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Egypt: Council of Ministers Says Evictions in Sinai Comply with International Law

(Oct. 14, 2015) On September 22, 2015, the Council of Ministers of Egypt issued a statement saying that a decision taken by the military to forcibly evict hundreds of families on the Gaza-Egyptian border had adhered to the principles of the World Conference on Human Rights of 1993. The conference, which took place in Vienna on June 23, 1993, opposed the forced eviction of any group of people from their homes or land directly or indirectly by the state. (Egypt Has Complied with International Law in Sinai: Cabinet, AL-AHRAM ONLINE (Sept. 22, 2015) (in Arabic); United Nations General Assembly, Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action (July 12, 1993), A/CONF.157/23, available at REFWORLD.)

The Council of Ministers mentioned in its statement that the Egyptian authorities consulted the local persons affected and offered them alternative housing before issuing Prime Ministerial Resolution No. 1957 of 2014. Article 2 of that Resolution provided that all residents living in the Rafah area on the Gaza-Egyptian border must be evacuated and that the evacuated residents must be provided with alternative housing. In the event that the residents refused to comply with the Resolution, the authorities would confiscate their residences and land by force.  (Prime Ministerial Resolution No. 1957 of 2014, 43 (bis) OFFICIAL GAZETTE (Oct. 2014) (in Arabic).)

By issuing the Resolution, the Council of Ministers aimed to respond to concerns raised by some international human rights organizations. Human Rights Watch, for example, in a report issued on September 22, 2015, claims that the Egyptian authorities forced the eviction of about 3,200 families in the northeastern Sinai and argues that those forced evictions are not justified. In its view, the Egyptian military has no need to demolish and evacuate thousands of residents to protect itself from terrorist groups and prevent smuggling in either direction through tunnels linked to the Gaza Strip. (Egypt: Thousands Evicted in Sinai Demolitions, Human Right Watch website (Sept. 22, 2015).)

Finally, the Council asserted that the Resolution complied with the standards of the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights on forced eviction. For instance, the majority of the evicted residents were offered and accepted monetary compensation, while a minority preferred replacement of their land and housing. Furthermore, the Council announced the building of the infrastructure of a New Rafah City, which is designed to replace the parts of the city of Rafah that were demolished to create the buffer zone. (A Comprehensive Plan to Combat Terrorism in Sinai While Complying with Human Rights Standards, AL-YOUM 7 (Sept. 21, 2015) (in Arabic).)