As we all wait for the results of Egypt’s presidential elections, due to be announced today, it’s worth remembering a recent government policy that could turn any resulting demonstrations into a bloody affair. The following press release, issued by the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, details an Interior Ministry policy, established earlier this year, which gives police officers “a shoot to kill license, and offers bonuses to police officers who shoot and kill ‘thugs.'” With the strong likelihood that protests will be held following the announcement of election results (particularly for a Shafiq win), this policy, if implemented, could lead to a significant escalation in violence. This, combined with other recent laws empowering the military police to arbitrarily detain citizens on a range of charges, places serious risks on protestors and unduly burdens their right to freedom of speech and association.
The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) condemned the new policy of the Interior Minister that gives police officers a shoot to kill license, and offers bonuses to police officers who shoot and kill ‘thugs’. The EIPR declared that the new minister’s policies violate all laws and regulations, both Egyptian and international, and has demanded that the Minister immediately retract his faulty policy and replace it with reasonable and legal policies for regulating police work.
General Mohamed Ibrahim, who was appointed a few weeks ago in Dr. Kamal El Ganzoury’s cabinet, has declared – through statements to the press while visiting the Fayoum police station on Sunday 1 January – that he will reward any officer who shoots and kills a thug, if the thug initiates gunfire.
“We would have never imagined that the first action of the new Minister would be to give police officers a license to kill with financial bonuses, especially after the murdering sprees committed by police officers during the revolution. Instead of drafting policies that encourage self-restraint and discipline on the part of the security forces, the Minister is effectively telling his officers : kill and you will not be held accountable, kill and you will be rewarded.” said Magda Boutros, Criminal Justice Director at the EIPR.
She added : “This policy turns the police from an institution responsible for preserving citizens’ safety, arresting suspects and bringing them to justice, to one that immediately punishes suspects, without resorting to the judiciary or the law, and in the worst possible way : intentional murder.”
The EIPR emphasized that the law does not allow intentional killings for the sole reason that ‘thugs started shooting’ – as the Minister says – although the law does allow the use of firearms under specific conditions. Article 102 of the Police Law allows policemen to use firearms only when arresting a suspect caught red-handed for a felony in which an arrest is permitted, if this is the only way to achieve the arrest. According to the law, the policeman must first give warning that he will use firearms, and must use it in accordance to regulations. Firearms can only be used to secure an arrest and prevent an escape; the police law in no way permits the targeting of individuals with the intention of killing them.
There are also legal conditions in cases of defense of self or others against an imminent life-threatening danger, including that the person defending himself must be facing a imminent and severe danger which they cannot prevent by any other means, according to Article 61 of the penal code. The EIPR added that police officers have powers that allow them to defend themselves and others without resorting to firearms, such as arrests, searches, and interrogations. In all cases, any case of death requires a full judicial investigation, and the burden of proof lies on the officer to prove he was in a situation of self-defense.
The EIPR also called on the Interior Minister to enact practical and sustainable policies to bring solutions to security problems, while avoiding any escalation in the use of force and firearms, such as intensifying security patrols in remote areas, guaranteeing timely and preventative interventions before security problems escalate, and training police officers on how to take the most appropriate decision to keep the peace and preserve life, and how to solve security problems with the minimal force required to achieve their goals.
“Escalation in the use of force, even when legitimate, can lead to negative consequences; it can result in a rise in unintended casualties and increases the risk of injuring uninvolved persons,” said Magda Boutros. She added : “Facilitating the use of firearms creates a vicious circle of violence and counter-violence between policemen and outlaws. The experiences of other countries has proven that escalations of violence from the police do not result in decreased crime rates; rather it causes more deaths and injuries on both sides. In Brazil, for example, studies have shown that when the police increased the use of lethal force in the period between 1999 and 2004, it was not met with a decreased crime rate but with an increased risk to the lives of policemen.”
Further, the EIPR emphasized that in all cases, any actions pertaining to the lives of civilians must be subject to clear and strict legislation that is accessible to all, and must be implemented under judicial oversight.
It should be noted that the EIPR produced a code of conduct last December in which it outlined the basic rules for policing demonstrations and public disorder situations, and the levels of legitimate force that can be use in those situations.