A new report has alleged that the Egyptian security forces' killings of at least 1,000 protesters at the Rabaa al-Adawiya Square sit-in last year in Cairo "most likely amount to crimes against humanity".
The killings were "part of a policy to use lethal force against largely unarmed protesters on political grounds," HRW found, and resulted in "one of the world's largest killings of demonstrators in a single day in recent history".
HRW said that over a dozen senior Egyptian leaders should be investigated for their parts in the protesters' deaths,
including Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim and current President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who was defence minister at the time.
"This wasn’t merely a case of excessive force or poor training. 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," said Kenneth Roth, HRW’s executive director, in a statement.
denied entry into Egypt on Monday, along with another senior staff member, after being held at Cairo's international airport for 12 hours. They were on their way to Egypt to release the report.
Badr Abdel Atty, the Egyptian ministry of foreign affairs spokesperson, told Al Jazeera on Monday that the government would not comment on the report until it was officially released.
Omar Shafik, a fellow at HRW, told Al Jazeera that the group sent the full text of the report to several Egyptian ministries ahead of publication, but that the government did not respond to their requests for comment. "We didn’t receive responses to any of our queries," Shafik said.
statement after the killings, however, Egypt's state information service (SIS) said that efforts to peacefully disperse the rally were "rejected by leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood".
"The Ministry of Interior used loudspeakers, appealed to those who were in the two sit-ins to exit, not to use women, elders and children as a human shield, they were allowed to leave and provided with safe exit passages that had been already declared," the SIS said.
Tens of thousands of Egyptians began
a sit-in near the Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque, in Cairo’s Nasr City district, following the military's removal of President Mohamed Morsi on July 3 last year after major protests against his rule.
The dispersal of another sit-in, at al-Nahda Square in Giza, reportedly killed at least 87 protesters.
While initial reports on the death count at Rabaa on August 14 varied, the HRW report found that at least 1,000 protesters were likely killed during the eviction: the group confirmed
817 deaths at the Rabaa sit-in, but found reasonable evidence that an additional 246 people were also killed.
"It was raining bullets. I smelled the gas and immediately saw people being hit and falling down around me. I have no idea how many people were hit. We didn’t hear any warnings, nothing. It was like hell," a protester later told HRW.
But based on interviews with more than 200 witnesses, the HRW report stated that only a few protesters were armed at Rabaa; they fired on security forces in "at least a few instances", and threw rocks and Molotov cocktails only after the break-up of the protest began.
HRW said that Egyptian security forces, meanwhile, fired on makeshift medical facilities, and "positioned snipers to target whoever sought to enter or exit" the Rabaa hospital.
The New York-based group said it would ask the United Nations Human Rights Council to establish an international commission of inquiry.
It has also called on foreign governments to cut military assistance to Egypt, "in light of the ongoing abuses and severe political repression... and the government's failure to investigate, much less prosecute those implicated in, the mass killings of protesters".
HRW: Egypt’s 2013 Rabaa massacre possible crime against humanity
The killing of hundreds of Egyptian demonstrators at two protest camps last year was systematic, ordered by top officials and probably amounts to crimes against humanity, Human Rights Watch said on Tuesday, calling for a UN inquiry.
In a 188-page report based on a year-long investigation, the New York-based group urged the United Nations to look into six incidents involving killings by security forces of supporters of elected Islamist President Mohammed Mursi, who was overthrown by the army on July 3, 2013, following several days of protests.
Hundreds of supporters of Mursi's Muslim Brotherhood have been killed and thousands arrested since he was ousted, with the largest number of deaths taking place during the storming of two protest camps by security forces on August 14, 2013.
The report said 817 protesters were killed during the clearing of the Brotherhood sit-in at Cairo's Rabaa al-Adawiya and compared it to the 1989 massacre of protesters around China's Tiananmen Square.
"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 said in a statement marking the release of the report.
"This wasn't merely a case of excessive force or poor training. 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."
A government official contacted by Reuters declined to comment until the report was published. Egyptian officials, who deem the Brotherhood a terrorist group, have said some protesters were armed and fired at police and soldiers.
Before the dispersals, officials including then-army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who is now president, had called for the sit-ins to be cleared, citing concerns over traffic, public disturbance and possible violence.
The Interior Ministry said 62 security officers died in violence across Egypt on August 14. About 275 police have been killed in attacks over the past year, it said.
HRW acknowledged that protesters threw rocks and petrol bombs at security forces, while a few opened fire, but said this failed to justify the level of force deployed by the state.
"Given the widespread and systematic nature of these killings, and the evidence suggesting that they were part of a policy to use lethal force against largely unarmed protesters on political grounds, these killings most likely amount to crimes against humanity," the report said.
It urged governments to suspend military aid to Cairo until it takes steps to end serious rights violations, potentially turning up the pressure on Western allies who have voiced concern about Sisi's democratic credentials but continue to provide military and other support to Cairo.
The report called on the UN Human Rights Council to establish an international commission of inquiry to investigate "the mass killings of demonstrators since June 30, 2013".
"Criminal charges should also be brought against those implicated in these acts, including in courts that apply the principle of universal jurisdiction," it said.
The report calls Sisi a "principal architect" of the violence, sitting at the top of the army's chain of command.
The report also named Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim, saying his remarks on television two weeks after the dispersal show that instead of using force as a last resort, officials had estimated losing "10 percent of the people."
An Interior Ministry statement about the events, published on Saturday, said security forces only launched the crackdown after efforts to persuade protesters to leave peacefully failed. It said security forces issued a final warning to demonstrators before the assault and established "safe exits" for those who wanted to leave once police and soldiers moved in.
Based on interviews with 122 witnesses, including residents unsympathetic to the protesters, and a review of video footage, HRW concluded security forces left no safe exit for most of the 12-hour assault and at times fired on those seeking to escape.