Calls for Investigations, Accountability
Washington, D.C. – The Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy (TIMEP) solemnly commemorates the one-year anniversary of the violent Raba’a al-Adaweya Square dispersal. On August 14, 2013, security forces in Cairo violently cleared weeks-long sit-in demonstrations in support of deposed President Muhammed Morsi, claiming the lives of hundreds of people and injuring thousands more.
After Morsi’s overthrow on July 3, 2013, approximately 85,000 pro-Morsi demonstrators flocked to the areas surrounding the Raba’a mosque in Cairo. On July 31, 2013, Egyptian officials authorized the military to disperse the protesters, referring to the sit-ins as “a threat to … national security and an unacceptable terrorizing of citizens.” These directives followed numerous reports that pro-Morsi demonstrators were engaging in hate speech and violence—including torture and killings.
In an effort to prevent a violent confrontation between protesters and the government, international mediators—including United States Deputy Secretary William Burns and European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton—met with interim government officials and opposition leaders to urge them to pursue reconciliation. These efforts at mediation were unsuccessful, and after more than a month of demonstrations, Egyptian security forces forcibly dispersed the tens of thousands of men, women, and children occupying the square, killing an estimated 600 to 1,000 people and injuring between 1,500 and 4,000 more.
Egyptian human rights organizations strongly condemned the attacks, noting that while some protesters may have engaged in criminal behavior, their actions in no way justified the “collective punishment” and “excessive force” used by security forces. Indeed, the government’s disproportionate use of force against mostly unarmed protesters violated Egypt’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The ICCPR only allows states to derogate from their obligation to protect the right to freedom of assembly if “strictly required” to protect national security or public safety. Further, the United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials stipulate that law enforcement officials should use force only after non-violent means have been attempted without success, and if force is used, it must be exercised with restraint and in proportion to the seriousness of the offense.
According to a report released by Human Rights Watch this week on the Raba’a and Nahda dispersals, Egyptian security forces abandoned these principles during last year’s events. Forces began dispersing protesters without warning at sunrise on August 14, 2013, while many demonstrators were still asleep. In many cases, officers allegedly used live ammunition against demonstrators without first attempting to remove the crowds using less lethal means. Forces also failed to provide safe passage for protesters attempting to leave the demonstration sites, causing many people to remain trapped amidst the assault. The government’s violent dispersals of the pro-Morsi demonstrators prompted a strong backlash, which the government failed to adequately prevent or address. According to data collected by TIMEP, Egypt saw a significant spike in terror attacks in July and August of 2013. Some of this retaliatory violence, including attacks on churches, was in direct response to the Raba’a and Nahda dispersals.
Last December, then-interim President Adly Mansour appointed an independent fact-finding committee to investigate the dispersals and subsequent events. In March of this year, Egypt’s National Council for Human Rights released an investigative report (AR) on the dispersals, prompting Mr. Mansour to order the appointment of a judge to independently investigate the report’s findings. To date, however, neither of these investigations has been completed and no government official has been held accountable for last year’s events.
One year after the brutal crackdown on protesters and subsequent violence, the lack of justice and accountability continue to undermine Egypt’s commitment to rule of law as an important dimension of the country’s democratic transition. The grave human rights abuses committed by the government are in many ways a direct consequence of its pursuit of a singular security approach that disregards international human rights standards and ignores more peaceful political alternatives. The failures of this approach, resulting in protracted political and social divisions and diminished security, should serve as a warning against any future attempts by the government to violently quell dissent.
TIMEP calls for the timely completion of an independent investigation into last year’s violence, and for the findings of such investigation to be made public. TIMEP also strongly urges the government of Egypt to hold accountable all officials responsible for the mass killings, in accordance with the rule of law. Egypt should also ensure that security forces are sufficiently trained on internationally-accepted principles of use of force and human rights law to prevent a recurrence of such events.
To learn more about the events that took place leading up to and following the Raba’a dispersal, please see TIMEP’s interactive timeline of events.
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The Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy (TIMEP) is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to raising awareness of democratic transitions in the Middle East through analysis, advocacy, and action.