UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein said in a statement Tuesday he was “deeply disturbed” by the deaths of over 20 protesters on the fourth anniversary of the January 25 revolution. He called on authorities to end what he described as “excessive use of violence” by security forces.
“Hundreds of people have died during protests against successive governments since January 2011, and there has been very little in the way of accountability,” Hussein said. “The lack of justice for past excesses by security forces simply encourages them to continue on the same path, leading to more deaths and injuries, as we have seen in recent days.”
He also condemned the death of leftist activist Shaimaa al-Sabbagh, who was allegedly killed by security forces one day before the anniversary, during a march aimed at commemorating the memory of those killed in the 2011 uprising.
“All those who have been detained for protesting peacefully must be released,” the High Commissioner stressed. “The long-term stability of Egypt is only possible if fundamental human rights are respected. Otherwise people’s grievances will fester and feelings of injustice will grow, creating fertile ground for further social and political unrest. It is in the interests of all sides to engage in meaningful dialogue and to make efforts to find peaceful solutions to Egypt’s many problems.”
Clashes between security forces and protesters in nationwide demonstrations left 23 dead and 97 injured, including 19 police personnel. The Interior Ministry said more than 516 people were arrested nationwide, but rights lawyers complain that their whereabouts remain unknown.
In line with the narrative of the last two years, state media and government institutions were quick to point fingers at the Muslim Brotherhood for disturbing the peace and tainting the January 25 anniversary.
In a press conference Monday, Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim said that security forces had foiled the Brotherhood’s plans to mar the anniversary celebrations.
Brotherhood members fired the shots that claimed so many lives on Sunday, Ibrahim stated. He insisted that the security forces had received orders to deal with the situation cautiously and protect citizens.
Security forces do not carry weapons at peaceful protests, except for tear gas canisters, the minister added.
Ibrahim also expressed his gratitude to citizens who confronted “the terrorists” themselves and handed them over to the police.
Most of the casualties occurred in Cairo, specifically in the northern district of Matareya, where violent clashes took place. Other casualties were reported in Haram and Alexandria.
Days before the anniversary, the New-York based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said that scores of Egyptians died while in government custody in 2014, most of whom were detained in police stations in what was described as “life-threatening conditions”.
“Egypt’s prisons and police stations are bursting at the seams with opposition supporters rounded up by the authorities,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director. “People are being held in grossly overcrowded and inhumane conditions, and the mounting death toll is the wholly predictable consequence.”
In retaliation of Egypt’s worsening human rights record, EU said it won’t send a mission to monitor the country’s upcoming parliamentary elections, rebuking its human rights practices in a detailed report.