CAIRO: In a letter to Egypt’s Ministry of Interior, Human Rights Watch demanded an immediate investigation into allegations that Egyptian border officials brutally killed four Sudanese refugees as they tried to flee into Israel.
The murders of these four refugees, which reportedly occurred the night of Wednesday Aug. 1, were witnessed by Israeli soldiers patrolling the border and by a camera crew of the Israeli news station, Channel 10.
According to a Channel 10 commentator, the station decided not to air the footage because it did not want “to cause a diplomatic row with Egypt.
However, it did air an interview with one of the Israeli soldiers who reportedly witnessed the killings, in which he described a scene of harsh brutality as Egyptian authorities discovered the refugees then beat and shot them to death.
According to the soldier, the Egyptian soldiers caught sight of the refugees and began firing, killing two and injuring a third.
The fourth refugee ran towards the border fence but the Egyptian soldiers grabbed hold of him and carried him several meters away. Then, they beat him and the wounded refugee to death with stones and clubs.
“What happened there yesterday was a lynch, the soldier said in the interview. “These are not men, they re animals. They killed him without even using firearms. We just heard screams of pain and the sounds of beatings. Then the screams stopped.
In an Aug. 5 report by the Associated Press, the Egyptian government failed to acknowledge that any killings had taken place at the border. In addition, Egypt’s Ministry of Interior did not have any comment when asked about the killings and the Human Rights Watch letter.
In a letter addressed to Minister of Interior Habib El-Adli, Human Rights Watch called on the Egyptian government to “order a full investigation into the incident, to allow “independent international investigators to look into the allegations, and to publicly assure that Egypt will “treat humanely third-country nationals apprehended at the border.
It further demanded that the government “prosecute anyone identified as having unlawfully killed or injured any migrants through shooting or beating, and to hold accountable any other Egyptian official bearing responsibility for such incidents.
Bill Frelick, the refugee policy director for Human Rights Watch, put the issue into a broader framework. “The reported brutality of these killings is all the more shocking as it comes at a time when Egypt and Israel are discussing the issue of asylum seekers crossing into Israel, he said.
In a summit held at Sharm El-Sheikh in June, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and President Hosni Mubarak reportedly met to discuss the increasing flow of refugees across the Egyptian-Israeli border. Although no formal agreement was announced, it is believed that Mubarak agreed to accept the deportation of these refugees back to Egypt.
The letter from Human Rights Watch asked that Egypt make the details of any such agreement public.
“It is very important to know what these two leaders discussed, Gasser Abdel-Razek, the Human Rights Watch regional director for the Middle East and North Africa told Daily News Egypt. “Of course we understand that governments have a right and duty to protect their borders, but they need to do so in accordance with international laws.
The letter points out that Egypt is a signatory of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which prohibits arbitrary killings and obligates states to investigate allegations of such abuse. It is also a party to the UN Convention Against Torture, which forbids inhuman and degrading treatment or torture.
If the allegations are found to be true, the Egyptian authorities would be in violation of both treaties.
Abdel-Razek said it was “hard to tell whether this was an isolated incident or part of a series of brutal attacks by border security forces on fleeing migrants.
The issue of Darfuri refugees entering Israel from Egypt has been a growing concern for both governments in recent months. According to the Israeli embassy in Egypt, a total of 1,200 Sudanese migrants have entered Israel from Egypt seeking political asylum.
“This continuing flow of job seekers and asylum seekers is an issue that we have to work out, the Israeli embassy spokesperson, Shani Cooper Zubida, told Daily News Egypt.
“Israel and Egypt have discussed this issue at the highest level – both politically and between the two armies – and in the meantime we are trying to give these people a place to live without fear, she said.
Israel has come under criticism by media and human rights groups for imprisoning fleeing refugees as enemy belligerents, and keeping them in prison for months at a time as their cases are reviewed. The government has also said that it may be forced to deport these fleeing migrants back to Egypt.
The Human Rights Watch letter made no reference to these issues, demanding only that any agreement between the Egyptian and Israeli governments be made public and that the Ministry of Interior look into this incident directly.