Human rights organisation reveals grave violations by parties to the conflict in Sinai

A human rights organisation has revealed the expansion of human rights violations in Sinai, and the bleak human rights reality that has spread in recent years, in which human rights organisations are not allowed to enter and the work of the press is severely restricted.

The Sinai Foundation for Human Rights, which conducted interviews with 212 eyewitnesses, victims’ families, and residents, documented in its first annual report for the years 2019 and 2020, how the war turned life in Sinai into hell. At least 112 residents, including 25 children and 22 women, were killed, and 134 others, including 36 children, were injured by both sides of the conflict. These victims represented just part of the death toll and injuries that the foundation was able to document, which do not appear in the statements of the military spokesman or ISIS media, according to the report.

The 65-page report, titled “We Want to Live,” deals with the suffering of nearly half a million people living in the Sinai Peninsula from historical marginalisation from the central state, and the intensification of suffering following the outbreak of the armed conflict, especially since 2014, when hundreds of local residents were killed and thousands were arrested and disappeared. Tens of thousands of residents have been forcibly evicted or displaced from their homes due to armed clashes. During the period covered by the report, the foundation monitored areas that were relatively stable two years ago in North Sinai, such as Bir Al-Abed, in which 69 violations occurred, followed by Sheikh Zuwayed with 49 violations, as well as the expansion of violations against women, especially arbitrary arrest.

According to what was monitored by the foundation, the two parties to the conflict, the Egyptian law enforcement forces represented by the army and police, and the Sinai Province organisation affiliated with ISIS, have jointly committed violations, some of which amount to war crimes. The report found that their practices have led to the crushing of the basic rights of civilians, and that some of these practices have become habitual behaviour.

The report records that the Egyptian army, in several incidents, deliberately bombed and destroyed homes, health centres, and schools, and forced civilians to flee, in addition to the police and army forces killing 26 civilians and wounding 33 others by shooting indiscriminately and without threat or military necessity. In addition, there were air attacks by the army that led to five bloody massacres, in which 30 civilians were killed and 22 others were injured.

The report quoted a local resident from the village of Abu Al-Araj, south of the city of Sheikh Zuweid, in his testimony to the incident of aerial bombardment in which three women and a child were killed, while 11 others, mostly women and children, were injured, as saying: “We live in very difficult conditions. Entering the village needs coordination with the army, and cars are not allowed to enter, and getting food is as if you are looking for drugs. This is not the first time that people have died because of missiles and bullets.” The foundation obtained a video documenting an unprecedented confession by the government authorities, represented by the governor of North Sinai, who admitted in front of the families of the victims that an aerial bombardment by mistake targeted a house in the village of Al-Joura, south of Sheikh Zuweid, on May 27, 2019. At the same time, it also obtained official medical documents stating that the victims of that incident were killed due to shelling of unknown origin.

Sinai Foundation for Human Rights reviewed and analysed all the official press releases issued by the Ministries of Defence and Interior regarding North Sinai who said that the dead were militants killed in clashes with government forces. The foundation found compelling evidence that government authorities provided false information in three official statements published by spokespersons for the Ministries of Defence and Interior, which raises several questions about the credibility of these statements and the legality of the killings.

The report monitored how the Egyptian army and police carried out dozens of cases of arbitrary and unlawful detention of civilians, some of whom were detained for long months without formal charges and outside any judicial process, and others spent long periods in prison to force a relative to surrender himself to the authorities, including women with their children. The report sheds light on Wilayat Sinai who killed, kidnapped, and executed many local residents who did not engage in armed activities under allegations related to their support for the government, or even their work in economic projects affiliated with the army, and they also executed some captured soldiers, in addition to committing human rights violations based on religious identity, as it practiced systematic patterns of attacks against Christians and Sufis.

During the reporting period, the foundation documented the killing of 22 civilians, including 10 women and seven children, and the injury of 23 others due to the explosive devices planted by the organisation to target government forces. The villages southwest of Bir Al-Abed witnessed the most prominent bloody chapter, due to the casualties of civilians returning to their villages in Bir Al-Abed after their displacement after ISIS militants took control of them on July 21, 2020, as a result of which 16 people were killed, and 18 others were injured within 14 days. According to the human rights organisation, this also reflects the failure of the government forces to clear the area of ​​mines and their indifference to the lives of civilians who wanted to return to their homes and villages.

Ahmed Salem, Executive Director of the Sinai Foundation for Human Rights, confirmed that the record of violations documented in the report shows an unwritten agreement between the two parties to the conflict not to respect human rights, or to care about the lives and dignity of the people of Sinai, which led to the transformation of large areas of North Sinai where abuses and attacks against civilians are rampant.