by Ayman Ahmed (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 43, No. 7, Dhu al-Qa'dah, 1435)
In a stinging 188-page report, Human Rights Watch has accused the Sisi-led military regime of premeditated murder and genocide against innocent civilians in Egypt. HRW has called for putting these people on trial.
On the first anniversary of the slaughter of innocent civilians in Egypt, the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a scathing report accusing el-Sisi’s military of premeditated murder. The 188-page report, titled “All According to Plan: The Rab‘a Massacre and Mass Killings of Protesters in Egypt,” identified a dozen senior military and civilian officers for direct responsibility for the Rab‘a and Nahda massacres.
Human Rights Watch wanted to release the report in Cairo. For this purpose, its Director Kenneth Roth and Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director for the Middle East and North Africa Division of Human Rights Watch flew to Cairo on August 10 hoping to present the report at a press conference in the Egyptian capital and answer any questions the regime or the Egyptian media may have. Instead, both were detained at Cairo airport for 12 hours before being refused entry into the country and expelled. The human rights body released its report in Geneva on August 12 instead and got much greater international exposure of the report.
It took nearly a year to compile and found that the actions of senior figures all the way up the chain of command amounted to crimes against humanity. Among those identified in the HRW report are General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the country’s Defence Minister at the time, Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim, another retired general, and the head of Special Forces, Medhat Menshawy who was directly responsible for the massacres that took place on August 14 and 16 respectively.
The report documents the way the Egyptian police and army methodically opened fire with live ammunition on crowds of demonstrators between July 5 and August 17, 2013. While acknowledging that 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. The New York-based body released a video showing the events as they unfolded in Rab‘a Square on August 14, including first-hand accounts by witnesses and victims.
The Egyptian military unleashed its massive firepower without warning against protesters that had done no more than participate in a peaceful sit-in at Rab‘a al-Adawiya and Nahda Squares in Cairo demanding the reinstatement of the first ever democratically elected president in Egyptian history...
“In Rab‘a Square, Egyptian security forces carried out one of the world’s largest killings of demonstrators in a single day in recent history,” said Roth. “This wasn’t merely a case of excessive force or poor training. It was a violent crackdown planned at the highest levels of the Egyptian government. Many of the same officials are still in power in Egypt, and have a lot to answer for.” He went on to say, “It is appalling and heartbreaking that the hopes of so many Egyptians following the 2011 uprisings faded into the bloodshed and carnage of last year’s mass killings.”
The Egyptian military unleashed its massive firepower without warning against protesters that had done no more than participate in a peaceful sit-in at Rab‘a al-Adawiya and Nahda Squares in Cairo demanding the reinstatement of the first ever democratically elected president in Egyptian history, Dr. Mohamed Mursi. On two consecutive days — August 14 and 16 — the military under the command of General el-Sisi ordered a massacre of civilians. Among the dead were hundreds of women and children.
The HRW report recounts that in a meeting with local human rights groups on August 5, 2013, an Interior Ministry official had said the ministry expected a death toll of up to 3,500 people. In a televised interview on August 31, 2013, Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim said that the ministry had expected losses of “10% of the people” in Rab‘a, acknowledging that the sit-in involved “more than 20,000 people.” The actual figure was more than 200,000.
In September 2013, then Prime Minister Hazem al-Beblawy told the Egyptian newspaper al-Masry al-Youm that the number of protesters killed in the dispersal of Rab‘a and of a smaller sit-in in al-Nahda Square in Giza on August 14 was “close to 1,000.” He added, “We expected much more than what actually happened on the ground. The final outcome was less than what we expected.” The day after the dispersal, Ibrahim told al-Masry al-Youm, “The dispersal plan succeeded 100%.” Indeed!
The actual death toll exceeded 4,000 but it is impossible to present an accurate figure even today because many families took their loved ones away without registering their deaths at the interior ministry. Others refused to sign papers at the hospital that demanded that their relatives had died of “natural causes” or were “involved in accidents.” The regime wanted to cover up its crimes through such subterfuge.
Human Rights Watch also documented five other incidents of unlawful killings in July and August 2013:
Egyptian security forces attacked the Rab‘a encampment from each of its main entrances, using armored personnel carriers (APCs), bulldozers, ground troops, and snipers. No warning was given before opening fire into large crowds, leaving no safe exit for nearly 12 hours. Security forces also fired on makeshift medical facilities and positioned snipers to target whoever sought to enter or exit the Rab‘a hospital. “Towards the end of the day, the central stage, field hospital, mosque, and first floor of Rab‘a hospital were set ablaze, probably by security forces,” the HRW report said.
“The government’s ongoing efforts to crush dissent, sweep its abuses under the rug and rewrite history cannot erase what happened in Rab‘a last year,” Roth said. “Given Egypt’s resounding failure to investigate these crimes, the time has come for the international community to step in.” The HRW report calls upon the United Nations Human Rights Council to establish an international commission of inquiry to investigate the mass killings of demonstrators since June 30, 2013.
Crimes against humanity consist of specific criminal acts committed on a widespread or systematic basis as part of an “attack on a civilian population,” meaning there is some degree of planning or policy to commit the crime. Such acts include murder, persecution on political grounds, and “other inhumane acts of a similar character intentionally causing great suffering or serious injury to body or to mental or physical health.”
Since the events of July and August 2013, in addition to continuing to open fire on demonstrators, Egyptian authorities have engaged in repression in a scale unprecedented in recent years, including imposing extensive restrictions on freedom of association, expression, and assembly, carrying out mass arbitrary arrests and torture, depriving detainees, including at least 22,000 Muslim Brotherhood supporters, of basic due process rights, and handing down mass, long-term jail and death sentences to opponents.
The government created an official fact-finding committee to investigate human rights abuses since June 30, 2013, and the quasi-official National Council on Human Rights in March 2014 separately released a report finding that security forces used excessive force in Rab‘a. However, there has been no official accounting for what happened or any credible judicial investigations or prosecutions. The government has refused to acknowledge any wrongdoing on the part of security forces. Instead, it repaved the streets and rebuilt the damaged buildings, awarded bonuses to forces that participated in the dispersals, and erected a monument to honor the police and army in the center of Rab‘a Square.
Given the widespread and systematic nature of these killings, and the evidence suggesting that they were part of a policy to use lethal force against largely unarmed protesters on political grounds, these killings most likely amount to crimes against humanity, says the HRW report. The prohibition of crimes against humanity is among the most fundamental in international criminal law and can be the basis for individual criminal liability in international courts, as well as in domestic courts in many countries under the principle of universal jurisdiction.
In view of the fact that the military regime in Egypt refuses to heed calls for an independent investigation into these killings, HRW in its report calls upon the United Nations Human Rights Council to “establish an international commission of inquiry to investigate the mass killings of demonstrators since June 30, 2013. Criminal charges should also be brought against those implicated in these acts, including in courts that apply the principle of universal jurisdiction. States should further suspend military and law enforcement aid to Egypt until it adopts measures to end serious human rights violations.
While commendable, few states would pay much attention to the Human Rights Watch report. The Egyptian military regime is being financed by the medieval kingdom of Saudi Arabia and also receives political and other kind of support from the illegitimate entity in Occupied Palestine as well as the warmongers in Washington. The murder of a few thousand Egyptians is a small price to pay to keep the thugs in uniform in the Anglo-Wahhabi-Zionist-imperialist camp. Pity the women and children of Egypt.