Egyptian Front for Human Rights documented gender-based violence (GBV) against women and girls, that may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity, in North Sinai by State and the armed group: Wilayat Sinai. The report is based on interviews with four lawyers of 23 female defendants facing charges of joining and/or funding Wilayat Sinai in three cases before the Supreme State Security Prosecution in 2018 and 2019, as well as an interview with one local Sinai researcher and desk review of international human rights organizations’ documentation.
The Egyptian Government is involved in a non-international armed conflict against Wilayat Sinai, an armed non-State actor that has pledged loyalty to the Islamic State group. North Sinai has been under a state of emergency since October 2014, and since the launch of the military operation “Sinai 2018” in February 2019, North Sinai has been under a siege which led to an unprecedented food crisis. Despite the restrictions by the State to access North Sinai and persecution of journalists covering the conflict, Egyptian and international human rights organizations have been able to document violations by the State and armed groups. However, none so far have focused on the gendered impact of the conflict on women and girls.
- Socioeconomic situation of women in North Sinai:
Out of the 23 women defendants, 15 of them are indigenous peoples of Sinai (Bedouins) and 8 are from neighbouring governorates (i.e. Ismailiyah and Cairo). Sinai has been historically marginalized by the State, with limited to no investment in infrastructure nor public services. In addition, Bedouin women face additional barriers to access education and work, due to patriarchal structures in Bedouin communities, and their socioeconomic situation has deteriorated due to the conflict. They are accused of joining and/or funding terrorist groups because of who their husbands or families are, rather than any evidence of the women committing a crime. At the same time, they find themselves trapped without any alternatives away from their husbands/families.
According to CAMAPS (Egypt’s official statistics authority), one in three women in North Sinai never received any education (32.5%), in comparison with 20% for men in North Sinai. Out of the 15 Bedouin female defendants, 12 of them never had any education and 3 of them have primary education only, while most of the 8 other defendants from neighbouring governorates went to universities.
According to CAMPAS, unemployment in North Sinai reached 50% in 2018 and the majority of the unemployed are women (73.6%). In State institutions in North Sinai, only 25% of public servants are women. Out of the 15 Bedouin female defendants, 9 of them do not work and have no source of income independent of their husbands or families, while 6 of them work in agriculture.
Human Rights Watch documented how the Egyptian military’s mass home demolitions and forced eviction of about 3,200 families in the Sinai Peninsula over the past two years violated international law. This led to significant barriers to women in North Sinai from exercising their right to work as they had to stop their farming due to fear from the repeated attacks by both the military and armed groups.
The deteriorating socio-economic situation in North Sinai has forced many of the women to move to other cities including Cairo, however, they are then arrested by National Security at checkpoints.
- GBV against women and girls by Wilayat Sinai
We documented GBV committed by members of Wilayat Sinai against women and girls including family violence, and forced and/or early marriage. Yet despite the women testifying to the Public Prosecution about the violence they were subjected to by their husbands/families, the Prosecution ignored their testimonies and insisted on treating them as criminals/terrorists. This has led to many other women unable to escape areas under control of Wilayat Sinai because they know the State will not provide them with any protection if they do manage to escape.
- Family violence
Family violence is not criminalized under Egyptian legislation. Out of the 23 female defendants, 11 of them were subjected to family violence by members of Wilayat Sinai to force them to stay with them or to support their members by providing them with food. This includes in some cases beatings and death threats as well as threats to take their children away from them, if they try to escape or if they refused to bring food to the members of Wilayat Sinai.
- Forced and/or early marriage
Due to the tribal nature of the Bedouin community, the fathers or grandfathers of the women chose their husbands, and women do not have the choice to refuse. Despite the criminalization of child marriage in Egyptian legislation, it is commonly practiced in North Sinai, which results in lack of documentation of the marriages. Furthermore, the lack of documentation of marriage can also be due to the lack of national ID or birth certificates, as in some villages the closet public notary is hundreds of kilometres away. According to the local Sinai researcher, as a result of the military and police’s failure to protect civilians in the conflict, many families were forced to marry their daughters to members of Wilayat Sinai as a perceived form of protection.
It is not possible for girls to file for divorce before the Courts as article 17 of Law no. 1 for the year 2000 states that “marriage claims filed when the wife’s age is less than 16 years old or the husband’s age is 18 years old are not accepted”.
All 15 Bedouin female defendants were married off without having previously met their husbands nor consenting to their marriages, and four of them were minors at the time of their marriages. Yet, despite the illegality of their marriages, the State did not recognize them as victims but rather arrested them to pressure their husbands from Wilayat Sinai to surrender themselves.
We consider that these women were also victims of human trafficking and slavery as they are forced to move and live in areas under the control of Wilayat Sinai, they’re subjected to rape and sexual exploitation as a result of the forced and/or early marriage, forced labour (buying food and preparing meals for members of Wilayat Sinai), and they are not free to leave nor improve their living conditions.
