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Egyptian military showing 'blatant disregard for human life' with cluster bombs videos

Part of a US-made CBU-87 cluster bomb (in background) and fragment of a BLU-97 cluster sub-munitions (foreground), as used by Saudi coalition forces in Yemen © Amnesty International

Video posted to Twitter by Armed Forces shows internationally-banned US-made cluster munitions being loaded for use in Sinai operation

‘Cluster bombs are inherently indiscriminate weapons that inflict unimaginable suffering’ - Najia Bounaim

The Egyptian military’s use of cluster bombs must cease immediately, Amnesty International said today, following the release of official videos showing cluster bombs being loaded for use as part of the military’s recent operations in North Sinai.

The videos - posted on the official Twitter account of the Egyptian Armed Forces spokesman on 9 February - shows military air force personnel loading Egyptian fighter planes with cluster bombs.

According to weapons experts consulted by Amnesty, the cluster bombs shown in the videos are US-made CBU-87 Combined Effects Weapons, each containing 202 BLU-92/B bomblets. This is consistent with previous videos analysed last year, 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 Egyptian air force has a history of carrying out unlawful attacks, even when using more precise weapons. According to eyewitness reports from 2015, F16 fighter jets carried out air strikes on densely-populated residential areas in Sinai, with dozens of residents - including children - killed and injured in the attacks. That same year, the Egyptian air force carried out aerial strikes in Libya targeting houses and killed civilians, including children. Again in 2015, the Egyptian military carried out airstrikes on a safari in the Western desert, killing 12 people, including eight Mexican tourists. Despite the Mexican government’s initial requests, the Egyptian military never held those responsible to account. 

The USA has been the main supplier of arms to Egypt since the 1970s. Since then, Amnesty has documented numerous instances of the Egyptian Security Forces using US made weapons - including F16 fighter jets, armoured vehicles and tanks - to commit or facilitate serious human rights violations. 

Najia Bounaim, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Deputy Regional Director, said:

“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.

 “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.

“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.” 

‘Sinai 2018’ operation

On 9 February, the Egyptian Armed Forces announced the commencement of a military operation dubbed “Sinai 2018”. The operation, they claimed, was 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 weeks before the presidential elections in March. 

Since 2013, the people of North Sinai have suffered from multiple security operations aimed at suppressing armed groups. Meanwhile, armed groups have attacked members of the security forces as well as residents, including members of minority religious groups, killing hundreds. 

Pretext for clampdown

The Egyptian government has been exploiting the unrest in Sinai as a pretext to clamp down 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.

However, Amnesty has documented the military’s demolition of homes and forced eviction of thousands of families in Sinai. Many others have been held under conditions of enforced disappearance, arbitrarily detention and in some cases have been extrajudicially executed. 


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