The Rab’a sit-in slaughter: 7 years without investigation or trial

Seven years have passed since the biggest massacre Egyptians have witnessed in their modern and contemporary history, which began with a political dispute and a power struggle and ended with a coup and carnage in the fields of Rab’a and al-Nahda.

More than 1,000 people’s lives have ended and their families and relatives continue to suffer the ravages of oppression and injustice. They swallowed the bitterness of humiliation and abuse.

Despite the brutality and cruelty of the dispersal scenes for the victims’ families, the absence of impunity and justice for seven years is painful and cruel on their hearts. When the victims relied on justice to recover their lost rights, they found themselves in the dock, facing the scourge of abuse and imprisonment. Although the massacre was broadcast live, no official has been prosecuted so far, despite the attempt by some opposition and human rights defenders to pursue the regime at the international level.

Abdel Fattah al-Sisi insisted on his inauguration in 2014, to confirm the legality of the crime. He claimed that “Egypt is fighting a war of existence (…) the state knew that this [terrorism] will happen after July 3 and she was ready for that.” A year later, he overthrew the so-called “transitional justice” ministry, which was created specifically to secure the rights of the oppressed and hold the corrupt accountable. This step is in addition to the rejection of the draft law submitted to implement “transitional justice,” provided by human rights activists before that. The government described it as “impossible.” Also, there appeared to be an insistence on sparing those involved in these crimes from being held accountable. Parliament approved, in 2018, the Law on the Treatment of Certain Army Commanders, which prohibits the investigation of any army personnel for an act committed while performing their duties or because of them.

The law specified the prohibition period between July 3, 2013, and June 8, 2014 (from Mosi’s removal until al-Sisi assumed the presidency), except with permission from the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which al-Sisi currently heads. In 2015, the International Law Firm (ITN), based in London, filed a lawsuit against the International Criminal Court. The lawsuit was on behalf of the Freedom and Justice Party, the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, against officials in the regime. The lawsuit was dismissed on “procedural” grounds. Human rights organisations have also resorted to the principle of universal jurisdiction. Universal jurisdiction allows the prosecution of human rights violators, regardless of the location of the crime or the nationality of the perpetrators or victims, to try to prosecute some of those involved. Still, these cases have also been unsuccessful until this moment.

The most recent of these attempts is the lawsuit filed by the human rights activist Mohammed Soltan in the United States against the prime minister during the massacre, Hazem al-Beblawy, but none of these attempts have succeeded so far. The unanswered questions remain: “Have the rights of the Rab’a victims been lost? Should the families of the Rab’a victims and supporters get on with their personal lives rather than this major issue? Did the regime’s suppression succeed in breaking the will of the advocates of freedom?”

The Europe-based human rights activist Yasser Selim said that there is international collusion with the military regime in Egypt, despite the evidence that hundreds have been killed. He referred to the law issued by al-Sisi to grant diplomatic protection to his officers abroad.

The leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, Qutb al-Arabi, says, “The judiciary does not operate in isolation from politics, even in developed countries, and this does not mean direct interference by the executive authority in the judiciary, but politics interferes in its own way.” He cites the example of what happened with the former army chief of staff, Lieutenant General Mahmoud Hegazy, when he was the head of an Egyptian military delegation to Britain in September 2015, even though he was one of the defendants whom the British court included to be tried. Hegazy escaped prosecution as the British government provided him with individual immunity that prevented him from being arrested, as we saw later when al-Sisi visited Britain.

At the time, the director of the Arab Foundation for the Support of Civil Society and Human Rights, Sherif Hilali, said, “The absence of international support was one of the main reasons for the failure of justice.” He added that the establishment of a particular international court requires a decision from the Security Council. A referral to the International Criminal Court requires a decision from the same council if it considers that what happened constitutes a commission of one of the crimes included in the court’s system. However, observers believe that a zero-sum battle is being played out between the regime and the Rab’a supporters and that both sides believe that his success is based on the annihilation of the other.

The seventh anniversary of Rab’a comes in light of international human rights organisations’ insistence to remember what happened that day. In its latest statement Human Rights Watch said that it has “repeatedly called for an independent international investigation into the Rab’a massacre.”