Rabaa Report: Hiding the Truth?

Thursday 27/March/2014 - 12:19 PM
Human Rights Watch
Human Rights Watch described the forcible break-up of Rabaa sit-in as “most serious incident of mass unlawful killings in modern Egyptian history.” (AFP)

 A report issued by Egypt’s Human Rights Council strengthened fears that truth is unlikely to be known, and no security forces will be held accountable for the bloody breakup of Rabaa and Nahda sit-ins on August 14.

More than seven months after thousands of heavily armed Egyptian security forces stormed a lengthy sit-in held by supporters of former President and Muslim Brotherhood leader, Mohamed Morsi, killing hundreds, Interim President Adli Mansour finally asked the Minister of Justice to appoint an investigation judge to look into the August 14 bloody events, and determine those responsible.

Mansour’s decision came in response to the key demand included in a controversial report issued on March 17 by the National Human Rights Council (NHRC) on the violent break-up of the sit-ins held by Brotherhood supporters and allies from other Islamic parties over 47 days to protest the army’s intervention on July 3 to remove Morsi from power.

The NHRC has been established under ousted President Hosni Mubarak, and its members are appointed by the president. Although it includes several prominent human rights activists, the majority are known for their support of the removal of Morsi, clearly influencing the final outcome.

However, several NHRC members heavily criticized the report, and threatened to resign, saying it was a “scandal” and that it should not have been released in the first place. The Council admitted in its report that it did not receive needed cooperation from the Ministry of Interior, who refused to provide its action plan ahead of storming the sit-ins, the Ministry of Health, and the Prosecutor-General’s office.

The Brotherhood and other Islamic parties, such as Al-Jamaa Al-Islamiya, refused to provide information because they would not deal with “a council appointed by an illegitimate government that supports the coup.” The news conference held on March 4 to brief journalists on “initial findings” by NHRC member, Nasser Amin, and delayed for three hours due to differences among members, only displayed videos of protesters shooting at police.

The NHRC report tilted heavily towards blaming the Brotherhood and their supporters for the heavy number of deaths on 14 August, which remains controversial. The Brotherhood and other Islamist parties gathered under the banner of “The National Alliance in Defense of Legitimacy and Against the Coup” insist that “at least 3,000 people” were killed during the police crackdown on the sit-ins held in two, mainly residential and busy neighbourhoods in Cairo; while the NHRC report put the total figure at 624 civilians and 8 policemen.

The same report also clearly stated that protesters “took the initiative and fired upon the security forces tasked with ending the illegal sit-ins,” and confirmed the common allegation by Brotherhood rivals that they allowed the smuggling of lethal weapons inside the sit-ins that were used later in confronting police, “ending claims that the sit-ins were peaceful.”

Throughout the report, it was always the protesters who took the first step, followed by what the writers seem to imply was a justified reaction by police. “On August 14, the protesters started with throwing stones at security forces, who responded with water cannons. Then, they throw Molotov cocktails, and security forces responded with firing heavy rounds of tear gas. When those taking part in the sit-in fired bullets, security forces opened heavy fire. After one police officer and four soldiers were killed as a result of fire coming from the protester’s side, security forces opened fire intensively, killing 50 in one round, according to witnesses,” said the report.

In another incident hours after the armed raid began by police at 6:45 am, a senior police officer tried to ask protesters to leave peacefully in a megaphone, but he was immediately shot dead by “armed elements” among the protesters, the report said.

The NHRC indeed blamed security forces for giving the large number of protesters 25 minutes only to peacefully leave through “safe corridors” the two locations of the sit-ins in Nasr City in northern Cairo and in front of Cairo University in Giza, failing to secure “the safe corridors which confused those willing to leave peacefully,” and for using excessive force that was not proportional to the amount of fire they faced.

It also confirmed a key Brotherhood accusation that a number of corpses killed in the exchange of fire were burned as huge police bulldozers moved in to remove hundreds of tents that were built up by protesters over 47 days to house those taking part in the sit-in. Yet, while Brotherhood supporters claim that “hundreds of corpses” were burnt, the NHRC report estimated that only eight corpses were burned on the basis on forensic medical reports.

The list of charges against the Brotherhood and their supporters was clearly much longer, and more dangerous, going as far as accusing its members of using civilians as human shields while confronting security forces.

The report charged that those controlling the sit-ins in Rabaa and Nahda areas were involved in holding dozens of citizens against their will, especially those they suspected as police informers, and tortured them. It added that at least 11 bodies were found in Rabaa, Nahda and a third location, allegedly victims of torture by Brotherhood supporters.

The NHRC report also confirmed that Brotherhood supporters abused young children, forcing tens to put on coffins while marching and chanting slogans saying they were ready to die as “martyrs” for the cause of defending “legitimacy,” and the return of Morsi to power.

Throughout 47 days, those in control of the stage at the sit-in at Rabaa, used a language of incitement and violence against Christians and all their opponents, the report also noted.

The NHRC had voluntarily taken the task of forming an investigation committee to look into the police break-up of the sit-ins six months ago, and its Deputy-Chairman, Abdel-Ghaffar Shukr, a well known leftist, said its task was not to determine who was responsible for the killings, but “to collect evidence and information and present to judicial authorities.”

Shukr added that Interim President, Mansour, had also ordered four months ago the formation of a separate investigation committee made up of prominent former judges to look into all violent events that have taken place in Egypt since June 30, including the break-up of the sit-ins, and that it would also deliver its findings to judicial authorities.

While Shukr hailed President Mansour’s decision last week to appoint an investigation judge to look into all alleged violations that took place in the events of August 14, which the US-based Human Rights Watch, described as “most serious incident of mass unlawful killings in modern Egyptian history,” other independent human rights activists, including several NHRC members, said the move was “too little, too late,” and that it was only aimed at deterring threats by human rights groups sympathetic to the Brotherhood that they would sue the Egyptian government in front of international courts and human rights organizations, including the UN Human Rights Council and the International Court of Justice.

Mohamed Zarie, a NHRC member critical of the report, also noted that Egypt had no history in holding police officers accountable, and that it was even more difficult to carry out such move at a time the security forces are getting killed on a near daily basis in a “war against terror”.  

He added that “security officers charged with killing over 800 Egyptians in the Revolution against Mubarak on 25 January, 2011, were found not guilty. And there is no reason to assume that anything will be different right now, especially when we are facing suicide bomb attacks by terrorist groups.”

One day after the final findings of the NHRC were released, Egyptian police prevented Islamist parties allied under the banner of the “National Alliance in Defense of Legitimacy” from holding a news conference to refute what they described as the “lies” included in its report. However, its members living in exile in Turkey held an alternative conference on March 20, and accused Egyptian security forces of “committing massacres against peaceful protesters”.

As the confrontation between police and Brotherhood supporters continues, coupled with an intense media propaganda war from the two sides, it is even more difficult to expect to find out the truth anytime soon on what exactly happened on August 14, and whom to blame.

And while hundreds of Brotherhood members are now on trial for resisting police in Rabaa and Nahda, no security officers are likely to be held accountable for the evident violations that led to such a huge number of deaths.

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