Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Egypt: Halt Organ Theft in Sinai

By Jaya Ramachandran

Courtesy IDN-InDepth NewsReport

BRUSSELS (IDN) - An international non-governmental organisation has called upon the United Nations Human Rights Council, the International Criminal Court and the European Union to help put a halt to organ trafficking in the Sinai Peninsula in Egypt. The Rome-based EveryOne Group, an organization operating in defence of human and civil rights, has evidence that criminal gangs involved in human trafficking are forcing sub-Saharan refugees lacking money to have their organs removed as payment for their demands for large amounts of cash to take them into Israel.

The Sinai Peninsula in Egypt, situated between the Mediterranean Sea to the north, and the Red Sea to the south, has long been a restive area but reports say that security has slackened after Hosni Mubarak's fall as the police presence thinned out across Egypt.

In an open letter published on January 6, 2012, EveryOne Group's co-presidents – Roberto Malini, Matteo Pegoraro and Dario Picciau – are asking UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navanethem Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, and UN Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, Joy Ngozi Ezeilo, to use all the instruments at their command to stop organ trafficking.

They are at the same time calling upon the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague to prosecute "the abductions, murders, episodes of torture and rape, extortion, and the illegal removal of kidneys and other organs that has been going on, unpunished, for years in the Sinai".

EveryOne Group has also appealed for help to the governments of Egypt, Palestine, Israel, Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Libya, Tunisia, Dubai, Saudi Arabia, the European Union and those countries outside Europe that have links with the trafficking in Northern Sinai, "particularly regarding the deposits – through money transfer agencies or bank accounts – of the ransoms paid by the families of prisoners being held hostage".

The Egyptian Government and the Palestinian authorities should "undertake investigations aimed at dismantling the hideouts of these traffickers, and to free the hostages, granting them the right to international protection, in consultation with (the UN refugee agency) UNHCR, as refugees and victims of trafficking."

The Group is asking the Egyptian and Palestinian authorities to prosecute "the leaders (of those involved in organ trafficking), their collaborators, and the criminal network that works directly or indirectly with them through collusion, bribery, corruption, and contact with the organized crime groups linked to these terrible acts against humanity."

The Group alleges that the heinous phenomenon of organ trafficking "has continued for many years without the authorities of Egypt or the institutions of the Palestinian territories doing anything to block it, despite being aware of the identity and location of the traffickers' hideouts".

UN, EU and "the mainstream media of the civilized world have taken notice of the horrors" being perpetrated in the Sinai: "the kidnappings, the heavy extortion, murders, kidney transplants, cases of torture and rape", the Group says.

"However, if this information regarding the plight of migrants in the Sinai dries up, this odious trafficking will continue to be carried out along with the general indifference of the world," avers the Group, adding: "We must therefore increase our efforts and transform our anger into civil actions, because the world must stand up and refuse to allow these crimes against humanity to take place.

The Group says, the human and organ trafficking starts out in Eritrea, Ethiopia and Sudan: "Gangs of Rashaida Bedouins promise a better life to young Eritreans at risk of persecution or forced conscription. Once the migrants agree to leave for Israel, the trap is sprung. . . . The Rashaida (and) other gangs are managing the trafficking among the Bedouins of the Sinai."

The Gorup's letter of complaint adds: "These gangs also use Eritrean, Ethiopian and Sudanese accomplices who communicate with the prisoners and ensure that they ask the family for their ransom money without providing any other information. Some head-traffickers hold Eritrean women prisoner, as wives or concubines, as well as young slaves who have been unable to pay the ransom."

Quoting, among others, sporadic newspaper reports, the Group says: "Young sub-Saharan women are also sent to work as prostitutes in Egypt and the Palestinian territories, where in recent years the trafficking of women has become particularly well-established yet ignored by the international authorities."

EveryOne Group has analysed witness accounts from refugees, NGOs and human rights defenders who claim to be in possession of the names of traffickers. These, according to the letter, are "members of Palestinian terrorist groups".

It adds: "Weapons, drugs, prostitution, the slave trade and trade in human organs are sources for funding of the terrorists who have adopted the motto that 'the end justifies the means'. They work alongside the world's criminal organizations."

The paramilitary political organisations reportedly work just like the Mafia, making use of cells around the world. "Not surprisingly, relatives of prisoners in the Sinai do not only send their payments to Egypt, Israel, Ethiopia and Sudan, but also to Saudi Arabia, Dubai, and in Europe (Switzerland, United Kingdom, France, Sweden).".

The Group claims to have information that in Rafah, Al-Gorah, al-Arish, Sheikh Zuweid and other cities in the Sinai, "Palestinian smugglers operate through the tunnels between the Egyptian and Palestinian sides of Rafah, along the 'Philadelphia corridor'."

It adds: "These are the barons of weapons, migrants and human organs trafficking. These powerful criminals have possessions in the Egyptian Sinai and in the Palestinian territories, where they move about freely, making use of the workers who until a few years ago worked in the transport of goods through the tunnels, but who in recent years have lost their jobs after Israel granted the free import of many goods:"

The head-traffickers are reported to control most of the 1,000 still active tunnels between Rafah and Palestine. The entrances to the tunnels are often within fenced-in Bedouin properties bordered by orchards. After the fall of Mubarak, the traffickers have had even more freedom in the Sinai, the Group alleges.

The Group notes with satisfaction that the campaign against the trafficking in Sinai carried out by itself, the New Generation Foundation for Human Rights and other NGOs, as well as CNN's important contribution with the "Freedom Project" - a key event in the fight against the trafficking of migrants and human organs, several traffickers have spontaneously released hundreds of sub-Saharan refugees.