Human Rights Watch reports – Egypt’s authorities have yet to announce any move to investigate security force killings of protesters on October 6, 2013. Almost four weeks after police used lethal force to break up protests by Muslim Brotherhood supporters, the authorities have not said they have questioned, or intend to question, security forces about their use of firearms that day.
The clashes left 57 people dead throughout Egypt, according to the Health Ministry, with no police deaths reported.
“In dealing with protest after protest, Egyptian security forces escalate quickly and without warning to live ammunition, with deadly results,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East and North Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Thirteen hundred people have died since July. What will it take for the authorities to rein in security forces or even set up a fact-finding committee into their use of deadly force?”
Judicial authorities have held security services to account in only one case since the military removed President Mohamed Morsy from power in early July, setting off a wave of protests by supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood. On October 22, Public Prosecutor Hisham Barakat ordered the pretrial detention of four police officers for the deaths of 37 detainees they were transporting to Abu Zaabal prison on August 18. He referred them for trial on charges of “negligence and involuntary manslaughter” for shooting tear gas into the locked van. The detainees suffocated. The trial of the police officers opened on October 29.
“Egypt showed in the case of the police officers who fired teargas into a truck full of detainees that it is capable of holding security forces accountable,” Stork said. “It should do the same when police officers open fire on largely peaceful demonstrators.”
Throughout the past three months, in spite of over 1,300 people killed during demonstrations, the authorities have not established a fact-finding committee or attempted to rein in security services.
However, when it comes to violence by protesters prosecutors have arrested, investigated, and prosecuted protesters for assault and use of violence. The government should prosecute its agents who injure or kill people while using unjustifiable levels of force, Human Rights Watch said.
Small protests of up to a few thousand Brotherhood supporters have taken place in Cairo and other cities every Friday for the past two months. While security forces have frequently arrested participants, the speed with which the police resorted to wide-scale lethal force on October 6 had not been seen since police dispersed two massive protest camps in Cairo on August 14, killing over 1,000 people, Human Rights Watch said.
Human Rights Watch interviewed 23 witnesses to the three major clashes in Cairo on October 6. Fourteen of the witnesses saw events in the western Cairo district of Dokki, six in the Ramses Square area, and three in Garden City. Human Rights Watch also reviewed extensive video footage of the events. The evidence indicates that the police resorted to live gunfire on demonstrators in situations that were not life-threatening.While some protesters threw stones and Molotov cocktails at the police, all 23 witnesses said they did not observe any protesters using or carrying firearms before the police opened fire on them.
Human Rights Watch visited Cairo’s main morgue and saw the bodies of six people the morgue authorities indicated had been killed in the October 6 clashes. A source in the Forensic Medical Authority told Human Rights Watch that live ammunition caused the death of 44 of the 49 people whose bodies were handled by morgues in Cairo and Giza, and that birdshot killed the other 5. The source told Human Rights Watch that 20 had fatal wounds to the chest, 17 to the head, 6 to the stomach, 4 to the limbs, and 2 to multiple places on the body, and that 1 minor was among those killed.
International human rights treaties ratified by Egypt obligate the government to safeguard the right of peaceful assembly and to restrict it only when required by law and when necessary to achieve a greater public good. When dispersing a demonstration or responding to acts of violence, security forces should abide by the United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officers.
These principles state that law enforcement officials “shall, as far as possible, apply non-violent means before resorting to the use of force and firearms.” Whenever the use of force is unavoidable, security forces should not use firearms against people “except in self-defense or defense of others against the imminent threat of death or serious injury.”
Interim President Adly Mansour did promise to set up a fact-finding committee into the events of July 8 in Cairo in which 51 protesters and 2 members of the security forces were killed – the first incident of excessive use of force following the ouster of Morsy. But there is no sign the interim president has taken any steps to form such a committee.
Adly Mansour should set up a fact-finding committee of independent experts to look into the violence of the past three months, Human Rights Watch said. He should ensure that the investigation is impartial and credible, in line with international standards and looks at whether security forces used excessive force resulting in the death of protesters. Authorities should make public the investigation’s findings and recommendations.
In addition, Egyptian authorities should establish accountability for the security forces’ repeated use of unjustified lethal force. The government should also ensure that security forces respect the right to demonstrate peacefully and use only the measure of force necessary and proportionate to protect order.
Military and civilian authorities should publicly order security forces to adhere to standards consistent with the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials, Human Rights Watch said.
Other countries should halt any transfer to Egypt of small arms, light weapons, related ammunition, and equipment if there is a high likelihood that Egyptian security forces might use these items to commit human rights violations involving use of excessive and indiscriminate lethal force against protesters and in dispersing crowds, Human Rights Watch said.
“That Egyptian police are using excessive lethal force is nothing new, but now they open fire as if they do not fear being held to account,” Stork said. “Until Egypt’s military rulers take strong steps to rein in the police force, the killing of protesters will continue.”