Thirteen Egyptian human rights organizations expressed their distress today about the Egyptian government’s continuing dismissal of reports confirming the detention, torture and rape of hundreds of African hostages in Sinai by human trafficking gangs over the last few months. The gangs are demanding ransoms of thousands of dollars for their release. The Egyptian organizations call upon all government authorities to live up to their obligations under national and international laws and take immediate action to secure the release of the hostages currently detained.
Over the past few weeks, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and a number of international human rights organizations – led by Human Rights Watch and Physicians for Human Rights – have issued reports detailing the suffering of the African hostages, most from Eritrea and Ethiopia. The reports include information - received through corresponding statements made by several hostage survivors - on the detention of groups of nearly one hundred hostages, including women and children, in metal containers or underground rooms in different areas of Sinai. The hostages are beaten, burnt and lashed with electric cables, while the captors communicate with their relatives to pressure them to pay ransom. Women are separated from the men and are repeatedly gang raped by their captors. Physicians for Human Rights reported that during the last ten months alone, its clinic in Israel has operated 165 abortions for African immigrant women, half of whom the organization believes have been impregnated as a result of rape by their traffickers. Reports have also mentioned that detained women and men have been forced to work for long hours building houses and servicing the traffickers during their detention. They have been denied food and water for most of the day.
The undersigned Egyptian organizations were able to contact an individual who is currently detained with a group of hostages in Sinai. The Eritrean refugee said that he is detained in a metal container with fifteen other hostages by a group of Bedouins, because he has not been able to pay the money demanded (generally ranging between three to eight thousand US dollars). He added that the traffickers only provide two pieces of bread and some salty water per day, and that he has been transferred several times to different detention centers in Sinai where hundreds of immigrants from Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sudan and Somalia are detained and tortured - some of whom have been held for more than six months.
While details of these atrocities are being reported frequently, Egyptian government officials still refuse to acknowledge this information or take any necessary steps to secure their release. Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokeman, Hossam Zaki, accused “suspicious authorities” of publishing this information, which he considered to be “media whirlwinds”. He added in a statement to the official Middle East News Agency on 20 December: “We have urged those with information to provide it to the Egyptian authorities and no one came with any information... what is needed then? It seems that this issue has passed media whirlwinds to become an issue put forward by suspicious authorities.”
The undersigned Egyptian organizations call upon all government authorities to stop dismissing the facts on the ground and put an end to this terrible human tragedy. The government is obliged by its own Anti-Trafficking Law (number 64 for the year 2010), passed last May, to deal with these crimes as crimes of human trafficking. The three elements of the crime of trafficking are present in this case: the act of dealing with persons, including receipt, reception and accommodation; the use of force, violence or threat; and the intent of exploitation, including sexual exploitation and forced labor. The state is thus responsible for prosecuting the criminals and providing protection for the victims, in addition to providing medical, psychological and social care to the victims and upholding their rights.
According to the Implementing Regulations of the Anti-Trafficking Law, which were issued on 30 November by Prime Minister Decree number 3028 of 2010, the National Coordinating Committee for Combating and Preventing Trafficking in Persons should immediately intervene and take all necessary steps in coordination with all the relevant authorities. The law and its implementing regulations oblige criminal and state security investigations bureaus and police stations, as well as the Public Prosecutor, to investigate these crimes.
With regards to the protection of victims, article 9 of the Implementing Regulations of the Anti-Trafficking Law places a duty on the Ministry of Interior to provide physical protection for victims, on the Ministry of Health to provide health and psychological care, and on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to take the necessary procedures for the return of the foreign or non-resident victim to his/her country of origin. The undersigned organizations, however, stress that victims should not be returned to their homeland if their life or freedom is at risk, in accordance with Egypt’s obligations under the UN Convention on the Status of Refugees, which Egypt ratified in 1981.
The undersigned organizations will continue pushing the government to fulfill its responsibilities towards these victims and end their hostage. They will be providing legal aid for victims in the future until those directly or indirectly responsible for their suffering are brought to justice and victims are justly compensated.
1. Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights.
2. Nadeem Center for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Torture.
3. Hisham Mubarak Law Center.
4. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies.
5. Egyptian Organization for Human Rights.
6. Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights.
7. Center for Egyptian Women's Legal Assistance.
8. Land Center for Human Rights.
9. The Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression.
10. Arabic Network for Human Rights Information.
11. The Egyptian Association for the Enhancement of Community Participation.
12. New Women Foundation.
13. Egyptian Center for Women's Rights.