UN rights chief deplores Egypt’s use of ‘lethal force’ against migrants in Sinai

Egyptian-Israeli border fence: near this point, asylum-seekers cross into Israel nearly every night seeking refuge

2 March 2010 – With dozens of unarmed migrants attempting to enter Israel via the Sinai Desert having been killed since mid-2007 by Egyptian security forces, the top United Nations human rights official today called on the nation’s Government to call an end to the “deplorable” use of “lethal force.”

High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay underscored the need for an urgent independent inquiry into the killings of some 60 people – and the wounding and disappearance of dozens more – on the Egyptian side of its Sinai border with Israel since summer 2007, when the two countries agreed to bolster border controls.

“While migrants often lose their lives accidentally while traveling in over-crowded boats, or trying to cross remote land borders, 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,” she said.

“It is a deplorable state of affairs, and 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 latest victim was killed over the weekend, the ninth reported fatal shooting of a foreign migrant in the Sinai during the opening months of 2010.

The vast majority of those killed are from sub-Saharan Africa, in particular from Eritrea, Sudan and Ethiopia.

At least 33 people lost their lives in the Sinai between July 2007 and October 2008, and after a six-month lull in killings, nearly 20 more people seeking to start new lives – including women and at least one child – in Israel are believed to have been shot killed between May and December 2009.

“The fact that these shootings stopped for six months and then resumed strongly suggests that the killings follow a pattern that does not appear to be random,” Ms. Pillay said.

She underlined that the Egyptian Government must issue an immediate order to its security forces to ensure that the use of weapons complies with international standards and must also launch an independent and credible investigation into the killings.

“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 High Commissioner stressed.

She expressed concern over the alleged violations of the right to life as enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Egypt has ratified.

“The fact that this is a very sensitive border and a restricted military zone is no excuse,” Ms. Pillay said. “Security forces are only permitted to use lethal force when it is strictly unavoidable in order to protect life.”

Also today, the High Commissioner signed an agreement with Secretary-General Kamlesh Sharma of the 54-member Commonwealth Secretariat to enhance international, regional and national cooperation.

Today’s Joint Declaration, an update to their 1998 Memorandum of Understanding, underscores their commitment to boost collaboration in human rights in line with the so-called Paris Principles, a set of internationally-accepted performance standards regulating the various aspects of work of both the Commonwealth and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).


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