Egypt: France flouts international law by continuing to export arms used in deadly crackdowns

“It was non-stop tear gas and shots were coming from rooftops and armoured vehicles... Shots were raining down on us...I saw people shot in the head and chest.” - Protester who witnessed the Rabaa massacre on 14 August 2013.

  • Amnesty analysis shows Egyptian security forces used French supplied military equipment to violently crush protests between 2012 and 2015
  • Despite EU ban and zero accountability measures by the Egyptian government, France continues to transfer arms to Egypt
  • Footage analysed by Amnesty shows Egyptian security forces firing on protesters from within French supplied armoured vehicles

An Amnesty International investigation published today reveals that armoured personnel carriers supplied by France were used with deadly effect by the Egyptian security forces to violently and repeatedly disperse protests and crush dissent.

The report Egypt: How French Arms Were Used to Crush Dissent draws on analysis by Amnesty's Digital Verification Corps of more than 20 hours of open source video footage, hundreds of photographs and 450 gigabytes of further audio-visual material provided by local human rights groups and media. The evidence clearly shows French supplied Sherpas and MIDS vehicles being used during some of the bloodiest incidents of internal repression.

“It is appalling that France has continued to provide Egypt with military equipment after it was used in one of the most deadly assaults on protesters witnessed anywhere in the 21st century,” said Najia Bounaim, North Africa Campaigns Director at Amnesty International.

“The fact that these transfers were made – and continued to be made – even though the Egyptian authorities have taken zero steps towards accountability and have failed to introduce any measures to signal an end to their pattern of abuses, puts France at risk of complicity in the ongoing human rights crisis in Egypt.”

Between 2012 and 2016 France supplied more arms to Egypt than it had in the previous 20 years; and in 2017 alone it delivered more than 1.4 billion euros worth of military and security equipment to Egypt.   

It is appalling that France has continued to provide Egypt with military equipment after it was used in one of the most deadly assaults on protesters witnessed anywhere in the 21st century
Najia Bounaim, North Africa Campaigns Director at Amnesty International

 On 14 August 2013 French-supplied Sherpa armoured vehicles were used in Cairo by Egyptian security forces to disperse sit-ins across the city. In what is now known as the Rabaa and Nahda massacres, the Egyptian security forces killed up to 1,000 people, the largest number of protesters killed in a single day in modern Egyptian history. According to protesters interviewed by Amnesty International, the Egyptian security forces fired live rounds at demonstrators from within the French-supplied vehicles, placing them at the very heart of the killings.

The transfer of armoured vehicles appears to be a flagrant violation of the EU’s 2008 Common Position which governs the control of exports of military technology and equipment.

“European Union regulations legally require France, and all other EU states, to deny an export licence if there is a clear risk that the military technology or equipment being exported might be used for internal repression. In the case of transfers made to Egypt, this risk was crystal clear,” said Najia Bounaim.

“We have raised the issue of apparent ‘misuse’ of French-supplied military equipment with the French authorities on many occasions and have repeatedly attempted to clarify the exact volume and nature of these transfers, including the intended end-users. So far the French authorities have failed to give us an adequate response.”

The French authorities informed Amnesty International that they have only licenced such equipment to the Egyptian military as part of the “fight against terrorism” in Sinai and not for law enforcement operations.

However, in footage and images of operations analysed by Amnesty International, the insignia of the Ministry of the Interior Special-Operation Forces and Central Security Forces is shown painted on the bodywork of the French-supplied vehicles. The word “Police” is also clearly shown on the number plates of vehicles deployed for law enforcement in Cairo.

European Union regulations legally require France, and all other EU states, to deny an export licence if there is a clear risk that the military technology or equipment being exported might be used for internal repression
Najia Bounaim

A French official conceded to Amnesty International that while French security equipment had been intended for use by the Egyptian military, the Egyptian authorities had diverted some armoured vehicles for the use of the internal security forces.

Amnesty International has also documented violations by the Egyptian military including the use of US-manufactured F-16s to deploy cluster bombs in North Sinai earlier this year. The organization has also documented how the Egyptian military held at least two unarmed men in US Humvee armoured vehicles before they were shot dead last year.

France’s General Secretariat for Defence and National Security declined to respond to inquiries raised by Amnesty International France about the exact volume of transfers and nature of exports, citing official secrecy laws and stating that MIDS armoured vehicles are not subject to export controls, either as military equipment or dual-use goods. The manufacturer of Sherpa and MIDS however, has stated that the export of all vehicles is subject to Ministry of Defence export controls.

“As a state party to the Arms Trade Treaty, France must not authorize arms transfers where there is a substantial risk that they could be used to commit or facilitate serious violations of international human rights law,” said Najia Bounaim.

“France, along with other supplier states, should suspend the transfer of all arms at risk of being used in human rights violations until the Egyptian authorities credibly show that they have investigated past misuse. By doing so, they will not only avoid complicity in serious human rights violations, but send a clear and unambiguous message to Egyptian authorities that the ruthless crushing of dissent and impunity will not be tolerated.”

As a state party to the Arms Trade Treaty, France must not authorize arms transfers where there is a substantial risk that they could be used to commit or facilitate serious violations of international human rights law
Najia Bounaim

Given the context of systematic and serious human rights violations in Egypt, Amnesty International is calling on France to immediately stop arms transfers that have a substantial risk of being used to commit or facilitate serious human rights violations there. This suspension must remain in force until Egypt holds independent and effective investigations into the serious crimes committed by the security forces and holds those responsible to account.

Background

In August 2013, the EU member states unanimously agreed to suspend export licenses to Egypt of equipment used for internal repression in the EU Foreign Affairs Council conclusions of August 2013. However, almost half of member states may have flouted an EU-wide suspension on arms transfers to Egypt. The EU countries who have supplied arms of the type used which could be used for internal repression to Egypt through exports or brokering since 2013 are: Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Spain and the UK.

Equipment, such as small arms, batons, tear gas and armoured vehicles, has been repeatedly used to repress dissent. Amnesty International has also documented a number of incidents involving US-manufactured F-16s that cast doubt on the Egyptian air force’s ability to operate within the constraints of international human rights law and, where applicable, international humanitarian law. These incidents include attacks in Libya and the use of cluster bombs in 2018 in Sinai.