Egyptian authorities have held no government official or member of the security forces responsible for the mass killing of protesters in Cairo’s Rab’a al-Adawiya Square two years ago, note Human Rights Watch, adding that on August 14, 2013, security forces killed at least 817 people and most likely more than 1,000 at a mass sit-in in what probably amounted to crimes against humanity.
Given the Egyptian government’s refusal to properly investigate the killings or provide any redress for the victims, the United Nations Human Rights Council should establish an international commission of inquiry into the brutal clearing of the Rab’a al-Adawiya sit-in and other mass killings of protesters in July and August 2013. The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights should establish a similar investigation.
“Washington and Europe have gone back to business with a government that celebrates rather than investigates what may have been the worst single-day killing of protesters in modern history,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director. “The UN Human Rights Council, which has not yet addressed Egypt’s dangerous and deteriorating human rights situation, is one of the few remaining routes to accountability for this brutal massacre.”
The United States and Egypt’s European allies, rather than seriously addressing the rank impunity of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s government, contend that it is a national security priority to resume their relationships with Egypt, including providing Egypt with military aid and hardware.
The dispersal of the Rab’a al-Adawiya sit-in occurred on August 14, 2013, a little more than a month after the Egyptian military – under then-Defense Minister al-Sisi – removed Mohamed Morsy, Egypt’s first freely elected president and a former high-level official in the Muslim Brotherhood. Morsy’s ouster followed mass protests against his rule. Afterward, Brotherhood supporters and others opposed to the military’s actions held protests throughout Egypt. Security forces systematically confronted the protests with deadly force. Between Morsy’s ouster on July 3, 2013, and August 16, 2013, Human Rights Watch documented six instances when security forces unlawfully killed protesters, leaving at least 1,185 people dead.
The dispersal of the Rab’a al-Adawiya Square sit-in, where the crowd reached 85,000 at its height, was the worst of these incidents. The government announced its intention to clear the sit-in but did not announce a date. At first light on August 14, security forces using armored personnel carriers and snipers fired on the crowd with live ammunition shortly after playing a recorded announcement to clear the square through loudspeakers. Police provided no safe exit and fired on many who tried to escape.
Authorities had anticipated a high number of casualties; both Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim and Prime Minister Hazem al-Beblawy said publicly after the dispersal that they had expected that more protesters would have been killed. A year later, al-Beblawy was quoted as saying in an interview with al-Masry al-Youm, an independent newspaper, that “all options were bad” for resolving the sit-in and that anyone who “committed a mistake” should be sent to court.