Egypt: Cluster bomb video highlights human rights concerns in North Sinai
The Egyptian military’s use of cluster bombs must cease immediately, Amnesty international said today, following the military’s release of an official video showing cluster bombs as part of their recent operations in North Sinai.
Amnesty International experts have analysed a video which was posted on the official Twitter account of the Egyptian Armed Forces spokesman on 9 February. The video shows military air force personnel loading Egyptian fighter planes with cluster bombs.
“Cluster bombs are inherently indiscriminate weapons that inflict unimaginable suffering for years after their use, and they are internationally banned for this reason. Their depiction in this video suggests that the Egyptian air force has either already used or is intending to use them, demonstrating a blatant disregard for human life,” said Najia Bounaim, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa.
The Egyptian air force has a history of carrying out unlawful attacks, even when using more precise weapons. According to eyewitness reports, in 2015 F16 fighter jets carried out air strikes on densely populated residential areas in Sinai. Dozens of residents, including children, were killed and injured in these attacks. In 2015, the Egyptian air force carried out aerial strikes in Libya that targeted houses and killed civilians including children.
In September 2015, the Egyptian military carried out airstrikes killing 12 people, including eight Mexican tourists on a safari in the Western desert. Despite the Mexican government’s initial requests, the military never held those responsible to account.
“The veil of censorship and secrecy in Sinai has given members of the armed forces the feeling that they can commit gross human rights violations with total impunity. This has been exacerbated by the government’s crackdown on journalists who dare to criticise the military’s operations,” said Najia Bounaim.
According to weapons experts consulted by Amnesty International, the cluster bombs shown in the videos released on 9 February were US-made CBU-87 Combined Effects Weapons, each containing 202 BLU-97/B bomblets. This is consistent with previous videos analysed in 2017, which showed the Egyptian military using US-made F16 fighters dropping US-made Mk-20 Rockeye cluster bombs in North Sinai, as identified by the shape and serial numbers consistent with the model.
The USA has been the main supplier of arms to Egypt since the 1970s. Amnesty International has documented many instances where the Egyptian Security Forces have used US made weapons, including F16 fighter jets, armoured vehicles and tanks to commit or facilitate serious human rights violations.
“Supplier states must immediately suspend the export of arms that carry a high risk of being used for serious human rights violations; no further exports should take place until these risks subside and the Egyptian authorities hold those responsible for violations to account. Egypt must never use cluster munitions under any circumstances; it should destroy its stockpiles and accede to the Convention on Cluster Munitions.” said Najia Bounaim.
On 9 February, the Egyptian Armed Forces announced the commencement of the military operation “Sinai 2018”. The operation, they claimed, aimed at targeting the bases of insurgency groups and their weapons warehouses in North and Central Sinai. The operation was ordered by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi just a few weeks before the presidential elections in March.
The people of North Sinai have suffered multiple security operations since 2013 that aimed to suppress armed groups. These groups have attacked members of security forces and residents, including members of minority religious groups, killing hundreds.
The Egyptian government has been exploiting the unrest in Sinai as a pretext to clampdown on human rights. Since 2013, the Egyptian military has cut off North Sinai from journalists, media outlets and monitoring groups. As such, obtaining accurate information and reporting on the gross human rights violations in Sinai is extremely challenging.
Amnesty International has documented the military’s demolition of homes and forced eviction of thousands of families, who have not been provided alternative accommodation or compensation. Many others have been held under conditions of enforced disappearance, arbitrarily detention and in some cases have been extra-judicially executed.