The UK government and arms firms based in Scotland have been condemned over deals with Egypt after a new report revealed the regime tortures children by waterboarding and electrocution.
Children as young as 12 years old have been victims of Egypt’s military and police, who have arrested minors without warrants and held them for up to 13 months, while disavowing any knowledge of their whereabouts to desperate families.
Human Rights Watch (HRW), which produced the report, has called on allies of Egypt – including the UK government – to halt support to its security forces. Critics of the arms trade have condemned defence companies who sell to the regime.
The UK government considers Egypt a core market for arms sales and deals since 2011 have been worth £217 million.
Defence firms based in Scotland who have sold to the Egyptians include Chemring, Thales, Raytheon and Lockheed Martin – firms which have all received taxpayers’ money through grants from Scottish Enterprise.
The new report by HRW is called “No One Cared He Was A Child’: Egyptian Security Forces’ Abuse of Children in Detention”.
It says that abuses by Egypt’s security forces have become widespread under the government of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who gained power after the Egyptian army forcibly removed Egypt’s first elected president, Mohamed Morsi, in 2013.
HRW says the government of President al-Sisi has green-lighted a nationwide crackdown on protesters, dissidents, political opponents, independent journalists, and human rights defenders.
Tens of thousands of people have been arbitrarily arrested and prosecuted. HRW says that the torture of detainees in Egypt – including children – is systematic and likely constitutes crimes against humanity.
The new report documents the cases of 20 children aged between 12 and 17 years old who were tortured after being arrested. Fifteen of the 20 children said they were tortured during pretrial detention and interrogated while held incommunicado. Two children were only 13 years old when arrested, including one girl.
All of the children were arrested arbitrarily, without warrants, and at least nine were detained with adults, which Egyptian law prohibits.
In one case, security officers forcibly disappeared 12-year-old Abdullah Boumadian for six months, waterboarded and electrocuted him. They placed him in solitary confinement for about 100 days, apparently because his older brother had joined the Islamic-State local affiliate Wilayat Sina’ (Sinai Province).
One boy said interrogators tied him to a chair for three days. Seven children said security officers electrocuted them during interrogation, including two children who said officers subjected them to shocks in the face with Taser-type stun guns. Two children said officers electrocuted them on their genitals.
A boy forcibly disappeared and tortured at age 16, told a relative he was worried he might “never marry or be able to have children” because of what happened to him during interrogations.
Two other children, aged 14 and 17, said security officials suspended them from their arms and dislocated their shoulders. The 14-year-old said that another prisoner, who happened to be a doctor, was able to reset his joints in their prison cell.
Authorities tried two children before military courts for alleged crimes including damaging to the façade of a hotel. HRW said that children should not be tried before ordinary criminal courts with adults, let alone military courts, which limit due process and fair trial rights.
Foreign governments should suspend arms sales to Egypt’s government until it ends the widespread and systematic serious abuses of detainees including children. Human Rights Watch report
HRW said: “Foreign governments should suspend arms sales to Egypt’s government until it ends the widespread and systematic serious abuses of detainees including children by the police and National Security Agency.”
“Following the mass killings of protesters in Egypt in August 2013, EU member states agreed to review their security assistance and suspend arms exports that could be used in internal repression. Yet at least 12 European countries ignored this agreement,” the report continued.
Aya Hijazi, co-director of a human rights group called Belady which collaborated with HRW, said: “The harrowing accounts of these children and their families reveal how Egypt’s machinery of repression has subjected children to grave abuses. Egyptian authorities act as though they are above all laws when it comes to children in detention.”
The UK government has licensed £217 million worth of arms to Egypt since the 2011 Arab Spring uprising. This includes £50 million worth of ML6 licences for armoured vehicles, £20 million worth of ML1 licences for small arms, and £49 million worth of ML10 licences for components for aircraft, helicopter and drones.
Egypt was a guest of the UK government last September at the DSEI 2019 arms fair in London.
Arms firms based in Scotland selling to Egypt include Raytheon, which says on its website that its AGM-65 Maverick missile is used by the regime. Raytheon has received nearly £200,000 in grants from Scottish Enterprise.
US arms firm Lockheed Martin sells helicopters and night equipment to Egypt and has received £176,615 in Scottish Enterprise grants. French firm Thales – based in Glasgow – sells to the Egyptian air force and has received £204,992 from Scottish Enterprise.
