First criminal trial internationally on torture in Egypt begins today

Statement on the trial’s preliminary hearing addressing Italian student Giulio Regeni’s torture and murder.

Today the preliminary step for a trial in Rome against four senior Egyptian National Security Agency officials will be taken. The four men are charged with the abduction, torture and murder of Giulio Regeni, a 28-year-old Italian student, in Cairo in February 2016.

Whilst the indictment issued by the Chief Prosecutor in Rome on 10 December 2020 identifies the four senior officials, Egypt officially closed its investigation into the death of Regeni on 30 November 2020 rejecting Italian prosecutors’ findings. Furthermore, Egypt refused to extradite the four suspects provided no genuine support to the Italian investigation, hereby failing to fulfil its obligation to afford the Italian authorities the greatest measure of assistance in connection with criminal proceedings, as required under international law.

The Geneva-based Egyptian NGO Committee for Justice (CFJ)’s report “The Giulio Regenis of Egypt: Deaths in Custody in Egypt Since 2013” highlighted the number of deaths monitored by the CFJ inside the detention centres in Egypt from June 2013 to October 2020, which reached a total number of 1,058, noting that the number of deaths increased by 100 cases in 2020, compared to their relative decline in 2019.

According to Ahmed Mefreh, executive director of the CFJ »Regeni is not the only foreigner to have become a victim at the hands of Egyptian authorities; since January 2016, French citizen Eric Lang and the American James Henry Lawne were tortured and murdered in detention. As acknowledged widely, torture is used systematically in Egypt, and numerous Egyptians have been subjected to cruel forms of torture and some even extrajudicial killings at the hands of the Egyptian security service. What Regeni’s death and the other cases have in common is a complete lack of effective investigation, which has served to perpetuate the vicious cycle of impunity that Egyptian officials continue to enjoy.  An urgent call for international accountability for the torture and deaths of foreign nationals and Egyptians inside state-run detention centres in Egypt is needed.«

»Although it will be held in absentia, this unprecedented trial will hopefully send an unequivocal message to the Egyptian state that its perpetration of serious crimes under international law is being officially documented. It is hoped that this will add to the increasing number of cases where torturers are being held to account outside of their own country,« says DIGNITY Executive Director, Rasmus Grue Christensen.

Whilst the Italian prosecutors are not relying on the so-called principle of universal jurisdiction, the Regeni trial highlights the importance of activating mechanisms of international accountability when justice cannot be obtained domestically as is the case of Egyptian victims of torture.

This trial is a milestone in the fight against impunity for torture and other serious human rights violations in Egypt. »We hope it will sustain efforts to ensure justice and accountability for the thousands of Egyptians who have been victims of gross human rights violations committed by the Egyptian regime« adds Rasmus Grue Christensen.

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