Questions and exclamations
The National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) has issued its report on the August 2013 dispersal of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) sit-ins in Rabaa al-Adawiya in the east of Cairo and the Nahda Square in Giza, west of Cairo.
The Islamist sit-ins were held to protest the overthrow of President Muhammad Mursi and his MB regime on 3 July in the wake of the 33 million strong public protest on 30 June. Mursi’s supporters retaliated with violent attacks against the Egyptian people and police, and staged sit-ins in Rabaa and Nahda. On 14 August, five weeks into the sit-ins, the Egyptian police finally dispersed them. President Adly Mansour ordered the NCHR to form a high-ranking fact finding commission to investigate the notoriously violent incident. Stories circulated in the media of disagreement among the commission members which, according to rumour, led to delays until the report was finally out some two weeks ago.
The NCHR press conference which unveiled the fact-finding report was marked by such disorientation that it warrants a fact-finding report in its own right and poses serious questions on the scale of disagreement among the commission members. The conference was delayed for several hours; rumours claim it was on account of verbal skirmishes and scuffles among the NCHR members. The coming days should reveal the truth about the matter since a vital fact report on the intricate period that followed the 30 June Revolution cannot be shrouded in vagueness or left to disconcerting speculation.
The report begins by detailing the violations which took place in the Rabaa and Nahda sit-ins. These are no secret, but chronicling them in the NCHR report paves the way towards bringing the perpetrators to justice. Testimonies of survivors of the torture which was notoriously practised inside the sit-in camps are cited, as are the details of the killings at the hands of the MB camp guards. On suspicion of any relation with the security apparatus, men entering the sit-in camp would be led to special places for questioning. Many were viciously tortured, and several lost their lives.
The report cites cases of ‘camp arrest’ of individuals who, once inside the camp, were banned from leaving to go home; they were used by the MB as human shields. It also brings up the issue of the exploitation of children in the political conflict; the report details how the MB took them from orphanages, put them in the front lines of demonstrations, and made them carry banners that read “Children against the coup”. In flagrant violation of all internationally-acknowledged children rights, the children were dressed in white [burial] shrouds and marched as they held banners of “Martyr on call”.
The issue of the MB trafficking arms and smuggling them into the sit-in camp comes up in the report. It constitutes conclusive evidence of the non-peacefulness of the campers who were always depicted in the western media as “peaceful and unarmed”. It also confirms charges of violence and terrorism against the sit-in administration and a number of civilians there. The report stresses that the arms smuggled into the camp represented a serious threat to peaceful protestors who were inside but neither knew of the presence of arms nor had any intention of violence.
Moving on to the dispersal event, the report details the violations that took place at the hands of the armed protestors and the security forces. It criticises the security forces for only allowing the peaceful protestors a few minutes to leave the camp before the dispersal. This came as a surprise to eyewitnesses and those who watched the dispersal live on TV. We all remember very clearly that security officials sent out distinct, repeated calls for all those inside Rabaa and Nahda to leave the sit-in camps peacefully. They spelt out the safe havens and secure paths to guarantee safe exit to all, in order to avoid or reduce bloodshed. Under the watchful eye of the media, the police never attacked the campers who decided to leave or put their lives at peril in any way. I imagine the discrepancy between what took place on the ground and what was cited in the report to be behind the rumours of division among the NCHR members.
The violations committed by the armed MB during the dispersal are reported in detail. These include the use of civilians as human shields by putting them directly in the line of fire. The report confirms that the shooting started at the hands of the armed MB inside the camp, and that the first victim to fall was a policeman. However, it ignores the fact that armed MB—some of whom were trained snipers—mounted the rooftops and balconies of surrounding buildings and opened fire on the police. The report condemns the police for firing back, claiming the action was excessively out of reasonable proportion with the event. Here I need to register my disagreement with the report; I don’t know of a response that could have been more legitimate or more in ‘reasonable proportion’ with being fired at by concealed snipers.
In the same peculiar vein, the report brushes over the scene of events during the dispersal, and fails to convey how the armed MB turned it into a horrendous killing ground. The authorities had mobilised, according to the report, some 300 main ambulance vehicles and another 100 as back up, but these were not able to access the scene of events. The report places the blame squarely on the intensity of the crossfire, in which one paramedic lost his life, and on the security forces.
For one who witnessed the Rabaa and Nahda sit-in dispersals first-hand, the NCHR report gives rise to many questions and countless exclamations. At several points in the report I caught myself wondering: Does the NCHR support human rights in the absolute sense, or does it only concern itself with terrorist rights?
16 March 2014
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