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Egypt protest crackdown likely a 'crime against humanity'

© AFP, Mohammed Abdel Moneim - an Egyptian policeman aims at protesters in 2013

Video by Sanam SHANTYAEI

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-08-12

The killing of hundreds of Egyptian demonstrators last year was systematic, ordered by top officials and may amount to a crime against humanity, Human Rights Watch said Tuesday, while calling for a UN inquiry into the crackdown.

In a 188-page report based on a year-long investigation, the New York-based NGO urged the United Nations to look into six incidents involving killings by security forces of supporters of Islamist president Mohammed Morsi, who was overthrown by the army on July 3, 2013, following weeks of protests.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) called specifically for an inquiry into the role of the country’s current President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, and at least 10 senior military and security chiefs.

HRW said it concluded that the Egyptian government used “disproportionate force, failed to take measures to minimise loss of life and knowingly opened fire on unarmed protesters”.

“The systematic and widespread nature of the deliberate and indiscriminate killings, coupled with evidence indicating that the government anticipated and planned to engage in mass unlawful killings ... indicate that the violations likely amount to crimes against humanity,” it said.

The worst incident of mass killings occurred on August 14, when authorities opened fire on a massive pro-Morsi sit-in at Cairo’s Rabaa al-Adawiya square, leaving at least 817 dead in 12 hours, described in the report as the “world’s largest killings of demonstrators in a single day in recent history”.

The report’s authors said they had been in touch with government officials throughout their investigation, asking them repeated questions about their policies and planning, but received no response.

The report’s findings provide a detailed look at the government’s policies and measures against successive protests by pro-Morsi supporters in the days following his ouster.

HRW accused authorities of using “deliberate and indiscriminate lethal force” to disperse the two sit-ins, where protesters had remained encamped for 45 days.

‘Unprecedented brutality’

While Egyptian security forces have often used excessive force to respond to demonstrations, the August 14 dispersals were “unprecedented in the scale of sheer brutality”.

The group said the government failed to identify a specific time for the dispersal or give sufficient warnings for the protesters to leave the area.

The report found that the attack on the encampment at Rabaa was carried out from five different directions, with witnesses saying there were gunmen shooting down from helicopters at protesters who were being besieged with no access to safe exits for most of the day. Snipers took positions on rooftops overlooking the sit-in and fired from there, it said.

The report also stated that “the brutal manner in which the security forces carried out the Rabaa and al-Nahda dispersals appears to reflect policies that the Egyptian authorities at the highest levels implemented after weeks of planning”.

The report said that the dispersals of the large sit-in were not isolated developments, but rather “part of a systematic campaign by the Egyptian government to violently disperse dissent”.

The government’s final toll for the Rabaa killings was 624 dead. Morsi’s supporters say they documented the names of 2,500 dead, although the highest tallies by independent rights groups have been close to 1,000. At least eight policemen were killed during the dispersals.

No one held accountable

Soon after Morsi’s ouster, authorities repeatedly used lethal force to disperse protests. In four different incidents investigated by HRW in July and August before the dispersal of the sit-ins, at least 281 protesters were killed when security and military opened fire on the crowd.

The group suggested that “some protesters” carried weapons and shot at police. But based on interviews with 200 survivors, witnesses – including protesters, local residents, medics and journalists – said they were "few in number” and didn’t justify the indiscriminate firing at unarmed protesters, the group said.

The report said that rather than investigating potential wrongdoing, the government has refused to acknowledge any possible infractions on the part of the security forces. No formal investigation by prosecutors has been made public and no single officer or any official has been held accountable.

Instead, the government has accused foreign correspondents of biased coverage and provided them with footage and photos to show that the encampments were training grounds for militants, often failing to authenticate the material or provide details on when they were taken or where, the report said.

(FRANCE 24 with AP and REUTERS)

 

Date created : 2014-08-12

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