Egypt′s Rabaa massacre: Rights group calls for international probe | News | DW | 13.08.2018
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Egypt's Rabaa massacre: Rights group calls for international probe

In August 2013, more than 800 protesters were killed in Cairo's Rabaa Square during a brutal security operation. Human Rights Watch has called for an investigation into what it believes were crimes against humanity.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Monday called for an international investigation into the mass killing of largely peaceful protesters by Egyptian security forces on August 14, 2013.

That day, Egyptian forces stormed Rabaa Square in Cairo, where thousands of protesters had gathered to rally against the overthrow and imprisonment of Egypt's first democratically elected president, Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The brutal assault left more than 800 protesters dead within a few hours and likely amounted to crimes against humanity, according to HRW. However, not one member of the security forces has been prosecuted for involvement in the massacre.

"Five years on from the Rabaa massacre, the only response from authorities has been to try to insulate those responsible for these crimes from justice," said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at HRW.

Security forces clearing Rabaa Square

Security forces opened fire on protesters who were rallying against a coup that ousted Egypt's first democratically elected president

'Immunity' from prosecution

Instead, Egyptian authorities have since pushed forward measures to shield military commanders from prosecution.

Last month, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi approved a law on the "treatment of the armed forces' senior commanders," effectively allowing him to grant them ministerial status and, by extension, diplomatic immunity while traveling outside the country.

The law provides military officers with immunity from prosecution about events that took place between July 3, 2013 – when Morsi was ousted – and January 2016, unless the military's highest council allows for it.

Protesters rallying in Berlin against Rabaa massacre

The massacre triggered protesters across Europe and gave rise to the Rabaa sign, a gesture used by political leaders in the region, including Turkish President Recep Tayyep Erdogan

'Crimes against humanity'

A Human Rights Watch investigation published a year after the massacre found that security forces had openly fired on peaceful protesters at least six times while clearing Rabaa Square and another one near Cairo University.

Read more: 'They weren't terrorists, they didn't deserve to die'

"The killings not only constituted serious violations of international human rights law, but likely amounted to crimes against humanity, given both their widespread and systematic nature, and the evidence suggesting the killings were part of policy," the investigation found.

Post-coup crackdown

In July 2013, former military general el-Sissi led a military coup backed by popular protests against then-President Morsi, who was a leader in the now-banned Muslim Brotherhood organization.

Since then, hundreds of people arrested during the post-coup crackdown have been handed death sentences. Journalists were also targeted during the operation.

"Without justice, Rabaa remains an open wound. Those responsible for the mass killings of protesters shouldn't count on being able to shield themselves from accountability forever," said HRW's Whitson.

Watch video 06:51

Egypt's revolution seen in retrospect

ls/rc (AP, AFP)

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