North Sinai women subjected to abuse by terror groups and governmental forces

Since 2014, North Sinai has been in a constant state of emergency after initiating the “war against terrorism” against the organisation Sinai Province (Wilayat Sinai), which is affiliated with ISIS. Since then, local and international human rights centres documented fatal abuses committed by the two parties against civilians in North Sinai.

The ongoing conflict resulted in a huge deterioration in social and economic conditions including education, work, food and proper living conditions. However, there are no studies about the effects of this conflict on women, despite the fact that they suffer hugely from wars and conflicts. In this context, the Egyptian Front for Human Rights, a European independent organisation established in 2017 by activists and human rights defenders, released a report entitled “From the Hill of the Wilayah to the Hill of the State”. The report documents fatal abuses that include war crimes and crimes against humanity committed against the women of North Sinai by the two parties of the conflict.

The abuses committed by Sinai Province

Through the follow-up of 23 cases of women and girls accused of joining Sinai Province, the Front documented that at least 11 of them have been exposed to domestic violence to force them to live under the rule of the terror group or to provide food to supply to its members. Domestic violence is not a crime according to Egyptian Law. According to lawyers’ testimonies, these women tried to escape, but they were constantly subjected to violence by Sinai Province members, which in some cases included beatings, death threats, and threats to take their children.

According to a lawyer of one of the defendants, the accused was forced to travel with her husband to North Sinai without knowing that he joined the group. Then he forced her to live for two years as she tried to escape several times and was beaten every time she tried to escape. When her four-year-old son was shot in the back during a raid she insisted on fleeing the organisation and returning to her family, and one of the women helped her. But once she arrived in Cairo she was shocked when the security forces arrested her. Another lawyer of one of the defendants stated that the accused’s husband forced her to live with him for two years, until her son died in fighting between Sinai Province and the security forces, while her husband constantly threatened to kill her and that he would take her children from her.

Violations also included forced marriage, as marriage in Sinai is based on tribal traditions whereby fathers or grandfathers are responsible for the marriage of their daughters. The girl marries someone chosen by the parents, and she has no option to refuse. Documents indicate that at least 15 of the women and girls, accused in two cases, were married by their families without their prior knowledge of the husband and without their full consent, which makes it a forced marriage.

The Front recorded four cases in two lawsuits in which they were married while they were under legal age. Although two of them tried to escape from their husbands, the state dealt with them as criminals and terrorists, instead of recognising them as victims and providing them with the necessary legal and psychological support. Lawyers who attended the investigations with these girls suggested that they were arrested to pressure their husbands, who joined the terror group, to surrender themselves, as the state has failed to find them.

Accusations against the state

Among the 23 women and girls accused of joining Sinai Province, the Front recorded their case and at least 19 of them were subjected to enforced disappearance. All of the defendants were arrested without official warrants, which makes the arrest itself an arbitrary incident. After their arrest, the defendants were taken to one of the headquarters of the National Security, which is an unofficial place of detention, in which they are being held illegally, without being allowed to communicate with their lawyers or their families or being informed of the charges against them. They are also being interrogated illegally by National Security officers for long periods.

The periods of enforced disappearance which the defendants were subjected to ranged from two weeks to seven months, which defendants spent in complete isolation from the outside world. During their forcible disappearances, the defendants were subjected to the most severe forms of torture by National Security officers. The National Security used torture systematically against women and girls accused in cases of joining the Sinai Province organisation to force them to confess the charges against them and to extract information about the organisation.

At least 15 women and girls, out of the 23 documented cases, were subjected to various forms of physical and psychological torture, including beatings with sticks, torture by electric shock, threats of rape and sexual abuse, and being stripped of their clothes. The prosecution and the judiciary detain those accused of joining Sinai Province for extended periods under pretrial detention, without referring the case to the court to decide the validity of the accusations against them, as the periods of pretrial detention sometimes reach three years.