Human Rights Watch on Tuesday called on Egypt’s international partners, including the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany, and France, to halt weapons transfers to the north African country and impose sanctions against the security agencies and officials most responsible for ongoing human rights abuses.
The rights group said in a new report that Egypt’s Interior Ministry police and National Security Agency officers have in recent years “apparently killed dozens of alleged “terrorists” across the country in unlawful extrajudicial executions they contend are “shootouts.”
The 101-page report, “‘Security Forces Dealt with Them’: Suspicious Killings and Extrajudicial Executions by Egyptian Security Forces,” found that the alleged armed militants killed in the “shootouts” did not pose an imminent danger to security forces or others when they were killed and in many cases had already been in custody.
“Egyptian security forces have for years carried out extrajudicial executions, claiming that the men had been killed in shootouts,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “It’s overdue for countries providing weapons and security assistance to Egypt to halt such assistance and distance themselves from Egypt’s appalling abuses.”
The rights group contended that “giving the level and extent of abuses by Egypt’s Interior Ministry and military forces documented in this and previous reports, including in North Sinai, the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, the European Union, and Egypt’s other international partners should impose targeted sanctions, including asset freezes, against Egyptian officials and entities most responsible for ongoing grave human rights violations as well as those responsible for the continued impunity for these abuses.”
It said the countries “should also halt all security and military assistance and weapons transfers to the Egyptian government and condition their resumption on ending grave human rights abuses, and accountability for those found responsible.”
They should also, the organization added, investigate Egyptian officials responsible for serious abuses under universal jurisdiction principles, while the United Nations Human Rights Council should establish an independent international mechanism to monitor and report on the human rights situation in Egypt and investigate grave human rights violations, including enforced disappearances, torture, and extrajudicial executions.
“Egyptian security agencies routinely carry out and conceal serious abuse with impunity,” Stork said. “Setting up an independent UN mechanism to monitor and report on Egypt’s human rights situation is of an utmost importance to raise the cost for the authorities’ flagrant abuses.”
The report said the Interior Ministry announced the deaths of at least 755 people in 143 alleged shootouts between January 2015 and December 2020, with only one suspect arrested. The ministry statements identified only 141 of those killed and used copy-paste language, providing very little detail.
Almost all the statements claimed that the alleged militants opened fire first, compelling security forces to return fire. The authorities alleged that all those killed were sought for “terrorism” and that most belonged to the Muslim Brotherhood. The group has faced the harshest repression in the nationwide crackdown on dissent since the July 2013 military coup led by now-President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
Human Rights Watch said it closely examined the cases of 14 individuals who were among 75 men killed in nine of those incidents in mainland Egypt (Human Rights Watch previously documented several extrajudicial executions in North Sinai). No suspects were arrested in the nine incidents and there were no casualties among security forces.
“It is not possible to reach definite conclusions about the hundreds of killings in the scores of other alleged shootouts, given that the Interior Ministry rarely provides even the most rudimentary information such as the names of those killed,” Human Rights Watch wrote. “But the conclusions drawn from the documented incidents demonstrate a clear pattern of unlawful killings and cast serious doubt on almost all reported “shootouts.”
The organization asserted that such killings proliferated after President al-Sisi said in June 2015 that normal courts and laws were not enough to tackle violent groups, and called for “swift justice.” His statement followed the killing of then-Prosecutor General Hisham Barakat by armed militants, which the government linked to the Muslim Brotherhood.
“The right to life is an inherent human right that cannot be compromised, even in times of armed conflict or state of emergency. Summary, extrajudicial, or arbitrary executions are clearly prohibited under international law, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, to which Egypt is a state party,” said Human Rights Watch, adding that “the United Nations Manual on the Effective Prevention and Investigation of Extra-legal, Arbitrary and Summary Executions says that the duty to investigate is “triggered” not only in a clear case of an unlawful death, but also where there are “reasonable allegations of a potentially unlawful death,” even without a formal complaint.”