Following the Statement of the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights: 14 Egyptian NGOs Demand a Halt of Migrant Killings on Israel Borders

Press Release

9 March 2010

Fourteen Egyptian human rights groups today expressed their full support of the statement issued by the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights which condemned the Egyptian security forces for killing up to 60 migrants on the Egyptian side of the borders with Israeli since mid 2007.

The NGOs strongly condemned the statement made by the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which pointed that the fatalities “did not exceed 2% in 2008 and 4% in 2009 of the total number of illegal crossers”. The NGOs considered the government’s acknowledgement of such a high number of killings calls for an immediate investigation into the circumstances of their murder. The NGOs stated that the understatement of such a high percentage of fatalities is a reason for serious concern.

In her statement issued on 2 March, the High Commissioner Ms. Navi Pillay (a renowned international judge from South Africa) expressed her astonishment at the high number of fatalities on the borders when there is no indication that any of the killed migrants were armed or that they opened fire at the Egyptian security forces:

“I know of no other country where so many unarmed migrants and asylum seekers appear to have been deliberately killed in this way by government forces… the sheer number of victims suggests that at least some Egyptian security officials have been operating a shoot-to-kill policy. It is unlikely that so many killings would occur otherwise. Sixty killings can hardly be an accident.”

The high commissioner urged the government to order an immediate halt  of the use of “lethal force” against migrants, and to open an independent and credible  investigation into the killings that have occurred in the past 30 months.

The statement of the High Commissioner noted that most of the killings occurred after the Egyptian government agreed with Israel on tightening the security measures of securing the borders, and that most of the victims were sub-Saharan African migrants including a number of women and at least one child. She added:

“There needs to be clarity about what has occurred, what policies have been applied to migrants trying to cross this border, and what specific orders have been given to security forces patrolling the area … The fact that this is a very sensitive border, and a restricted military zone, is no excuse. Security forces are only permitted to use lethal force when it is strictly unavoidable in order to protect life.”

In preemption to the High Commissioner’s statement, the Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs for International Organizations issued a statement on 1 March defending the behavior of the Egyptian security forces. The government statement deliberately confused African migrants and organized armed gangs which exchange fire with the Egyptian border security across the border. The government statement acknowledged that Egyptian security forces killed 56 immigrants in less than 18 months (from the beginning of 2008 until 1 June 2009) without  providing any details on the circumstances of their deaths or if those responsible for their shooting where ever investigated.

Among the recommendations that the Egyptian government accepted and pledged to implement during the consideration of Egypt under the Universal Periodic Review mechanism of the UN Human Rights Council on 19 February 2010 was to “require that the police act with restraint when not directly threatened.” (Recommendation 118). At least one African migrant was killed since the endorsement of this recommendation, which brings the number of killings to at least 9 migrants since the beginning of this year.

The 14 NGOs called on the Egyptian government to immediately stop the killing of migrant and to open a serious and independent investigation to determine the reasons for the high number of fatalities and to prosecute those responsible for them.

1. Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights
2. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
3. Egyptian Organization for Human Rights
4. Group for Human Rights Legal Aid
5. Nadim Center for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence
6. Egyptian Association for the Enhancement of Community Participation
7. Human Rights Association for the Assistance of Prisoners
8. Arab Penal Reform Organization
9. Land Center for Human Rights
10. Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression
11. Arab Network for Human Rights Information12. Center for Trade Unions and Workers Services
13. Andalus Institute for Tolerance and Non-Violence Studies
14. Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights