30,000 trafficked in Sinai

30,000 trafficked in Sinai

A guest post from contributor Parastou Hassouri, who lives in Cairo, works in the field of international refugee law, and specializes in issues of gender and migration.

On Wednesday night, the report The Human Trafficking Cycle: Sinai and Beyond, was launched in Cairo (it was launched simultaneously in several other cities including Tel Aviv, Brussels, and Lampedusa). The 238-page report is based on interviews with 230 trafficking survivors:  persons who survived the hellish ordeal of being kidnapped, held hostage and tortured brutally in the Sinai. It is a follow-up to a 2012 reportHuman Trafficking in the Sinai: Refugees between Life and Death

I was first alerted to the issue of human smuggling and trafficking in the Sinai around 2007.  At the time, I was working at the NGO Africa Middle East Refugee Assistance (AMERA).  The issue most often came up when we had to assist those who had been apprehended trying to reach the Sinai (and would be detained by Egyptian authorities, even if they were registered with the UNHCR as refugees). Back then, most of the cases we dealt with involved refugees who were voluntarily crossing the Sinai in hopes of reaching Israel, where they expected to find more work opportunities and perhaps an easier way of reaching Europe. Our biggest concern was the fact that Egyptian authorities in the Sinai were using lethal force to stop this “irregular migration,” which had resulted in numerous fatalities. There was a belief, at the time, that the Egyptian authorities were only responding to pressure being placed upon them by Israelis to stem the flow of migrants. I remember spending a lot of time advising clients against making the journey, telling them the risks were not worth it (especially as so many of them faced detention once in Israel anyway).

Over the course of months, we started to hear about situations involving hostage taking: that the smugglers who had promised to take the refugees, asylum seekers or other migrants to the Sinai would inform them mid-trip that they were being kept hostage until they could pay them more money than initially demanded.  However, the situation was one that still started out “voluntarily”:  the migrants were choosing to undertake the journey, despite the risks. The numbers choosing this route seemed to increase as the number of refugees being resettled to third countries (i.e. the U.S. and Canada) declined (this started during a period when the resettlement of Iraqis had taken priority for political reasons).The people going were from different countries:  Sudan, Ethiopia, and often Eritrea. I once assisted two men from the Ivory Coast who had been detained after being abandoned by their smuggler, when he realized he had no chance of getting more money out of them. Looking at the turn things have taken, those men are lucky they lived. 

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Police brutality (part 2)

Also published in El Shorouk this week is this horrifying, familiar account of torture by a journalist working for the satellite channel MBC, Islam Fathi, whose ordeal began -- as they often seem to -- when he got into an argument with an officer while trying to approach the site of an explosion in Minya. The piece is too long for me to translate entirely, but here is a sample. After he has been beaten and subjected to a torture called "the bag" that involves tying together and suspending the prisoner from his handcuffed hands and feet:   

As I was hanging there all night I saw the legs of soldiers and officers coming in and out to beat me. I even saw a woman dressed in black, she must have worked in the station, because she made them tea -- she also joined them in beating me, and said to them: ‘Beat him some more, he’s not getting out of here alive.’
Then soldiers took Islam to a cell and ordered him to face the wall. After two hours the door opened and another high-up officer who said: ‘So you’re the one acting like a big man?’and he was taken back to the room for another torture session.
The officer was hitting me himself and said to me: ‘Say: I’m this…I’m that.’

After all this, the officer he had an argument with asks Islam: "Have you learned your lesson now?" He is charged with attacking the authorities (the charges are dropped when he says he will not contest them in any way) and a nearby hospital refuses to document his torture. Eventually he goes to another hospital; files charges; and goes to the press. He tells Shorouk: "If they did this to me for no reason, knowing I'm a journalist, what might happen to poor, simple people?" 

Khaled Fahmy on police reform

Khaled Fahmy asks What doesn't Morsi understand about police reform?, looking at a landmark 1861 decision to end beatings by the Egyptian police.

After I spent many years exploring the National Archives, I concluded that torture was repealed from the Egyptian criminal code in the 19th Century because of a decision from within the state apparatus itself, specifically the police which reached an advanced degree of professionalism. It was also a reflection of a high degree of centralisation, strength and self-confidence of the state’s administrative apparatus, at the heart of which is the police.

It is disappointing to watch the serious regression of the Egyptian state over the past 30 years; a regression back to torture practices at police stations and locations of detention in Egypt.

Even more upsetting is that those in power today do not recognise the dangers of continuing to ignore this explosive issue, especially after a revolution which – in my opinion – primarily occurred to end torture and other systematic abuses by police against citizens.

The president has not said a single word about torture; the prime minister went to the headquarters of Central Security Forces after recent clashes in Port Said to promise them he would give them more weapons; the government has brushed aside all initiatives to reform the police; the minister of justice denied torture existed under President Morsi, and has often said the police cannot be reformed except from within and based on initiatives by its leadership. And so it seems, President Morsi’s government has made up its mind on this matter and does not wish to address police violations, and at the same time cannot force police leaders to change their ways in dealing with the people.

Libya: Prisoners held in shipping containers

 

From Amnesty International:

Thursday, Sept. 1, 2011

Amnesty International Reveals Detainees in Libya Left to Suffocate in Blazing Hot, Cramped Metal Containers

Survivors Describe “A Day From Hell” as Detainees Drink Urine and Sweat to Try to Stay Alive

(New York) – Libyan forces loyal to Colonel al-Gaddafi forces left 19 detainees to die of suffocation while locked inside metal containers in the sweltering June heat in northwestern Libya, Amnesty International has discovered.

