National Council for Human Rights (NCHR)
To investigate the Raba’a al-Adaweya Square sit-in dispersal in August 2013 and to compare security officials’ dispersal with international standards governing the dispersal of peaceful sit-ins and protests.
Visiting and examining the Raba’a site for 10 days to collect testimony from eyewitnesses in the neighborhood; listening to witnesses’ testimonies at the NCHR headquarters; collecting and documenting online posts written by bloggers who witnessed the events; demanding records about the events from the Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Health, Forensic Medical Authority, and prosecutor-general’s office; contacting the Alliance for Supporting Legitimacy, Freedom and Justice Party, Nour Party, and Building and Development Party for evidence and media relating to the facts of the sit-in; documenting news article about the events in print and online media; holding listening sessions for those who were present; holding meetings with nongovernmental organizations working in Egypt; and holding a meeting with a representative of the website Wiki Thawra.
Nasser Amin (head of the fact-finding committee).
The NCHR published its report in March 2014 to help determine exactly what happened in the dispersal of the Raba’a sit-in, which, it says, resulted in the death of 624 civilians and eight policemen on August 14, 2013. It provides a section on the events leading to the sit-in before beginning its narrative, which established that the sit-in in Raba’a intensified after July 3, 2013. It then describes the dispersal of the sit-in as follows:
- At about 6 a.m. on August 14, the military closed the areas leading to Raba’a. The security forces’ plan included the identification of a safe passage to facilitate the exit of protesters. At about 6:20 a.m., the police began broadcasting messages encouraging the protesters to leave, stressing their safety if they did so.
- The warnings to the protesters continued till about 6:45 a.m., when the security forces began firing at the protesters and bulldozers entered the area to remove the barriers constructed by the protesters. The protesters retaliated by throwing bricks at the bulldozers and Molotov cocktails at the police.
- These clashes continued till 11 a.m. Tear gas used by the police led to panic, and some protesters lit tires to counteract the effects of the tear gas. Violence escalated suddenly in the area between al-Tayyar Street and Youssef Abbas Street due to protesters firing at the security forces, killing an officer and four recruits. The security forces responded with heavy fire toward the source.
- At about 1:00 p.m., supporters of the sit-in marched toward Raba’a, and there was an interim suspension of fire as the police withdrew from Raba’a to prevent the advance of the supporters of the sit-in. According to Muhammad al-Beltagy, leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, the interim suspension of fire remained until 3 p.m. A number of protesters in the square attempted to find safe passage where local residents turned them over to the police.
- At about 3 p.m., the police stopped the advance of the supporters of the sit-in, and used tear gas to clear out protesters from Raba’a, at which point bulldozers broke down the temporary structures built by the protesters. A fire broke out in the tents, and the protesters could not retrieve the bodies of those killed in the clashes. Clashes followed, and by 8:30 p.m., the sit-in had been dismantled.
The report concludes that security forces used excessive force in dispersing the protesters and that they failed to provide sufficient warning to people in the square. According to the report, security forces only began broadcasting the announcement that Raba’a would be dispersed 25 minutes before commencing the dispersion operation. Furthermore, the report criticizes the failure of the police to provide sufficient exits for the protesters and for not enabling ambulances to reach the square.
However, the report casts most of the blame on “armed elements” who took over from the “peaceful protesters” and changed that nature of the protest at some unknown point. For example, the report, using video evidence provided by the Ministry of Interior and Egyptian television, claims that armed men provoked the police by firing at them from between other protesters. It also accuses the sit-in’s “administration” of detaining and torturing suspected state-aligned collaborators, leading to the death of 11. The report also concludes that the sit-in infringed on Egyptians’ economic, political, and social rights, particularly their right to security.
Among the report’s other main findings are that the dispersion operation was planned and undertaken per a decision by the Public Prosecution, and that prior to August 14, 2013, the Egyptian government made a good faith effort to end the sit-in peacefully. According to the report, the police’s loudspeaker warnings were heard clearly and throughout the camp; however, many protesters who wanted to leave were prevented by other members of the sit-in. Many were also illegally arrested by vigilante groups composed of citizens of the neighboring area. The committee claims that a total of 632 were killed during the massacre, of whom only 264 were autopsied, while the rest were buried with the medical inspector’s approval. According to the report, most of these casualties were peaceful protesters caught in the crossfire or used by armed protesters as human shields. Finally, the report discusses the events that took place in the wake of the Raba’a massacre: violence erupted in 23 provinces, and several churches and government buildings were attacked by armed groups. Most of those killed during this subsequent violence were merely caught up in the crossfire, but policemen also died.
The report concludes with several recommendations, among the most important of which are calls for:
- an independent investigation to be conducted;
- all guilty parties to be prosecuted;
- the government to compensate all victims of the incident;
- banning all forms of violent incitement by political parties, media channels, and independent groups;
- initiating an instant training program for security personnel on the application of international laws and standards in dealing with civilians; and
- urging the government to adhere to international treaties banning torture.
The methodology of the report covers a wide section of society, but largely fails to obtain testimony from the Muslim Brotherhood. The committee is clear in its criticism of security forces, but faces serious methodological constraints. For example, the committee’s interview pool of individual citizens is skewed toward residents from the neighborhood, who faced daily economic disturbances from the sit-in, and this no doubt impacted their view of the Brotherhood. Because the fact-finding committee did not begin its work until the end of September, the committee had limited access to participants and limited ability to acquire evidence. The deficiencies in the report have been highlighted by Human Rights Watch, which finds that the committee ignored compelling evidence of other casualties.
The fact-finding committee was often in the public eye for its report, and a member of the committee resigned because he believed the report was not based on appropriate evidence. In an Al Jazeera news article, the Brotherhood claimed a larger number died than the NCHR report established, and accused the NCHR of being unsympathetic to Islamic actors and “revising history.” Other media reports also differ significantly from the committee’s conclusions, claiming that both police and protesters used live ammunition. Overall, the report’s conclusions are based on a select, non-comprehensive sample of evidence, raising questions on its ability to help determine the truth.
A full text of the report is available in Arabic here.