Egypt: end widespread and systematic enforced disappearances

On the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances, the ICJ denounces Egypt’s widespread and systematic resort to enforced disappearance to crackdown on dissidents, and calls on the Egyptian authorities to:  

  • immediately put an end to the practice; and  
  • promptly conduct independent, impartial and effective investigations into all instances of enforced disappearances with a view to disclosing the fate and whereabouts of the victims who are still disappeared today and bringing to justice those responsible. 

Background: enforced disappearance a widespread and systematic practice 

Enforced disappearances are systematically perpetrated in Egypt against human rights defenders, lawyers, activists, civil society representatives, politicians and dissidents to create an environment of fear and anguish and silence any criticism of the current regime. Indeed, since May 2020, Egypt has received more communications from the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances than any other country worldwide. 

As part of its campaign, “Stop Enforced Disappearance,” launched on the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances on 30 August 2015, the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms has published annual reports on enforced disappearances in Egypt since 2015. Over the course of seven years, the campaign has documented the enforced disappearance of 3,088 people from the headquarters of the National Security Agency (NSA) and other official and unofficial detention sites. The campaign has also monitored the phenomenon’s patterns over the same period, showing that its practice is systematic and widespread. 

Enforced disappearances remove the victims from the protection of the law and, therefore, facilitate the concomitant perpetration of other grave human rights violations, including prolonged arbitrary detention, torture or other ill-treatment and extrajudicial killings. The case of Mr. Ayman Hadhoud illustrates the phenomenon of enforced disappearances in Egypt. Mr. Ayman Hadhoud, an economist, researcher and member of the Reform and Development Party in the Egyptian Parliament, was forcibly disappeared on 5 February 2022. A subsequent statement by the National Public Prosecutor dated 12 April 2022 revealed that Mr Hadhoud had been arrested on 6 February 2022 in the Zamalek District of Cairo.  His fate and whereabouts were unknown until 9 April 2022 when his family was informed of his death in custody, reportedly on 5 March. An independent forensic medical report and leaked photographs of Mr. Hadhoud’s body taken at the morgue following a post-mortem examination appear strongly to indicate that, prior to his death, Mr. Hadhoud was subjected to ill-treatment, possibly amounting to torture, which may have caused his death. However, a subsequent investigation by Egypt’s prosecutor’s office has failed to establish the circumstances surrounding his disappearance and death. 

Enforced disappearance is a crime under international law.  When enforced disappearances are committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed at any civilian population, they constitute crimes against humanity.  

The families of many victims of enforced disappearance in Egypt have no information about their loved ones’ fate and whereabouts years after their disappearance. Mr. Mustafa al-Naggar’s enforced disappearance is emblematic of the plight of the victims’ families. A former parliamentarian and former head of the Justice Party, Mr. Mustafa al-Naggar travelled to the southern Egyptian governorate of Aswan on 27 September 2018 where he disappeared. Since then, his fate and whereabouts have remained unknown. The State Information Service released a statement on 18 October 2018, denying that the security services had arrested Mr. Al-Naggar. Over the past five years, attempts by his family members and lawyers to clarify his fate and whereabouts have been unsuccessful.  

Legislative framework enabling enforced disappearance 

One of the challenges in seeking accountability for victims of enforced disappearance is that the crime of enforced disappearance is not explicitly criminalized in Egypt’s domestic legislation. While various provisions of the 2014 Constitution and the Criminal Code prohibit and criminalize instances of unlawful detention, there is no direct reference to, or explicit criminalization of, “enforced disappearances” in domestic legislation.  

Moreover, the risk of enforced disappearance is heightened by detention powers enabling the Egyptian authorities to detain individuals incommunicado for up to 28 days at the Prosecution’s discretion. With respect to this, Articles 40 and 41 of the Anti-Terrorism Law No. 94 of 2015 have “effectively codified enforced disappearances” in domestic law, according to a number of UN Special Procedures mandate holders. Purportedly in connection with instances of “imminent terrorist crimes”, article 40 of the Anti-Terrorism Law enables law enforcement authorities, including police and NSA officers, to hold a suspect in their custody for up to 24 hours, and provides that the detainee shall be presented within that period to the Public Prosecution or the relevant investigative authority who may then decide to extend custody, if necessary to confront the “imminent terrorist crime,” for a period not exceeding 14 days, renewable once, i.e., up to 28 days in total. Article 41 of the same Law stipulates that the person held in custody under article 40 has the right to call a family member and seek the assistance of a lawyer from the moment of custody but subjects these rights to “the interests of the investigation”. This means that a suspect can be held in incommunicado detention for up to 28 days at the Prosecution’s discretion. One example of this practice is the case of Mrs. Hoda Abdelmoniem, a prominent lawyer, human rights defender and a former member of the National Council for Human Rights, Egypt’s national human rights institution. Ms. Abdelmoniem was arrested on 1 November 2018, when NSA officers broke into her home at 1:30 am, blindfolded her and took her away. Her whereabouts were unknown for 20 days. During her disappearance, her family and lawyers inquired about her whereabouts at several police stations; each time they were told she was not in custody. A Prosecutor of the Supreme State Security Prosecution (SSSP) reportedly explained that the reason for her family and lawyers’ inability to ascertain her whereabouts was that her right to contact them had been suspended under the Anti-Terrorism Law. On 21 November 2018, Ms. Abdelmoniem and eight other detainees were brought before, and interrogated by, the SSSP. They were formally accused of “joining and funding a terrorist organization”, and of “inciting harm against the national economy.” At the time of writing, Ms. Hoda Abdelmoniem remains in detention. 

