The dispersal of the two sit-ins set up by supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi on Wednesday is “the most serious incident of mass unlawful killings in modern Egyptian history”, according to Human Rights Watch.
The international human rights watchdog organisation released on Monday a report about the dispersal of the pro-Morsi Rabaa Al-Adaweya sit-in. HRW accused security forces of excessively and unjustifiably using lethal force against mostly unarmed protesters.
HRW could not identify the source of the first live shot fired during the dispersal. It nevertheless stated the lack of evidence providing justification for “the quick resort by police to massive lethal force”.
The organisation stated the “vast majority of protesters were unarmed”. It nevertheless cited a number of protesters armed with clubs and firearms. HRW stated gunfire was shot at security forces from the vicinity of the Rabaa mosque, where protesters were located.
HRW cited a YouTube video showing a man shot while carrying a bloody corpse. It added that some of the security forces’ killings seemed deliberate; the police apparently killed protesters “not clearly engaged in … violence” and posing no imminent threat to life at time of shooting, in an illegal manner.
HRW also documented the presence of security snipers during the sit-in’s dispersal. It stated the snipers killed and injured bystanders.
“This excessive and unjustified use of lethal force is the worst possible response to the very tense situation in Egypt today,” said Joe Stork, acting Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch.
HRW also accused security forces of violating international standards in failing to provide safe exit from the sit-in. It stated that people wounded by live fire needed urgent medical assistance, yet had no access to it due to the lack of safe exit. The organisation cited journalists and protesters who claimed they were unable to reach any of the exits announced by the security forces at the start of the dispersal due to heavy gunfire and teargas used around those exits.
“Security forces failed to plan the operation to minimise the risk to life,” the report read.
HRW stated that according to international legal standards, the use of force is only allowed in “limited” circumstances, and lethal force is only permitted where it is “strictly necessary to protect life”, for instance when individuals target the police with firearms. The organisation stated that using a degree of force may be justified to stop rock-throwing or molotov cocktails by protesters, adding nevertheless that “protesters’ violence cannot justify use of lethal force”.
During a press conference held on the sit-ins’ dispersal on Wednesday, Minister of Interior Mohamed Ibrahim claimed that when facing an armed sit-in, international standards leave room for a death toll up to 10 percent of the number of protesters. Putting the number of protesters at 15,000, Ibrahim said the security was entitled to killing up to 1500 when dispersing the sit-in.
HRW claimed the sit-in harboured 85,000 protesters, according to calculations it made on 2 August.
The health ministry gave the official death toll for the Rabaa sit-in dispersal at 288. HRW said its staff counted at least 235 bodies brought from the Rabaa field hospitals to Al-Iman mosque nearby. It added that the aforementioned corpses were not taken to a government facility, thus it was unlikely the bodies were included in the official death toll.
Wiki Thawra, a website dedicated to documenting the Egyptian revolution, put the latest death toll of the Rabaa sit-in dispersal at 869: 829 civilians, seven security personnel, five journalists and 28 bodies found under the Rabaa platform.
The report also addressed the sectarian violence which proliferated nationwide in retaliation to the sit-ins’ dispersal. HRW stated at least 32 churches were attacked; the violence left one Christian dead.
The organisation accused Muslim Brotherhood leaders of “scapegoating” Christians as responsible for Morsi’s ouster. It also accused security forces of not preparing for such expected retaliation.
“Egyptian security officials bear responsibility not only for what they did in breaking up the protests but for their failure to protect churches and Christian communities against predictable reprisal attacks,” Stork said in the report. He called for independent investigation into violent events which gripped Egypt on Wednesday.
HRW also criticised the state of emergency declared by interim president Adly Mansour on Wednesday. The state of emergency, valid for a month according to Mansour’s declaration, sends the “wrong signal” to security forces, HRW said.
“Security forces will read it as license for additional reckless and unlawful use of force,” HRW argued in the report, noting “the long history of abuses carried out under states of emergency in Egypt”.
HRW urged military rulers to reverse their instructions to the police to use live ammunition to protect state buildings, adding that live ammunition should only be used when it’s “strictly necessary to protect life”.
“The military should not be encouraging police to use even more lethal force,” Stork said.
Wiki Thawra provided a comprehensive death toll resulting from the violence which has been plaguing Egypt since Wednesday: 1666 people killed, both from civilians and security personnel.
The death toll is almost twice the latest official count, released on Sunday, which put the nationwide death toll at 830. Sunday’s official count did not include the deaths of at least 36 detainees, arrested in light of the violence, during their attempt to flee custody on Sunday. It also did not include the execution of 25 Central Security Forces soldiers in North Sinai on Monday.
Wiki Thawra was established by a group of independent youth. Its data mainly depends on reports by the Egyptian Centre for Economic and Social Rights (ECESR), the Hisham Mubarak Law Centre (HMLC), and the Front to Defend Egypt’s Protesters (FDEP).