Hopes fade for transitional justice in Egypt

Hopes fade for transitional justice in Egypt
7 min read
05 March, 2015
Analysis: Those injured and the families of those killed during the revolution are starting to give up on hopes for justice or compensation.
Graffiti commemorates those killed during Egypt's revolution [Getty]

When Ehab Ghobashi, a 25 January revolutionary, returned home from Tahrir Square after President Hosni Mubarak's departure, he did not expect the revolution to stop there.

The 32-year-old had been wounded in the "Friday of Wrath" on 28 January 2011, as security forces tried to disperse demonstrators calling for the regime to be toppled. He was left with shotgun pellets lodged in his right eye and skull.

Since Mubarak stepped down on 11 February 2011, revolutionaries have been calling for those killed and wounded in the January revolution to be avenged.

Ghobashi has continued to press for vengeance, transitional justice and the revolution's goals - a decent life, freedom, and social justice - to be accomplished. To this end, Ghobashi formed a league to bring together the wounded and the families of those killed in the January revolution.

In June 2011, the Egyptian Military Council [Ar] tried to contain the revolutionaries' anger. It established a fund for the families of the martyrs and those wounded, which was transformed into a national council in December 2011.

The council was allocated a budget of 25 million Egyptian pounds ($3.3m) in 2012, which increased to 44 million pounds ($5.8) in 2014.

However, Ghobashi says neither he nor his colleagues have received anything from the council over the past few years - and he has heard nothing but talk.

His dream of achieving transitional justice for himself and all the others wounded in the January revolution [Ar] has faded with time. Speaking to al-Araby al-Jadeed, Ghobashi accused former National Council heads of exploiting their posts for personal gain, "especially over the treatment of the wounded because they have referred cases to hospitals they own".

Transitional justice

The International Center for Transitional Justice defines transitional justice as "a set of judicial and non-judicial measures that have been implemented by different countries to readdress the legacies of massive human rights abuses".

These measures include criminal prosecutions, truth commissions, reparation programs, and various types of institutional reform.

     Transitional justice became one of the demonstrators' basic demands shortly before Morsi was toppled.

Under the rule of President Mohamed Morsi, revolutionaries escalated their demands for retribution, so much so that transitional justice became one of the demonstrators' basic demands shortly before Morsi was toppled.

The 3 July incidents prompted the regime to create, for the first time, a new ministry named the ministry of transitional justice. The ministry is headed by Chancellor Ibrahim Huneidi, who took over from Amin Huneidi.

More people were killed and wounded in the events that followed the January revolution than in the revolution itself. Additional groups were formed to defend the rights of the wounded and the martyrs, and to call for transitional justice.

Around 6,200 people were wounded and some 777 killed in the uprising, according to the National Council for the Care of the Wounded and the Families of the Martyrs of the January revolution.

But according to statistics published by Wikithawra [Ar], which has documented events since the January revolution, more than 5,000 civilians and military personnel were killed between the last days of Mubarak and the ascension of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

"Nevertheless, the transitional justice ministry did not issue a transitional justice law, nor did it take steps towards that end," according to Ghobashi, who monitors the ministry's work.

Squandering public funds

To evaluate the performance of the transitional justice ministry, al-Araby al-Jadeed tracked down the ministry's documents, which revealed that the ministry's budget over two years exceeded 21 million Egyptian pounds ($2.8 million).

According to its 2014-15 financial statement, the budget was around 11 million Egyptian pounds ($1.6 million). In the 2013-2014 fiscal year, the number reached more than 10 million Egyptian pounds ($1.4 million).

But most of that money has gone to pay its own staff, the documents reveal. More than eight million Egyptian pounds ($1 million) were used to pay wages each year, while the ministry allocates a total of 1.5 million pounds as "investments".

Dream of retribution

The families of those killed and wounded in the January revolution have been overwhelmed with bitterness after Mubarak's acquittal on the charge of killing demonstrators.

They had hoped to see justice and a fair trial for Mubarak, and the key figures in his regime, to avenge those killed and wounded in the revolution.

"Mubarak's trial cost the state more than the amount it has given the families of those killed and the wounded in compensation over the past few years," said Ghobashi.

No amount of compensation would make him give up his demand for retribution or for achieving the demands of the revolution, he said.

His group wil continue to push for the case to be sent to international courts, especially after the Northern Cairo Criminal Court ruled in November 2014 that accusations that demonstrators were killed in the revolution could not be examined.

The January revolutionaries had not expected the situation to evolve into what we see now, as their right to retribution and a fair trial has gone, according to Ayman Hafni, who was wounded in the revolution.

"The situation is going from bad to worse," he said. "Although the current 2014 Constitution has some articles that obligate the state to achieve the demands of the revolution, transitional justice, and other demands, it is being ignored and misrepresented. Certainly, transitional justice will not be achieved."

Climate not suitable for justice

     The obstacles to transitional justice include violations, corruption, repression, terrorism, and rivalries between different political forces.

Mohamed Zare, a human rights activist and president of the Arab Organisation for Penal Reform, believes the social and political environment is unsuitable for transitional justice - and any efforts to enforce it will fail.

Zare said the obstacles to transitional justice included numerous violations, corruption, repression, the spread of terrorism, and rivalries between different political forces.

"Transitional justice requires a social consensus among rival forces as well as an agreement to forget the past and look to the future," he said.

"This requires political and economic stability. Regrettably, in Egypt we have done nothing to implement transitional justice except to adopt the name Transitional Justice Ministry."

Zare stressed that a short-term solution to achieve at least token justice would be to compensate the families of those killed and wounded and bring those accused of killing demonstrators to justice. He argued this would ease tensions across the country.

Absence of a political will

Ahmed Imam, spokesman of the Strong Egypt Party, said the reason transitional justice had been obstructed in Egypt was because of the absence of political will.

Transitional justice could not be achieved by those accused of undermining justice, he added: "A regime that has killed, repressed, and dragged (people) in the street cannot put itself on trial."

He stressed there would be no justice for as long as the regime stayed in power. The solution would be to establish the rule of the revolution and achieve its goals, he added.

Speaking to al-Araby, Imam said that the transitional justice ministry's work had nothing to do with transitional justice as we understand it, and that its name was deceptive.

Imam also criticised the National Council for the families of the martyrs and wounded saying its most prominent accomplishment had been to add more martyrs to the list of those killed.

"Our focus has been to stop the bloodshed, not to achieve justice," he said.

He argued that the council had not achieved anything on the ground, and that relatives of those killed and wounded had not received any of their rights - not only their financial rights, but also their right to retribution.

A law awaiting a parliament

Some time ago, the transitional justice ministry issued a statement saying it would not approve a transitional justice law - despite its minister being the rapporteur of the Legislative Reform Committee, responsible for drafting laws issued by Sisi.

The ministry said it would leave the law to the parliament, so it could be issued by those "representating the people". It said that it is currently preparing a draft law and studying different countries' experiences in transitional justice.

The final say is the responsibility of the next parliament, according to Article 241 of the 2014 Constitution. The article requires parliament to issue a transitional justice law that provides accountability and compensation for the victims.

This article is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.