimed at studying the situation of human rights but rather attempt to cope with the local legal procedures. He concluded that such mechanisms are not the first resort since existing local mechanisms need to be exhausted first. The decisions of these mechanisms have to be respected although they cannot be imposed on the local authorities.
Mr Tariq Zaghloul, executive director of EOHR, then divided the audience into working groups and delivered training on how to document crimes of torture, how to write a complaint, and how to submit a complaint in accordance with the mechanisms of international human rights.
At the end of the training session, Abu Seada provided certificates to the trainees, stressing that lawyers are defenders of human rights in accordance with international conventions and charters, and must therefore be familiar with how to deal with crimes of torture.
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