Three survivors described how al-Gaddafi loyalists tortured them and then imprisoned them along with 26 others in two cramped cargo containers on June 6 at a construction site in al-Khums, 75 miles east of Tripoli.

The detainees endured temperatures above 104 degrees Fahrenheit and drank their own sweat and urine when the limited water supply ran out. Their captors shouted “rats, shut up," ignoring their cries for help.

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Human rights and Egypt's transition

One of the big questions for the future of Egypt is how to change the culture of police enforcement, security agencies and the army when it comes to accountability, respect of the rule of law, human rights practice and more generally attitudes towards public freedoms. It was always unrealistic to expect to change this overnight, and there are several problems to tackle — to start with: 

  • deeply ingrained institutional practices (sometimes codified in laws, regulations and procedures that have their origins in the days of British rule in Egypt, as well as the security state established by Nasser);  
  • the need for a shift away from a culture of entitlement, paternalism, sexism, and authoritarianism;
  • a structural adjustment to end a micro-economy of corruption that made police officers, for instance, resort to accepting bribes because their basic salaries are low and they were practically encouraged to be on the take to compensate. This of course benefited more senior officers who were engaged in more serious corruption (and were paid adequately) and shielded them from criticism, since everyone was on the take. 
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The justifications of the torturer

Alaa al-Aswany in the Los Angeles Times:
"As President Obama prepares for his trip to Egypt this week, the Mubarak regime is facing unprecedented waves of social protest because life here has become intolerable for millions of Egyptians, who now have no choice but to take to the streets to proclaim their demand for a life fit for humans. Today, between 40% and 50% of Egyptians live below the poverty line; Egypt has become two different countries -- one for the poor and one for the rich. As for the regime, it is now completely incapable of serious reform, so it pushes the police to confront, repress and torture people, overlooking the simple and important fact that police officers are, first and foremost, Egyptian citizens and that what applies to Egyptians in general applies to them too. Most of them suffer in the same way as other Egyptians. I often recall the discussion I had with the State Security officer at the wedding. And I reflect that a political system that relies for its survival on repression always fails to see that the apparatus of repression, however mighty it may be, must be operated by individuals who are part of society and whose interests and opinions generally conform with those of the rest of the population. As repression increases, a day will come when those individuals can no longer justify to themselves the crimes they are committing against people. At that point the regime will lose its power to repress and will meet the fate it deserves. I believe that we in Egypt are approaching that day. "
The story opened with a meeting with a State Security officer whom he confronts about working for the regime. It's worth reading in its entirety.
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Fault Lines on the torture debate, Obama's relationship with Mubarak, Saudis

I caught a glimpse of a very lively debate on torture on Al Jazeera English's new show Fault Lines (hosted by Josh Rushing, former US Army spokesman in Qatar captured in the wonderful documentary on al-Jazeera Control Room). The show is about the recent US controversy over President Obama to close US-based torture programs (but not torture carried out by allied countries such as Egypt, Jordan or Morocco), his decision not to release further Abu Ghraib and other photos, and his ambivalence about prosecuting senior Bush administration officials who were involved in the decision to authorize torture. Part I The second part has an interesting outburst by former CIA analyst Michael Scheuer against Obama's visit to Cairo. At around 1:08 he says:
This business of rendition and interrogation is important and should get sorted out. But when congressmen and other people say, "this is a a great recruiter for al-Qaeda" -- let me tell you what's the great recruiter for al-Qaeda: when Mr. Obama goes to Cairo and raises his arms with Mr. Mubarak and cheers for freedom, and then goes and kisses the royal buttocks of King Abdallah in Saudi Arabia because we're dependent on their oil, that's much more of a recruitment tool then anything that happened at Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo Bay. This is small potatoes.
Later (3:38) he adds:
Mr. Obama does not know the first thing about how this world works and cheer freedom with Hosni Mubarak.
Part II
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Abu Ghraib abuse photos 'show rape' - Telegraph

Abu Ghraib abuse photos 'show rape' - Telegraph
Explosive - these are the pictures Obama does not want released: "At least one picture shows an American soldier apparently raping a female prisoner while another is said to show a male translator raping a male detainee. Further photographs are said to depict sexual assaults on prisoners with objects including a truncheon, wire and a phosphorescent tube. Another apparently shows a female prisoner having her clothing forcibly removed to expose her breasts."
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Reuters AlertNet - Afghan was taken to Guantanamo aged 12-rights group

Reuters AlertNet - Afghan was taken to Guantanamo aged 12-rights group
Grotesque: "Interviews with the family of Mohammed Jawad, who like many poor Afghans does not know his exact age or birthday, showed he was probably not even a teenager when he was arrested in 2002, the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission said. He was picked up by Afghan police in connection with a grenade attack in Kabul in which two U.S. soldiers and their Afghan interpreter were wounded. He was transferred to U.S. custody the same day and flown to Guantanamo in early 2003. Commissioner Nader Nadery said in addition to being a minor at the time of his detention, Jawad was tortured and abused by the Afghan police and while at the Guantanamo detention centre, located at a U.S. naval base in Cuba."
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Links February 13th to February 15th

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