Amnesty International report reveals Egypt police own sniper rifles

The international human rights watchdog Amnesty International has revealed that in 2010 Egypt’s Ministry of Interior received two sniper rifles from Finland.

In a report published on Wednesday about arms' transfers to countries that crackdown on political dissent in the Middle East, Amnesty said that the Finnish government “licensed two sniper rifles (TRG-22 and TRG-42) for the Egyptian Ministry of Interior.”

The information about the sniper rifles came from SaferGlobe Finland, a research unit. It contradicts Interior Minister Mahmoud al-Essawy's denial that the police apparatus owns snipers, made in response to allegations that some of the protesters killed during the 18-day uprising that toppled the regime of former President Hosni Mubarak were targeted by snipers.

Excessive use of violence by the police to quell the uprising, as reported by human rights watchdogs, led to the death of at least 840 people, while some 6000 were injured. 

A September investigation by Al-Masry Al-Youm also confirms the presence of snipers as part of the security apparatus law enforcement arms, as shown in documents labelled "top secret" obtained from the Ministry of the Interior. Medical descriptions of some of the injuries incurred during the uprising also suggest the use of snipers. 

Amnesty's report, entitled “Arms Transfers to the Middle East and North Africa: Lessons for an Effective Arms Trade Treaty," examines arms transfers to Bahrain, Egypt, Libya, Syria and Yemen since 2005.

The report says that governments in these countries have responded to the wide protests they faced since December by “using excessive, often lethal force even against peaceful demonstrators while deploying a wide range of weaponry, munitions, armaments and related material, much of it imported from abroad.”

Using such lethal force raises questions about the role of Western countries in supporting these regimes with arms that target peaceful protesters.

According to the report, there are 20 countries, along with the US and Russia, that were the main arms supplying states to Egypt between 2005 and 2010. These include Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Slovakia and Switzerland.

The US is the biggest arms supplier to Egypt. It provides the regime with both military and law enforcement equipment that is worth US$1.3 billion.

Italy ($44,299,530) and Serbia ($42,670,229) are among the leading countries that provided Egypt with billions-pounds deals of “small arms.” Serbia also provided Mubarak’s regime with a $44,065,987 deal of ammunition.

The report also says that “In 2010, the USA authorized direct commercial sales including 2,002 items worth $1,087,155 under the category of firearms, assault weapons and combat shotguns; 46,001,501 items worth $1,978,865 under the category of ammunition; and 94,384 items worth $1,748,743 under category of toxic agents.”

The US remains Egypt’s main supplier of toxic agents – for tear gas and riot-control agents – providing the regime with $2,446,683 worth of such arms.

The report compiled scores of deals of law enforcement equipment mainly under the categories of ammunition, small arms and armored vehicles. The deals show how the Mubarak regime increased its imports from various counties to receive huge amounts of law enforcement equipment in the last three years of his rule.

“In general, states do not report publicly on the exact type of weaponry, munitions and other equipment licensed under the broad categories or the exact quantity (e.g. number of items) or who the authorized end-user or designated end-use is. So it is difficult to know how many weapons are going where (to which force or unit) and for what use. The large values convey large volumes of weaponry being authorized,” Helen Hughes, Amnesty International’s arms control researcher, told Al-Masry Al-Youm in a phone interview from New York.

During the uprising, some European countries suspended arms transfers to Egypt. France did so on 27 January and Germany and Czech Republic in early February. Belgium followed suit in late March.

Asked about whether the suspension of arms transfers is still in effect, Hughes said that “this is a question for those governments. We don’t have any new information except those mentioned in the report.”

“It remains unclear if those countries are still applying the suspensions and this raises the question: On what considerations and under what circumstances did they suspend the arms transfers to Egypt?” said Hughes.

The report said that the international watchdog “continues to call for the suspension of transfers of weaponry, munitions and related equipment used by police and internal security forces and a review of all arms supplies and support to the military.“

In its recommendation, Amnesty said that Egypt has to fundamentally reform the policing system in order to avoid the flagrant disregard for human life that the police showed during the uprising. 

“[Egypt] must examine all cases in which security forces were allegedly involved in using excessive force [against protesters]. This is a major requirement for reforming the whole policing system,” said Hughes.

“Repealing the Emergency Law, abolishing the powers of the police in arresting and detaining people incommunicado are other requirements in reforming the policing system," she added.

“Without fundamental change in the behavior and accountability of the security forces, the risk of the misuse of arms remains substantial."

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