Skip to main content

Countdown to Human Rights Day

UN Voluntary Fund helps those on the road to recovery from slavery

Learn more

Press releases Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

UN human rights chief deplores killing of some 60 migrants by Egyptian forces in Sinai since mid 2007

Migrant killings in Egypt

02 March 2010

GENEVA (2 March 2010) - The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay on Tuesday called on the Egyptian government to immediately order its security forces to stop using “lethal force” against unarmed migrants trying to enter Israel via the Sinai Desert, after the latest in a series of some 60 fatal shootings over the past two and a half years.
Pillay also called for an urgent independent inquiry into the killing of so many individuals by State security forces, and the wounding and disappearance of dozens more, on the Egyptian side of the Sinai border with Israel, since July 2007.
“While migrants often lose their lives accidentally when travelling 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,” Pillay 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 at the weekend -- the ninth reported fatal shooting of a foreign migrant in the Sinai during the first two months of 2010. The great majority of the people killed since Egypt and Israel agreed to toughen border controls in Sinai in the summer of 2007 are reported to have been from Sub-Saharan Africa -- in particular from Eritrea, Sudan and Ethiopia.
At least 33 were reported killed in the Sinai between July 2007 and October 2008. After a six-month period when there were no reported shootings, at least 19 more would-be migrants or refugees are believed to have been shot dead between May and December 2009. The victims are said to include several women and at least one child.
“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,” the High Commissioner said.
“The Egyptian government should issue an immediate order to its security forces to ensure that firearms are used in strict compliance with international standards,” Pillay said. “They should also launch an independent and credible inquiry into the killings that have taken place over the past two and a half years. 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.”
Voicing concern over alleged violations of the right to life,* the High Commissioner said “The fact that this is a very sensitive border, and a restricted military zone, is no excuse. Security forces are only permitted to use lethal force when it is strictly unavoidable in order to protect life.”
(*) See Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ratified by 165 states including Egypt. The conduct of border guards and other law enforcement officials is also addressed by a number of specific international standards and codes, including the UN Principles on the Effective Prevention and Investigation of Extra-Legal, Arbitrary and Summary Executions; the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials and the UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials. The treatment of refugees and asylum-seekers is covered by the 1951 UN Refugee Convention and a large body of other refugee-specific international laws and standards.