HRW urges UN probe of Egypt's Rabaa 'massacre'

Egyptian authorities on Tuesday dismissed the HRW report as

Egyptian authorities on Tuesday dismissed the HRW report as "politicized" and "biased."

BEIRUT – Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called for the formation of a United Nations inquiry into what it described as the "massacre" of hundreds of supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi at a sit-in last summer in Cairo's Rabaa al-Adawiya Square.

Speaking at a press conference held to unveil a new HRW report on the first anniversary of the bloody sit-in dispersal, the watchdog's Middle East director, Sarah Leah Whitson, called on the U.N. Human Rights Council to set up a panel tasked with investigating the incident and prosecuting those responsible.

Hundreds of pro-Morsi demonstrators were killed when security forces violently cleared their protest camp in Rabaa al-Adawiya Square on August 14 of last year, only weeks after the military ousted Mohamed Morsi, Egypt's first elected civilian president.

In its 195-page report, the New York-based rights group accused Egyptian security forces of carrying out the "systematic" killing of 1150 demonstrators, including at least 817 during the dispersal of the Rabaa sit-in alone, saying the killings likely constituted crimes against humanity.

"In Rabaa Square, Egyptian security forces carried out one of the world's largest killings of demonstrators in a single day in recent history," HRW Executive Director Kenneth Roth is quoted as saying in the report.

"This wasn't merely a case of excessive force or poor training," he said. "It was a violent crackdown planned at the highest levels of the Egyptian government."

"Many of the same officials are still in power in Egypt, and have a lot to answer for," he added.

The rights group asserted that security forces, following a plan that envisioned several thousand casualties, had killed a minimum of 817 people – saying the figure was probably closer to 1000 – in Rabaa Square.

Egyptian authorities on Tuesday dismissed the HRW report as "politicized" and "biased."

The report documents how police and army personnel opened fire on crowds of pro-Morsi protesters during six demonstrations between July 5 and August 17 of last year.

It confirmed that some protesters had used firearms in a few cases, but stressed that this did "not justify the grossly disproportionate and premeditated lethal attacks on overwhelmingly peaceful protesters."

HRW stated in its report that Egyptian authorities had failed to hold even a single low-level policeman or army officer accountable for any of the violence – let alone the officials responsible for ordering it – and continued to brutally suppress dissent.

"In light of the continued impunity, an international investigation and prosecutions of those implicated are needed," the watchdog said.

"States should further suspend military and law enforcement aid to Egypt until it adopts measures to end its serious rights violations," it added.

Egyptian government officials, for their part, claimed that the use of force by security personnel had come in response to violence – including the use of firearms – by protesters.

HRW, for its part, says it found that demonstrators had fired at police in at least a few instances, while hundreds of protesters threw rocks and Molotov cocktails at police once the dispersal operation began.

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