Human Rights Watch said Tuesday that the dispersal of the Rabaa Al-Adaweya sit-in on 14 August 2013 “probably” amounted to crimes against humanity, in a report based on a one-year investigation.
The human rights watchdog said that they could confirm the death of 817 protesters in the Rabaa sit-in, and 1,150 in total, in the two months after the ouster of former president Mohamed Morsi in 3 July, but added that there is evidence suggesting that in Rabaa alone, over 1,000 were killed.
The report, titled “All According to Plan: The Rabaa Massacre and Mass Killings of Protesters in Egypt”, stated that the high death toll was the result of government policy “to use lethal force against largely unarmed protesters on political grounds”. It stressed that security forces provided no safe exit for 12 hours, opened fire with little or no warning, and shot at the crowd indiscriminately.
“It [the Rabaa dispersal] was a violent crackdown planned at the highest levels of the Egyptian government,” said Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch.
The report followed a one-year investigation in which Human Rights Watch interviewed over 200 witnesses, including protesters, doctors, independent journalists and residents present during the dispersal, analysed video footages and examined statements by government officials.
Human Rights Watch suggested several top officials should be investigated and held accountable for the killing of protesters, among them Minister of Interior Mohamed Ibrahim and then defence minister, now President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi.
“They ordered [the dispersal] or should have stopped it, but didn’t,” said Roth in a Tuesday press conference to present the report.
The report further quoted statements from Ibrahim and other high officials before and after the dispersal showing that the government planned the dispersal well in advance and anticipated high numbers of death. “The dispersal plan succeeded 100%,” Ibrahim said the day after the clearing.
In its recommendations, the report called on the government to “suspend from duty and promptly investigate the officials believed to be most responsible”, of which, according to its own findings, President Al-Sisi would be one.
Following the ouster of Islamist president Morsi, two sit-ins were established in Cairo in order to demand his reinstatement of Islamist president Morsi, one in Al-Nahda Square and the second in Rabaa. Several pro-Morsi protests in July and August 2013 evolved into clashes with opponents and security forces, leading to a dozen protesters killed, which was also documented in the Human Rights Watch report.
Egyptian media and government officials increasingly framed clashes between security forces and protesters as a “fight against terrorism”, highlighting protesters being armed and using violence, leading up to Al-Sisi asking the public for a mandate to fight terrorism on 24 July. Tens of thousands took the street on 26 July to support Al-Sisi, and one day later 97 pro-Morsi protesters were killed in clashes with security forces.
Human Rights Watch found evidence for a few instances of protesters firing at security forces during the Rabaa dispersal, which it deemed not justifying “the grossly disproportionate and premeditated lethal attacks on overwhelmingly peaceful protesters”.
After the Rabaa dispersal, Ibrahim announced that 15 guns were found at the site, where 85,000 protesters were present at that time, which according to Human Rights Watch, supports their conclusion that police and army forcers largely “gunned down hundreds of unarmed protesters”.
In the press conference, director of the Middle East and North Africa division of Human Rights Watch Sarah Leah Whitson called Egypt’s government focus on violence from the side of protesters a “deliberate attempt to mislead”.
She also called on all governments, especially Egypt’s major arms supplier the United States, to cease any security or military assistance to Egypt, as the equipment “is used against its own civilians”.