Demanding Accountability and Justice Calling for Democracy and Human Rights
On July 3, 2013, General Abdel Fatah El Sissy led a military coup d'état against Dr. Mohamed Morsy, thus removing from office Egypt's first elected civilian president and leading member of the Muslim Brotherhood party. This can after a period of massive popular protests orchestrated against Morsy calling for early presidential elections.
Over the course of the following two months, those opposing the coup rallied behind the Muslim Brotherhood to denounce the military takeover and demand the reinstatement of Morsy.
In response, police and army forces systematically and intentionally used excessive lethal force in their policing, resulting in killings of protesters on a scale unprecedented in Egypt.
Human Rights Watch reported 'that the killings not only constituted serious violations of international human rights law, but likely amounted to crimes against humanity, given both their widespread and systematic nature and the evidence suggesting the killings were part of a policy to attack unarmed persons on political grounds'.
It is well established that the government anticipated and planned for the deaths of several thousand protesters. However up till now, security forces continue to deny any wrongdoing, and authorities have failed to hold a single police or army officer accountable for any of the unlawful killings.
August 14 2013 Raba'a and al-Nahda Square Dispersals
The gravest incident of mass protester killings occurred on August 14, when security forces crushed the major pro-Morsy sit-in in Rab'a al-Adawiya Square in the Nasr City district of eastern Cairo. Using armored personnel carriers (APCs), bulldozers, ground forces, and snipers, police and army personnel attacked the makeshift protest encampment, where demonstrators, including women and children, had been camped out for over 45 days. Dozens of witnesses told HRW that they saw snipers fire from helicopters over Rab'a Square.
The indiscriminate and deliberate use of lethal force resulted in one of the world's largest killings of demonstrators in a single day (roughly from sunrise to sunset) in recent history. Their number likely exceeds 1,000. By way of contrast, credible estimates indicate that Chinese government forces killed between 400-800 protesters largely over a 24-hour span during the Tiananmen Massacre on June 3-4, 1989.
In addition, Security forces detained over 800 protesters over the course of the day, some of whom they beat, tortured and, in some cases, summarily executed, six witnesses told Human Rights Watch.
While there is also evidence that some protesters used firearms during several of these demonstrations, HRW was able to confirm their use in only a few instances. According to the official Forensic Medical Authority, eight police officers were killed during the Raba'a dispersal.
On the same day as the Rab'a dispersal, August 14, security forces also dispersed a second smaller encampment of Muslim Brotherhood supporters in al-Nahda Square, near Cairo University in Giza in greater Cairo. The al-Nahda dispersal followed the same pattern as in Rab'a: at around 6 a.m. security forces demanded from loudspeakers that protesters leave the square, but then, almost immediately, resorted to firing at protesters, including those attempting to leave from the designated "safe" exit. The official death toll was estimated at 87.
In both Raba'a and Al-Nahda square massacres, the exact number of casualties are likely much higher than officially reported since many disappeared remain unaccounted for. There is also compelling evidence of additional uncounted bodies in morgues and hospitals across Cairo documented by Human Rights Watch researchers and Egyptian human rights lawyers on August 14 and in the immediately following days.
Although the government had declared and made public its plan to disperse the sit-ins by force, these warnings were insufficient at best and effectively not implemented.
Other mass killings
The Raba'a and al-Nahda square dispersals were both preceded and followed by other mass killings of protesters. In July and August, as protesters organized marches across Cairo in response to the military's overthrow of the Morsy government, security forces repeatedly used excessive force to respond to demonstrations, indiscriminately and deliberately killing at least 281 protesters in different incidents (separate from the August 14 dispersals) between July 5 and August 17, 2014.
Demanding Accountability and Justice
The HRW report identifies the most senior security officials and key leaders in the chain of command who should be investigated and, where there is evidence of responsibility, held individually accountable for the planning and execution or failing to prevent the widespread and systematic killings of protesters during July-August 2013, including:
- Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim, who formulated the dispersal plan and oversaw its implementation and acknowledged that he "ordered the Special Forces to advance and purify" key buildings at the heart of Rab'a Square;
- Then-Defense Minister Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who held a command role over the armed forces, which opened fire on protesters on July 5 and July 8, oversaw security in the country as Deputy Prime Minister for Security Affairs, and acknowledged spending "very many long days to discuss all the details" of the Rab'a dispersal;
- Special Forces head and commander of the Rab'a operation Medhat Menshawy, who boasted that he told Minister Ibrahim from Rab'a Square on the morning of August 14 that "we will attack whatever it cost us."
The report further identifies other figures, including the head of the General Intelligence Services, Mohamed Farid Tohamy, eight key Interior Ministry deputies, three senior army leaders, and several high-ranking civilian leaders, whose roles in the mass protester killings of July-August 2013 should be investigated further. If found complicit in the planning or execution of the mass killings of protesters or failing to prevent crimes committed by their subordinates that they knew or should have known about, they should also be held accountable.
Upholding Democracy and Human Rights
While it is tempting to turn the page and look past prior abuses, reckoning with the past lies at the heart of the national reconciliation process that Egypt needs to undertake in order to stabilize and move forward.
To the Egyptian Government
- Order security forces to end unlawful, excessive use of force and to act in accordance with international human rights law and standards on the use of force in policing demonstrations.
- Make public the findings and recommendations of the post-June 30 fact-finding commission, in addition to those of the 2011 and 2012 fact-finding commissions.
To the Public Prosecutor
- Thoroughly and impartially investigate the unlawful use of force by security forces for protester killings since June 30, 2013, and prosecute those, including in the chain of command, against whom there is evidence of criminal responsibility.
- Immediately release any people still detained without charge following demonstrations in July and August 2013, or immediately charge them with specific cognizable criminal offences followed within a reasonable timeframe by a fair trial.
To UN Member States
- Establish through the UN Human Rights Council an international commission of inquiry to investigate all human rights violations resulting from the mass killings of protesters since June 30, 2013.
- Suspend all sales and provision of security-related items and assistance to Egypt until the government adopts measures to end serious human rights violations, such as those related to suppression of largely peaceful demonstrations, and to holding rights violators accountable.
- Under the principle of universal jurisdiction and in accordance with national laws, investigate and prosecute those implicated in serious crimes under international law committed in Egypt in July-August 2013