Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Egypt: 14 NGOs back UN call to stop shooting migrants

14 Egyptian NGOs support UN call to stop shooting migrants at border

Omnia Al Desoukie
March 10, 2010

CAIRO: Fourteen Egyptian human rights groups expressed their support Tuesday to a statement issued by the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights condemning the Egyptian security forces for killing up to 60 migrants on the Egyptian side of the borders with Israeli since mid 2007.

The 14 NGOs echoed the UN stance by calling on the Egyptian government to immediately stop the killing of illegal migrants on the border, to open a serious and independent investigation to determine the reasons for the high number of fatalities, and to prosecute those responsible for them.

“Since the Egyptian government agreed with Israel on tightening the security measures of securing the borders, most of the victims were sub-Saharan African migrants including a number of women and at least one child,” said Navi Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

In her statement, issued on March 2, Pillay expressed her astonishment at the high number of fatalities.

“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.”

She 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.

“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,” she explained.

In response, the Egyptian foreign ministry said Pillay’s statement “contains many errors and false allegations ... and lacks professionalism and impartiality.”

Foreign ministry spokesman Hossam Zaki said the infiltration attempts from Egypt amounted to “criminal acts ... and damage the sovereignty of the state.”

“You must bear in mind that this border is of a special military nature,” he said, adding that most of the incidents took place at night, complicating the work of Egypt’s border forces.

In a March 1 statement, the Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs for International Organizations had defended the Egyptian security forces.

In it, the government 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.

“Fatalities did not exceed 2 percent in 2008 and 4 percent in 2009 of the total number of illegal crossers,” according to a statement issue by the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The NGOs consider that with the government’s acknowledgement there should be an immediate investigation.

“Even if it’s a small percentage, by acknowledging these killings the government believes that they are doing something wrong,” said Soha Abdul Ati, deputy director of the Egyptian Initiatives for Personal Rights

According to Abdul Ati, there are certain guidelines for shooting a human being that are known and recognized by the world.

“[Not shooting] people who are unarmed is one of these guidelines,” she explained.

Among the recommendations that the Egyptian government pledged to implement during the Universal Periodic Review mechanism of the UN Human Rights Council on Feb. 19, 2010 — recommendation number 118 — was to “require that the police act with restraint when not directly threatened.”

“The government has committed itself to ensure the safety of the migrants; at least they should respect its obligations,” said Abdul Ati.

According to the NGO’s press release “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 2010.”

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