On August 14, 2013, Egyptian security forces launched a violent attack on a protest camp at Rabaa al-Adawiya Square in the capital, Cairo, killing hundreds of people.
A majority of those killed were followers of Mohamed Morsi, Egypt’s first democratically-elected president, who had been ousted on July 3 the same year in a military coup led by then-head of the armed forces and current President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.
Amnesty International says at least 900 protesters were killed by security forces in the attack, marking “a horrific turning point for human rights in Egypt.”
However, not a single member of the security forces has been prosecuted for the deaths of demonstrators.
The lack of prosecutions has “contributed to an environment in which the security forces feel empowered to violate human rights with absolute impunity,” said Amnesty’s North Africa Campaigns Director Najia Bounaim.
Sisi last month endorsed a controversial law granting immunity from prosecution to the senior military officers who may have had a role in the deadly crackdown that followed Morsi’s ouster.
Human Rights Watch also strongly criticized Egyptian authorities for trying to “insulate those responsible for these crimes from justice,” in an apparent reference to that law.
“The response from Egypt’s allies to the crimes at Rabaa and to the lack of justice for the victims has been complete silence,” Sarah Leah Whitson, the HRW’s Middle East director, said in a statement on Monday.
The US-based rights group said the protest crackdown was “the largest mass killings in Egypt’s modern history.” She put the death toll at 817.
“Without justice, Rabaa remains an open wound. Those responsible for the mass killings of protesters shouldn’t count on being able to shield themselves from accountability forever,” Whitson added.
Rights groups in Egypt and across the world say the Cairo government has also detained thousands of people, including 200 people who have been sentenced to death in mass trials.
An Egyptian criminal court in late July referred the cases of 75 people, including senior outlawed Muslim Brotherhood figures — who have already received death sentences over allegedly committing security-related offences during the 2013 unrest — to the country’s top religious authority for final consultation.
The Sisi administration has outlawed the Brotherhood organization, which is Egypt’s oldest opposition movement. The group operated under strict measures during the rule of longtime dictator Hosni Mubarak, who was himself removed from power following an uprising in 2011.
Morsi was sentenced to death on charges of corruption, escaping from prison, and inciting violence before the Court of Cassation overturned that ruling in November last year and ordered a retrial.