Chemring – which has a factory in North Ayrshire – sold tear gas to Egypt and has received £196,355 of public funds from Scottish Enterprise over the last 10 years. The firm supplies detonators, actuators, rocket motors, high explosive charges, high explosives, and demolition stores.
These companies are major employers and contributors to Scotland’s economy but critics of the arms trade argue they should not be trading with any state that tortures children.
The political and military support they have offered will be visible to all Egyptians, and the message it sends is that Boris Johnson and his colleagues believe arms company profits are more important than their rights and lives. Andrew Smith, Campaign Against Arms Trade
Andrew Smith of Campaign Against Arms Trade described the allegations as “shocking” but added they were “not surprising”.
“Over recent years, President al-Sisi has taken Egypt in an increasingly authoritarian direction. His power has been cemented by violence, intimidation and repression,” Smith said, arguing that the UK government and arms companies have “empowered and strengthened his regime”.
He added: “The political and military support they have offered will be visible to all Egyptians, and the message it sends is that Boris Johnson and his colleagues believe arms company profits are more important than their rights and lives.
“At the time of the 2010 uprising, leaders around the world praised the human rights campaigners and stressed the importance of human rights in Egypt. It’s 10 years later and that rhetoric has disappeared. If they want to help pro-democracy campaigners in Egypt then complicit governments like the UK must end the arms sales and end their uncritical support for President al-Sisi.”
Naomi McAuliffe, Amnesty International’s Scotland programme director, urged firms based in Scotland to consider the human rights impact of selling arms or associated products to countries with “recorded patterns of abuse and a climate of diminished human rights protections”.
She said: “In the last six months, Egyptian authorities have continued to enforce repressive measures against protesters including enforced disappearances, mass arrests, excessive use of force, and torture.”
“Military courts have expanded powers leading to grossly unfair trials and, in some cases, death sentences. Citizens have had their rights to religion, expression, and protest severely curtailed, and the authorities have failed to protect women against high levels of sexual and gender-based violence,” McAuliffe added.
“In an effort to stop coverage of abuses and stifle dissent, Egypt’s security forces have arbitrarily arrested and detained journalists solely for peacefully expressing their opinions while human rights organisations’ and political parties’ freedom of association has been forcibly reduced.”
Scottish Greens external affairs spokesperson, Ross Greer MSP, described reports about President al-Sisi’s regime’s torture of children as “sickening” and condemned both the Scottish and UK governments.
“Instead of throwing public money at the arms dealers who supply brutal regimes like Egypt’s, the Scottish and UK governments should be standing up for the rights of children. Lucrative arms deals should not come ahead of concerns as serious as this,” Greer said.
He argued it was “vital” that concerns raised by organisations such as Human Rights Watch were taken “seriously” by both the UK and Scottish governments when they helped fund companies based in Scotland that are selling weapons to Egypt.
A UK government spokesperson said: “The UK assesses all export licence applications for Egypt on a case-by-case basis in line with our strict licensing criteria. We will not issue export licences where to do so would be inconsistent with these criteria, including where we assess there is a clear risk that equipment might be used for internal repression.”
Scottish Enterprise said: “Export licenses are a matter for the UK government. We carry out due diligence relating to human rights before entering into any business agreement and should our investigations raise human rights concerns then support could be declined.”
A spokesperson for Thales said: “Thales and the UK defence and security industry works within robust ethical standards that are among the highest found anywhere in the world, and treats its responsibilities under the law with the utmost seriousness.”
Lockheed Martin declined to comment and Raytheon did not reply to our request for a statement.
A Scottish Government spokesperson said that financial support from Scottish Enterprise and other public sector sources should take “careful account of human rights risks” and reflect due diligence which “guards against inadvertent support or assistance for repressive regimes”.
“We wholeheartedly condemn human rights abuses and call on all states to uphold fundamental international standards – including the obligation to respect, protect and fulfil human rights,” the spokesperson continued.
“Torture is a crime under both domestic and international law and can never be excused. Scotland has a strong record in promoting the rights of children and young people and repressive action which targets the young is particularly abhorrent and upsetting.
“The UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights make clear that private sector organisations also have a responsibility to ensure human rights are respected.”
This story was published in tandem with the Sunday National on April 5, 2020.