International human rights law requires that any person detained on a criminal charge be brought promptly before a judge or other officer authorized by law to determine the continuation of detention or their release. In addition, under international human rights law, the judicial officer deciding on the continuation of detention must be independent, objective and impartial; Egyptian Public Prosecutors do not qualify as “judicial officers” under international human rights law for such purposes.  

Use of ‘tadweer’ in connection to enforced disappearances  

In addition, the Egyptian authorities’ resort to the practice of ‘tadweer’ (rotation from one criminal case to another) to intensify the crackdown on perceived opponents of the regime, including lawyers, human rights defenders, political figures and civil society advocates, significantly increases the risk of short-term enforced disappearances. Tadweer is not formally regulated under Egyptian law, but the authorities resort to it in practice. It is used to ensure the continued and at times indefinite detention of detainees by adding them to “a new” case based on charges or fact patterns similar or even identical to the ones for which they have been detained in the first place. This can occur if the detainee: i) is already serving their sentence; ii) is being held in pre-trial detention; iii) has completed their sentence; or iv) has obtained a release order from pre-trial detention. In this regard, the ICJ has documented instances of tadweer where detainees have obtained orders for their release, but instead of being released, they are forcibly disappeared for a short duration before “reappearing” and being charged in a different case, with charges similar to the ones they had faced in the case for which they had been originally detained. Upon being charged in a new case, they are once again remanded in pre-trial detention. 

For example, Mr. Ibrahim Metwally spent more than two years in pre-trial detention, when, eventually, his release pending trial was ordered on 14 October 2019, subject to police control measures. Instead of being released, however, he was transferred to multiple detention facilities across Egypt, and his whereabouts remained unknown until 5 November 2019, when he was brought before the SSSP again, interrogated and subsequently accused of offences similar to the ones with which he had been initially charged, including “membership in a terrorist group”. Mr. Metwally remains in detention to this day. 


The ICJ urges the Egyptian authorities to:  

  1. Immediately halt resorting to enforced disappearances;   
  2. Promptly, thoroughly, independently and impartially investigate all allegations of enforced disappearance, and bring to justice State officials, including law enforcement officers who carried out, ordered, instigated or failed to prevent or punish such practices by their subordinates with a view to combatting impunity in Egypt; 
  3. Enact a crime of enforced disappearance in the Criminal Code consistent with the definition provided in article 2 of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance and the preamble of the Declaration on the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance;  
  4. Respond to letters of allegations of individual cases and complaints of enforced disappearances sent by the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances; 
  5. Invite the Working Group to conduct a country visit, and grant them full access to carry out their mission; 
  6. Amend articles 40 and 41 of the Anti-Terrorism Law to ensure that detainees can exercise their right to contact family members and seek the assistance of a lawyer guaranteed by international human rights law without interference;   
  7. Ensure that accurate information on the detention of persons deprived of liberty, including their transfers and place/s of detention, be made promptly available to their family members, their counsel and/or to any other persons having a legitimate interest in the information; 
  8. Ensure that “all persons deprived of liberty be released in a manner permitting reliable verification that they have actually been released, and […] have been released in conditions in which their physical integrity and ability fully to exercise their rights are assured”, as per article 11 of the Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance;  
  9. End the practice of ‘tadweer’ and nullify “recycled” charges and related cases; and 
  10. Immediately disclose the fate and whereabouts of individuals still missing, including Mr. Mustafa al-Naggar. 

The organization also urges the international community to:  

  1. Clearly and unequivocally denounce the enforced disappearance crisis in Egypt; and 
  2. Call on the UN Human Rights Council and its Member States to establish an independent monitoring mechanism for gross human rights violations committed in Egypt, including enforced disappearances. 
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