Human Rights Watch: Likely crimes against humanity in Egypt

By Sarah El Deeb

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 12 2014 12:00 a.m. MDT

FILE - In this Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2013 file photo, Egyptian security forces detain protesters as they clear a sit-in by supporters of ousted Islamist President Mohammed Morsi in the eastern Nasr City district of Cairo. On Tuesday, Aug. 12, 2014 the New-York based Human Rights Watch called for an international commission of inquiry into mass killings by Egyptian security forces last summer, saying they likely amount to crimes against humanity. The report said that rather than investigating potential wrongdoing, the government has refused to acknowledge any possible infractions on the part of the security forces.

Ahmed Gomaa, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

CAIRO — The New-York based Human Rights Watch called Tuesday for an international commission of inquiry into mass killings by Egyptian security forces last summer, saying they likely amount to crimes against humanity.

Based on a year-long investigation into the incidents that followed the ouster of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi on July 3, 2013, HRW called specifically for an inquiry into the role of country's current President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, and at least 10 senior military and security chiefs in the killing of 1,150 protesters in the span of six weeks.

The group also called on Egypt's allies to suspend military aid and cooperation with the Egyptian authorities and military until the government adopts measures to end human rights violations.

Egypt's government rejected the report, accusing HRW of being "biased and unprofessional." In a statement issued by the government press office, it said the report's authors operated in Egypt without a permit, which it called a "blatant violation" of the country's sovereignty.

"While it is not surprised by the report, in light of the organizations' clear leaning and methods, the government rejects the report and criticizes its bias," the statement said, without clarifying what it meant by "leaning."

The 188-page report said it found that authorities had used excessive and deliberate force against protesters on political grounds in successive attacks on their gatherings.

The worst incident of mass killings occurred on Aug. 14, when authorities opened fire on a massive pro-Morsi sit-in at Cairo's Rabaah al-Adawiyah square. HRW said the day's death toll there was at least 817 and likely as high as 1,000, higher than the toll of 624 documented earlier by the state's human rights body. HRW called it the "world's largest killings of demonstrators in a single day in recent history."

Two HRW executives, arriving from New York on Sunday, were barred from entering Egypt and were turned back ahead of a planned launch of the report in Cairo. Officials said they were barred from entering after the government asked them to postpone their visit until September. The executives refused and insisted on coming, the Interior Ministry said Tuesday.

Holding a video-conference from Geneva, Beirut and New York to launch their report, HRW executives and researchers said the September invitation was not conveyed to the group's members before the ministry statement Tuesday.

HRW Executive Director Kenneth Roth, speaking from New York, said his group would like to continue its dialogue with the Egyptian government, but stressed that justice must be realized to ensure a transition to democracy in Egypt. He pressed Egypt's allies to pressure the government to establish the rule of law.

"It is very short-sighted on the part of the major Western governments to believe if they just make nice with el-Sissi's government that somehow this imagined transition to democracy which is repeatedly trumped will somehow come to pass," he said. "The message sent so far is that Egypt can get away with mass murder. That is a disastrous message to try to build a genuine democracy."

The report's authors said they had been in touch with government officials throughout their investigation, asking them repeated questions about their policies and planning, but received no response.

One of the main researchers of the HRW report also left the country after the executives were barred from entering.

The report's findings provide a detailed look at the government's policies and measures against successive protests by pro-Morsi supporters in the days following his ouster.

HRW accused authorities of using "deliberate and indiscriminate lethal force to disperse the two sit-ins, where protesters had remained encamped for 45 days.

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