Egypt’s interim president Adly Mansour should ensure impartial investigations of military officers and police for killings outside the Republican Guard headquarters on July 8, 2013, Human Rights Watch said.
The investigations need to be conducted by the civilian judiciary, independent both institutionally and practically from the military chain of command.
Witnesses described a sequence of events on July 8, in which the military and police used unnecessary force, leading to the deaths of 51 protesters. Prosecutors have investigated only Muslim Brotherhood supporters and leaders for their alleged roles in the clashes, but not the military and police forces.
“The military has a track record of resorting quickly and excessively with lethal force to break up protests,” said Joe Stork, acting Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Witness after witness described the military shooting into the crowd, including at unarmed people. The government needs to find out who was responsible and ensure they are held accountable if it hopes to show it will respect basic rights during this interim period.”
On July 8, army troops and police moved just before dawn to break up a peaceful sit-in of Muslim Brotherhood supporters. Violence broke out over the next six hours with military officers, including snipers posted on military building rooftops, shooting live ammunition, in many cases killing and wounding unarmed protesters. Protesters threw stones, Molotov cocktails, and in some cases shot guns. By the end of the morning, fifty-one protesters, three security force members, two police officers, and one military member were dead, according to the Health and Defense ministries.
The military spokesman, Col. Ahmad Ali, claimed that protesters tried to storm the Republican Guard building. Butthe military has not made public any evidence supporting its claim and Human Rights Watch found no evidence that this occurred, finding instead that protesters were peacefully praying or gathering when the military and police moved in to break up the sit-in.
Muslim Brotherhood members and supporters had gathered outside the Republican Guard headquarters on Salah Salem Street starting on July 5, and their numbers grew after the group called for a sit-in there on July 7.
Human Rights Watch spoke to 24 witnesses, including protesters and neighborhood residentsand interviewed seven doctors. Human Rights Watch also visited the site of the incident, four hospitals where dead and injured were taken, and the morgue, and reviewed video footage obtained from protesters and news outlets that Human Rights Watch considered credible. All those interviewed who witnessed the start of the violence agreed, and video evidence also suggested, that just before dawn on July 8, military troops and Central Security Forces, Egypt’s riot police, moved in to break-up the peaceful sit-in, simultaneously approaching protesters outside the Republican Guard building at one end of the street and outside the Mostafa Mosque, at the other end.
Security forces fired teargas and blanks into the air, and moved in on protesters from two sides by foot and with more than a dozen armored vehicles. The protesters backed off and scattered down side streets. Over the next four hours, the witnesses said, many protesters responded with rocks and Molotov cocktails as army troops shot live ammunition and the riot police fired birdshot into the crowd, which at that point numbered in the thousands. Witnesses as well as video footage viewed by Human Rights Watch confirmed that at least a few Muslim Brotherhood supporters had guns, and fired both live ammunition and birdshot. Military snipers stationed on nearby rooftops, and officers positioned elsewhere, shot a number of unarmed protesters or bystanders. It is not clear from the footage which side used live ammunition first.
In response to the killings, President Mansour ordered an investigation by a civilian “judicial panel,” but authorities have made no further information available about its composition and powers. The Constitutional Declaration announced by Mansour on July 8 gives the military justice system exclusive jurisdiction over crimes involving military personnel, meaning that this civilian panel could not investigate and try army officers involved in the violence. To deal with this and other incidents, President Mansour should issue another declaration to authorize independent civilian courts to investigate military personnel in the case of serious human rights abuses in which the victims are civilians, Human Rights Watch said.
“We have seen again and again how Egypt’s military justice system cannot investigate serious human rights abuses with any impartiality,” Stork said. “Military prosecutors and judges remain in the same line of command as those they are investigating, making independence and impartiality impossible.”
Prosecutors have announced only that they are investigating 206 Muslim Brotherhood supporters arrested at the scene and still in detention. Prosecutors issued arrest warrants for 10 Muslim Brotherhood leaders, including the group’s supreme guide, Mohamed Badie, on charges of inciting violence in connection with the incident. No investigation of army or police personnel has been announced to date, though the vast majority those who died were among the protesters.
It is impossible to say precisely which of the lethal shootings may have been lawful – that is, where those killed were armed and shooting at security forces, Human Rights Watch said. What is clear from the death toll and witness evidence is that the army responded with lethal force that far exceeded any apparent threat to the lives of military personnel.
All of the deaths – protesters, bystanders, and security forces – should be investigated and those responsible for unlawful use of force should be prosecuted, Human Rights Watch said.
“This is the single bloodiest incident that Egypt has seen since the uprising against Mubarak, and it comes at a moment of extreme political polarization,” Stork said. “President Mansour should issue a constitutional declaration that will give independent civilian judges the authority to examine the responsibility of the military and police at all levels of command as well as demonstrators, and issue criminal indictments against those found responsible for using excessive or otherwise unlawful force and violence.”