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Human Rights Watch calls for independent investigation into military and police killings

February 13, 2014 at 2:56 am

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called on Egypt’s interim president, Adly Mansour, to ensure that an impartial investigation of police and military officers is conducted regarding the killing of 51 people outside the Republican Guard headquarters on July 8th. The Muslim Brotherhood supporters had been holding a peaceful sit-in and were attacked during dawn prayers by the police and military forces. The violence also left hundreds injured.

HRW said that the investigation should be conducted by the civilian judiciary. So far prosecutors have only investigated Muslim Brotherhood supporters and leaders for their alleged roles in the violence and clashes. They are currently investigating 206 supporters who were arrested at the scene and remain in detention; a further 10 arrest warrants for Muslim Brotherhood leaders have been issued, including the Supreme Guide, Dr Mohammad Badie.

Joe Stork, acting Middle East director at HRW, said “Witness after witness described the military shooting into the crowd, including at unarmed people.” HRW spoke to 24 witnesses including protestors and local residents, as well as seven doctors. Staff also visited the site of the incident, four hospitals and the mortuary, and reviewed video footage from protesters and news outlets (which HRW considers credible). One witness, Ahmed Hussein, who lives in a building overlooking the Mostafa Mosque, told HRW that he “could see that they (the protesters) weren’t expecting this because they started breaking up stones hurriedly”.

Troops and police who moved to break up the peaceful sit-in included snipers posted on the rooftops of military buildings using live ammunition. “Protesters threw stones and Molotov cocktails, and in some cases used shotguns,” HRW reported. As well as the 51 protesters who were killed, three security force members, two police officers and one soldier were also killed in the clashes. Security forces fired teargas and blanks into the air. Following the killings Interim President Mansour ordered a civilian judicial panel to look into the killings. However, noted HRW, the Constitutional Declaration of July 8 “gives the military justice system exclusive jurisdiction over crimes involving military personnel”. This means that the civilian judicial panel cannot investigate and try army officers. HRW said that to deal with this the President “should issue another declaration to authorise independent civilian courts to investigate military personnel”. The military justice system has failed, over many years, alleged HRW, to investigate and prosecute military abuses adequately.

HRW concluded that the army had responded with lethal force that exceeded any threat to its personnel and said that “all of the deaths – protesters, bystander, and security forces – should be investigated and those responsible for the unlawful use of force should be prosecuted.”