US NGOs file 'war crimes complaint' against Egypt, France over lethal Libya border operation

US NGOs file 'war crimes complaint' against Egypt, France over lethal Libya border operation
Egyptians Abroad for Democracy and CODEPINK submitted legal complaints to a Paris prosecutor and UN Special Rapporteurs accusing Egyptian and French officials of 'war crimes' following Operation Sirli.
3 min read
14 September, 2022
Operation Sirli was a 'confidential anti-terrorism cooperation' between France and Egypt [Getty]

Two American human rights NGOs filed war crimes complaints on Monday against Egyptian and French officials following alleged misuse of military intelligence against civilian targets. 

The NGOs Egyptians Abroad for Democracy and CODEPINK handed legal submissions to France’s National Anti-Terrorist Prosecutor and UN Special Rapporteurs accusing Cairo and Paris of "crimes against humanity". 

The complaints related to a joint-security mission - named Operation Sirli - in which Egypt allegedly used French military intelligence to kill civilians in the desert along its border with Libya.

Paris reportedly knew about these crimes, but chose not to stop the operation, according to an investigation by Disclose in November 2021. 

"CODEPINK believes there must be accountability for the serious crimes and human rights violations committed against countless civilians by the Egyptian government, with France’s knowledge and support," said the co-founder of CODEPINK, Medea Benjamin, in a statement on the group's website. 

"By bringing this suit, Egyptians Abroad for Democracy continues its mission to fight the impunity and lawlessness of the Sisi regime," said Mohamed Ismail, Director of Egyptians Abroad for Democracy. 

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Operation Sirli began in 2016 as a joint counter-terrorism mission between Paris and Cairo.  

This was just a "facade", said Disclose, for France to continue its weapon sales to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi's regime. 

The investigative report found concerns were raised repeatedly by the French Directorate of Military Intelligence (DRM) over Egypt’s use of shared aerial reports to carry out extrajudicial killings of civilians. 

Sisi's forces were reportedly targeting "smugglers" trying to cross the Libya border. At least 19 bombings against civilians took place with the aid of French military reports, said Disclose, who believes this number is a gross underestimate. 

"By passing on their locations to the [Egyptian] regime, the French government has made itself an accomplice of a summary execution," they said in a video entitled "Operation Sirli: France’s complicity in state crimes in Egypt."  

The French government has denied these accusations. 

Jean-Yves Le Drian, who was foreign affairs minister when the Disclose investigation came out, said "the process of exchanging data is structured in such a way that it cannot be used to direct strikes".

His successor, Defence Minister Florence Parly, initiated an internal investigation into the accusations, which ruled out any error in the Sirli mission. 

Legal representatives for the two American NGOs said they hoped the complaint would prompt Paris and the UN to hold "the Egyptian regime" to account for civilian killings and end a culture of "impunity" for army commanders and government officials. 

Sisi's government in Egypt has overseen a dramatic rise in human rights abuses. This includes countless extrajudicial killings, documented by Amnesty and Human Rights Watch, as well as a repressive crackdown on dissenting voices which has seen tens of thousands of people, including prominent blogger Alaa Abdel Fattah, imprisoned.