(Geneva) – Members of the UN Human Rights Council called on Egypt and Sudan on March 14, 2014, to investigate and prosecute traffickers for kidnapping, torturing, and killing refugees in the Sinai Peninsula. The 24 countries sponsoring the German-led statement also called on both countries to identify and prosecute any security officials who may have colluded with traffickers.
On February 11 Human Rights Watch released a report titled “‘I Just Wanted to Lie Down and Die:’ Trafficking and Torture of Eritreans in Sudan and Egypt,” which documents how, since 2010, Egyptian traffickers have tortured Eritreans for ransom in the Sinai Peninsula usingrape, burning, and mutilation. It also documents torture by traffickers in eastern Sudan and 29 incidents in which victims said that Sudanese and Egyptian security officers facilitated trafficker abuses rather than arresting the traffickers and rescuing their victims.
“Four years on, there is almost complete impunity for traffickers in Sudan and Egypt who torture refugees and for any security officials working with them,” said Gerry Simpson, senior refugee researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Egypt and Sudan should respond to this call for action at the UN with concerted efforts to arrest the traffickers and show zero tolerance for colluding security officials.”
The statement at the human rights council and the report recognize that Sudan has taken some steps to investigate traffickers but say that these steps have not been sufficient. Although Egypt responded to the Human Rights Watch report by acknowledging the trafficker abuses for the first time, it has prosecuted only one trafficker in Cairo, and has neither investigated nor prosecuted traffickers in Sinai.
Human Rights Watch has received reports of trafficking from eastern Sudan to Sinai as recently as February.
The failure by both countries to adequately investigate and prosecute traffickers who severely abuse their victims and collusion by security officials breaches their obligations under the UN Convention against Torture, international human rights law, and, in Egypt’s case, national and international anti-trafficking laws, Human Rights Watch said.
The statement also calls on “countries involved” – a reference to Egypt – to stop detaining trafficking victims and to assist and protect them, including by allowing them to access the UN refugee agency in Egypt.
Human Rights Watch’s report documents that when traffickers freed Eritreans whose families have paid their ransom, Egyptian border police often intercepted the Eritreans. The police transferred the Eritreans’ cases to military prosecutors and then detained the Eritreans for months in inhuman and degrading conditions in Sinai police stations. Egyptian prosecutors have charged the Eritreans with immigration offenses and denied them access to urgently needed medical care, as well as to the UN refugee agency. Those actions violate Egypt’s 2010 law on combatting human trafficking, which says trafficking victims should receive assistance, protection, and immunity from prosecution.
On March 13, 2014 the European Parliament also called on Egypt and Sudan to end the trafficker abuses and to investigate allegations of security force collusion with traffickers.
“Now that these appalling crimes are being addressed at the UN Human Rights Council, it is high time for Egypt and Sudan to publicly explain how they plan to address them,” Simpson said.