The Egyptian authorities must halt the forced evictions and arbitrary demolitions of hundreds of homes in Rafah, North Sinai, Amnesty International said in a Thursday statement after signs that the campaign might expand.
The Egyptian military is undertaking this campaign in order to create a ‘secure zone’ along the border of the Gaza Strip.
“Shocking scenes have emerged of homes in Rafah being bulldozed, bombed, with entire buildings reduced to piles of rubble and families forcibly evicted,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty International’s Deputy Director for the Middle East and North Africa.
The Egyptian military has destroyed at least 800 homes and have forcibly evicted an estimated 1,165 families from their homes since it began clearing the area after the attack that killed at least 30 soldiers on 24 October 2014.
“My neighbours refused to leave. I saw them arguing with military officers, then soldiers with dogs raided the house and the family had to flee. Who can say no to the military with their heavy weapons? Their house was later demolished with all the furniture and family stuff inside it,” one Sinai resident told Amnesty International.
According to the human rights watchdog, the army completely ignored the key safeguards required by international law when proceeding with such evictions; including consultation with residents, sufficient prior notice, adequate compensation, and granting alternative housing. The lack of such safeguards renders the evictions unlawful.
Whilst the governor of North Sinai promised that residents would receive 700 to 900 EGP in compensation, many residents expressed dismay as they have been living on the land for generations and have no way of obtaining official documents to prove ownership of their houses.
A media blackout has also blocked reportage of the demolitions and other military operations and violations in North Sinai, Amnesty said. This comes in the context of a new draft law prohibiting reporting news about the military.
Following 24 October, President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi declared a state of emergency in North Sinai and imposed a curfew that if broken, could result in up to 15 years prison time.
North Sinai has been a sight of confrontation between security forces and armed groups; leaving at least 238 members of security forces and an undocumented number of militants killed over the past year.