For more than a year now, much of the world has been transfixed by the ongoing refugee influx in Europe.
And while the crisis is indeed one of the biggest humanitarian emergencies of this era, a lot of other mass human rights violations have inadvertently been eclipsed by it, especially in the media. This, in turn, has somewhat facilitated the perpetrators escape any kind of accountability.
But at least one of such overlooked issues might be able to attract international spotlight, thanks to a damning new report.
Amnesty International claims hundreds of people in Egypt, including activists, protesters and students — including children as young as 14 — in the northeastern African country are being unlawfully detained, abducted and even tortured at the hands of security forces in a bid to wipe out dissent of any kind. Those who are taken into custody are not allowed access to family, a lawyer or proper trial.
In fact, the investigation has found an average of three to four people have been disappearing each day. On paper, they “officially do not exist.” Just in the first five months of 2016 alone, Amnesty documented 630 of these cases.
"Enforced disappearance has become a key instrument of state policy in Egypt. Anyone who dares to speak out is at risk," said Philip Luther, Amnesty's Middle East and North Africa director.
The 71-page report also provides disturbing accounts of torture carried out by state agents. Victims have reportedly been kept blindfolded, beaten, suspended by their arms and legs, and raped.
CNN interviewed the sister of perhaps the youngest victim, 14-year-old Aser Mohamed, who was arrested without a warrant and subjected to extreme physical and mental abuse.
"He had severe electric shock wounds on his lips, head, arms and chest," she said. "They showed no mercy for the fact that he was only 14 years of age and even hung him by the wrists for a whole day till his arms gave in and dislocated."
Amnesty’s report also mentioned the murder of Italian student Giulio Regeni, whose body, bearing signs of torture, was found in Cairo in February.
“The terrible injuries sustained by Giulio Regeni are similar to those suffered by numerous people interrogated by the Egyptian security forces — his case is just the tip of the iceberg,” Amnesty’s Felix Jakens stated.
Egyptian authorities, as per usual, have denied they use torture, but admitted that around 34,000 people have been arrested.
Ever since Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, former military strongman and the president of Egypt, assumed office in 2014, his critics feared he might turn out to be yet another dictator who would try to quell the freedoms of the Egyptian people. As it turns out, they were absolutely right.
Before Amnesty’s investigation, several other human rights groups, including Human Rights Watch, have accused Sisi’s administration of arresting government critics over the past two years, despite the leader’s promises for a better political and social future in the country.
Meanwhile, the deafening silence over Egypt only made it easier for its government and military to carry on with their controversial tactics.
It may be a little too late for the international community to demand accountability from Egypt — given the number of disappearances and the irreparable damage on the victim’s families — but it’s better late than never.
It’s high time Sisi began answering questions instead of giving excuses. But for that, questions need to be asked first.