File picture: Hani Mohammed/AP

Johannesburg – Militias recruited by the Egyptian military in the restive Sinai Peninsula are playing a significant part in human rights abuses being carried out by the army, according to a report released by Human Rights Watch (HRW).

In Tuesday’s 134-page report - ‘If You Are Afraid for Your Lives, Leave Sinai!’: Egyptian Security Forces and ISIS-Affiliate Abuses in North Sinai’ - HRW acknowledges that militants associated with the Islamic State (IS) in the peninsula are responsible for acts of terror and other heinous behaviour and deserve to be condemned but asserts that allies of Cairo should halt their military support for a military campaign that has left thousands of civilian victims in its wake.

Jihadists have been carrying out an insurgency against the Egyptian government, its military as well as Christian and Muslim minorities with their indiscriminate attacks which have left hundreds dead.

But the crackdown on the militants on the mainland and the military campaign in the Sinai has also targeted legitimate critics of President Fatteh-Abdel Sisi’s regime, including journalists, political opponents and NGO workers with hundreds arbitrarily arrested and abused while incarcerated.

HRW’s two-year investigation documented crimes including mass arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, torture, extrajudicial killings, and possibly unlawful air and ground attacks against civilians in the restive Sinai.

While Egyptian military and police forces were responsible for the majority of abuses documented in the report, extremist militants have also committed horrific crimes, including kidnapping and torturing scores of residents, killing some, and extrajudicially executing detained security force members.

The irregular militias recruited by the Egyptian military have helped security forces by providing intelligence and carrying out missions on the military’s behalf, said HRW.

But the militia members are also using their de-facto powers to arbitrarily arrest residents and settle scores and personal disputes. They have also participated in torture and extrajudicial killings.

“The targeting and abuse of civilians, as well as the failure to distinguish civilians from combatants by both sides, has obliterated civilians’ basic rights and destroyed meaningful space for peaceful political mobilisation or opposition. The abuses have also contributed to the escalating militarisation of the conflict and the displacement of residents,” said HRW.

HRW found that hostilities in North Sinai, with sustained fighting between organised forces, have risen to the level of a non-international armed conflict, and that warring sides have violated international laws of war as well as local and international human rights laws.

The conflict escalated after former Egyptian president Muhammad Morsi, the leader of the now banned Muslim Brotherhood who was elected president in the North African country’s first democratic elections in 2012, was overthrown in a military coup in 2013 led by Sisi.

African News Agency (ANA)