HRW slams Egypt accusations following Rabaa report

By Nada Rashwan, Tuesday, August 12, 2014

A representative of Human Rights Watch has dismissed accusations of bias by the Egyptian government following

A representative of Human Rights Watch has dismissed accusations of bias by the Egyptian government following

CAIRO – A representative of Human Rights Watch (HRW) has dismissed accusations of bias by the Egyptian government following the release of a comprehensive report condemning what it described as the "massacre" of hundreds of supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi at a protest encampment last summer in Cairo's Rabaa al-Adawiya Square.

"The Egyptian government uses the same claim every time it doesn't agree with the content of a report," Omar Shakir, a HRW researcher who took part in drafting the report over the past year, told Anadolu Agency by phone from Beirut on Tuesday.

"Basically, not agreeing with the Egyptian government means you're biased," Shakir added.

Earlier on Tuesday, the Egyptian government rejected what it described as a "biased" report by the New York-based rights group, which was unveiled Tuesday at a Beirut press conference one day after Egyptian authorities had banned a HRW team from entering Egypt.

In its report, the prominent rights group accused Egyptian security forces of carrying out a "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.

The government, for Its part, accused HRW of depending on anonymous witnesses whose accounts cannot be trusted and of "willfully ignoring" investigation into the killing of security forces in Rabaa and in other militant attacks over the past year.

"We had to protect our witnesses because the government summarily labeled [Morsi's] Muslim Brotherhood group a terrorist organization and brutally cracked down on any that are pros to it," Shakir said.

He asserted that HRW researchers wrote to the interior ministry three times over the past year asking for details on the killing of security personnel during the dispersal, but received no response.

"If we had received that information it would have helped us investigate a deeper level of detail," Shakir said.

The report, titled "all according to plan," 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, with Rabaa being the largest.

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."

"Our report has an entire section on abuses by some opponents but those abuses pale in comparison to state-sanctioned slaughter," Shakir said.

-Restrictions-

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.

It further said it has identified more than a dozen of the most senior leaders in the Egyptian chain of command who should be investigated for their roles in the killings, including President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, who led the army last year to depose elected Morsi.

The government, however, accused HRW of harboring "subjective tendencies" towards Egyptian authorities.

"It's easier to dismiss the messenger than deal with the allegations," Shakir said.

HRW closed its office in Cairo several months ago, citing "extensive restrictions on civil society organizations" by Egypt's military-backed government since Morsi's ouster.

Shakir asserted that HRW has been trying to obtain official license to operate in Egypt for the past several years but its request "has been kept in the gray" by authorities.

The government said on Tuesday that interviews with witnesses conducted by HRW in Egypt for the report without possessing a legal permit to work in the country comprises a "blatant violation of international law's principle of state sovereignty."

Shakir, for his part, derided the government's claim. "I have never heard of an international legal principle that says you can't go to a country and do work," Shakir said.

"I wish the government showed more concern over international legal principle of freedom of association and assembly," he added.

Morsi, Egypt's first freely elected president, was removed from office by the army – and subsequently imprisoned – in July of last year following massive opposition protests against his one year in power. 

Al-Sisi, widely seen as the chief orchestrator of Morsi's ouster, was announced the winner of Egypt's presidential election conducted in May.

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