- GBV against women and girls by the State
We documented GBV committed by state authorities against women and girls in Sinai, including by the military, the National Security Agency, and the Judiciary. The Military is responsible for restricting the freedom of movement of Sinai residents through a curfew that had been in force for over six years and heavily militarised checkpoints, causing an unprecedented food crisis that has left Sinai women especially vulnerable. The National Security Agency is involved in the arbitrary arrest of women who try to escape Sinai or leave to get food and supplies, many of whom are then subjected to enforced disappearances and torture. The Judiciary violates fair trial guarantees in the gravest form; judges presume the defendants are guilty, despite lack of material evidence against them. Moreover, the judiciary has failed to investigate violations against girls from Sinai committed by Wilayat Sinai and the National Security Agency alike.
Restrictions on Freedom of Movement
The state of emergency had been in force since October 2014. It was finally lifted on 26 October 2021, after the curfew in North Sinai had continued for over six years and led to severe restrictions on civilians’ freedom of movement. As a result, women do not have the choice to leave as many of the female defendants are either married or related to members of Wilayat Sinai. Furthermore, the lack of national IDs and birth certificates for Sinai Bedouins poses an additional problem, as they cannot leave Sinai. For example, if any Bedouin woman married to a member of Wilayat Sinai wishes to escape, she cannot, thus leaving her with no choice but to live with them.
The military check points pose a threat rather than protection for the women who pass through them, as they are stopped, searched and when they don’t have their national IDs, which is the case of many Sinai Bedouins, they risk arbitrary arrest, enforced disappearance and torture. Indeed, 12 out of the 23 female defendants were arrested from military or police check points as they were trying to escape from their husbands or families from North Sinai: 8 were arrested in military check points inside Sinai, and 4 succeeded to escape Sinai but were then arrested in the police checkpoint upon their arrival in Cairo.
Due to the food crisis in Sinai, the responsibility for travelling to neighbouring cities to get food supplies have fallen on women for two reasons: first is that most of their husbands have been killed in the conflict, and second because of a perception that men are more suspicious than women. This has put women at more risk of arrest; two of the 23 women were arrested with food as the “evidence”.
- National Security Agency
19 out of the 23 female defendants, including four girls, were subjected to enforced disappearance. They were all arrested without an arrest warrant, taken to an unofficial detention centre of the National Security, prevented from access to their lawyers and families, did not inform them of the charges against them. They are then presented to the Prosecution after the National Security forge the date of arrest in the case file to reflect the day they’re presented to the Prosecution rather than their day of arrest.
The Prosecution systematically refuses to investigate the violations they report, including torture, and when the Prosecution orders a forensic examination, it is delayed until the signs of torture are gone. 15 out of the 23 female defendants, including two girls, were subjected to torture to extract confessions and information about Wilayat Sinai while they were held incommunicado in the National Security’s unofficial detention centres. The torture includes beatings (11 women), electrocution (8 women), threats of rape and sexual violence (9 women), insults (3 women), dragged on the floor (2 women), threat of beatings (2 women), and stripping of their clothes (6 women).
- Violations by the judiciary
The right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty
All of the defendants’ right to be presumed innocent was violated as the Prosecution considers the National Security investigations as enough evidence to order their pre-trial detention. The National Security investigations have not indicated a specific terrorist incident to justify the accusation of joining a terrorist group. The interrogations of 13 out of the 23 defendants focused on their husbands or family members, which demonstrates that the women are accused because of their husbands/families rather than having committed a crime.
Lack of material evidence
All defendants are victims of arbitrary detention as pre-trial detention is used systematically as a form of punishment. Their cases are not referred to trial due to the lack of any material evidence of a commission of a crime: 21 of the 23 case files include no evidence and the evidence for the other 2 is food, which the National Security considered as evidence of funding a terrorist group. The Prosecution and judges have ignored the fact that there is a food crisis in North Sinai and that the women were bringing food for their families. The Prosecution also refuses to hear the defendants’ lawyers. For example, the defendants’ lawyers reported that when they told a judge that their client was arrested in a check point as she escaped from Wilayat Sinai, the judges responded “no, she must have escaped for another reason!”.
Violations against girls
The Prosecution has also failed to investigate the violations committed against four girls by Wilayat Sinai, and by the National Security. These girls were subjected to girl marriage and domestic violence by Wilayat Sinai. The National Security Agency, instead of protecting the girls, had arrested them without a warrant, forcibly disappeared them, and tortured them through beatings, electrocution, ripping their clothes off, and threatening them with rape. In addition, they were held with adult women, in violation of international standards and national laws (Law no. 126 of 2008). The girls have testified to having been subjected to these violations before the Prosecution, but all their complaints have gone with no investigation.
 The food crisis was created because of the State’s prohibition of movement of food supplies into North Sinai and severe restrictions on the right to freedom of movement. UN Special Procedures have previously raised concerns that “basic economic and social rights including the right to food, water, education and housing have been violated in North Sinai”.
 In line with the definitions under international law: Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons Especially Women and Children, supplementing the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, and Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery, the Slave Trade, and Institutions and Practices Similar to Slavery.
 This is used by the National Security to humiliate the women and at least one woman was held without clothes for 5 months.