The majority of protesters who took part in the pro-Mohamed Morsi Rabaa Al-Adaweya sit-in were peaceful protesters, said National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) member Nasser Amin on Wednesday, adding that such peaceful demonstrators made up the majority of the death toll for the sit in’s dispersal, estimated by the council at 632.
The NCHR held a press conference on Wednesday to reveal the results of a fact-finding committee established in September 2013 to look into the forcible dispersal of the Rabaa sit-in on 14 August.
The report will not be officially released before 16 March, according to NCHR head Mohamed Fayeq. Amin nevertheless summed up the violations the council included in its report on Wednesday.
The council said that during the Rabaa sit-in, which began on 28 June and lasted for 47 days, violations exercised by some protesters were reported, including: illegally arresting citizens, killing and torturing citizens, as well as possession of weapons. Amin cited the Forensics Authority’s numbers, saying at least 11 tortured bodies were found around the Rabaa sit-in and the Al-Nahda sit-in, the latter also set up in support of Morsi.
“Though the Rabaa sit-in started as a peaceful sit-in,” Amin said. “On 28 June, the sit-in organisers allowed a group of armed protesters into the sit-in without notifying the rest of the protesters of the former group’s presence.”
At the time of the dispersal, which lasted for over 12 hours, the NCHR reported violations committed both by the police forces which carried out the dispersal and a number of armed protesters. The council claimed it was armed protesters who opened fires at security forces first, adding that clashes were “regular” until 11 am, when a police officer was shot and killed.
“At that point in time,” Amin said, displaying the clashes through a data show prepared by the NCHR and presented during the press conference, “clashes between police forces and armed protesters began in all directions of the sit-in until a short-lived truce was reached at around 1 pm.”
The council accused police forces of failing to provide protesters with adequate time to evacuate the square before they began dispersing the sit-in, saying security forces began the dispersal only 25 minutes after they began issuing warnings.
NCHR also accused security forces of failing to secure the safe exits provided for protesters until 03.30pm due to the ongoing clashes and the attempt of new protesters to join the sit-in, adding that the Ministry of Interior’s plan for the dispersal was lacking. Amin said from 03.30pm to around 6pm, large crowds of protesters exited the sit-in.
“Some protesters were captured by citizens from popular committees and handed over to the police while trying to leave the sit-in through the safe exits provided by the police,” Amin said.
The council accused security forces of “failing to exercise self-restraint” during the dispersal and of “disproportionate use of force” despite the justified use of weapons.
Amin said that due to the clashes, ambulances were unable to get to the site of the dispersal and therefore several injured protesters didn’t receive treatment.
The council also accused armed protesters of using unarmed civilians as human shields during clashes with police forces.
Amin denied that armed forces took part in the dispersal of the Rabaa sit-in, adding that they were only present in the sit-in’s vicinity to secure it.
The NCHR provided an independent death toll of the sit-in’s dispersal relying on the Forensic Authority’s numbers as well as the death toll conducted by the independent group Wiki Thawra. Amin announced that according to the report, 632 were killed as a result of the Rabaa sit-in dispersal, including eight policemen; only 377 bodies were subjected to a medical autopsy. It also mentioned reprisal attacks on churches and police stations in 22 governorates which lasted for four days, leaving behind 686 killed, including 64 policemen.
The council issued a number of recommendations in its report, which included: compensation for all those killed during the Rabaa dispersal who were not involved in violent acts, issuing a law which obligates conducting autopsies on victims of suspected criminal incidents, conducting independent investigation into the sit-ins’ dispersal and punishing those found accountable for crimes and “immediately” beginning the rehabilitation and training of policemen.
Amin said the council had approached several official and independent bodies while conducting its report, including the prosecutor general, the Ministry of Interior, the Forensic Authority and the Ministry of Health; some of them were uncooperative. The council also approached political groups who had participated in the sit-in, such as the Anti-Coup Alliance. Amin said that the council had not gained access to the Ministry of Interior’s plan for the dispersal, but rather deduced it from the line of events.
“The ministry’s response was late, which was one of the reasons for the delay of issuing the report,” Amin said.
Fayeq expressed his optimism regarding the “independence and integrity of the report.” The council is yet to release three more reports: one about the reprisal attacks on churches which followed the sit-ins’ dispersal, another on the death of 37 prisoners inside a police vehicle while being transferred to Abu Zaabal prison on 17 August and a third on the attacks on the Kerdasa Police Station on 14 August.
An updated death toll provided in November by the Forensics Authority spokesman Hisham Abdel Hameed stated that the official death toll for Rabaa Al-Adaweya sit-in was 627. Wiki Thawra, a website dedicated to documenting the revolution had reported much higher numbers of 969 for the Rabaa dispersal. Forensics Authority spokesman Abdel Hameed did not rule out the possibility that the official death toll is missing a number of casualties who were buried without the Forensics Authority’s knowledge.
International human rights watchdog Human Rights Watch had said in a report on 19 August, 2013 that the sit-in dispersals were “the most serious incident of mass unlawful killings in modern Egyptian history.” The watchdog accused security forces of excessively and unjustifiably using lethal force against mostly unarmed protesters. Human Rights Watch was unable to identify the source of the first live shot fired during the dispersal but said that the majority of protesters were unarmed and that there is a lack of evidence providing justification for “the quick resort by police to massive lethal force.”
Additional reporting by Hend Kortam