On Tuesday, September 7, Human Rights Watch (HRW) in a new report denounced the Egyptian government’s systematic use of “extrajudicial executions” to target and kill opponents and critics. It also called for international sanctions to be imposed on the regime of president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi until it ceases to commit human rights abuses and violations against its citizens.
According to the HRW report, the Egyptian government claims that those killed had died in “shootouts” with the security forces, alleging that they were “armed militants” who posed a threat to the security forces. However, HRW asserted that photographic and other evidence of the killings was not consistent with the ‘shootout’ claim, and concluded that many of those unlawfully killed did not pose a threat to the security forces. Several of them were likely to be in custody before being killed in staged shootouts and condemned as terrorists and Muslim Brotherhood members.
As per statistics released by the Egyptian interior ministry and analyzed by HRW, at least 755 people were killed in 143 shootouts between January 2015 and December 2020. Only one of the alleged targets of these shootouts was arrested alive. The ministry identified only 141 of the 755 people killed with very little detail about them, using what the report called “copy-paste language.” The rest remain unidentified.
For this report, HRW examined the cases of 14 people who were part of a total of 75 killed in nine such purported shootouts in Egypt. It found that no security forces were injured or killed during these shootouts and none of the alleged targets were apprehended alive. Family members, lawyers and human rights activists have also raised serious doubts about the government’s version of events, saying that many of them were likely to be arrested by the National Security Agency (NSA) previously and kept in custody before the authorities decided to kill them in ‘staged shootouts’ to present as successes in the government’s anti-terrorism operations.
HRW was told by 13 family members that their relatives had been forcibly disappeared, adding that they had contact with the authorities to inquire about their whereabouts days before the killings. Eight of the families reported seeing what they believed to be signs of abuse and torture on the bodies of their killed relatives, including burns, cuts, broken bones, or dislocated teeth. Many of the families also reported the authorities withholding the dead bodies, with one family given custody two months after the killing. Two families were not given custody of the bodies of their relatives who were killed in December 2018. All of the families told HRW that they had to endure harassment and intimidation from the NSA officers while they were trying to locate their relatives’ bodies. Seven of them said that they were coerced by the security forces to conduct rushed burials without any funeral or religious service. HRW noted that the authorities have failed to carry out any serious investigation into these alleged killings.
Based on its report, HRW concluded that besides international sanctions, the international community, especially Egypt’s major international partners such as the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, and the European Union, should also freeze the assets of “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 also urged the international community to “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, where possible, investigate Egyptian officials responsible for serious abuses under universal jurisdiction principles.”
HRW demanded the United Nations Human Rights Council to “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.”