Documenting the Deaths from the Rab’a Massacre, International Criminal Law, and Egypt’s Future
I came across this 100-page report today documenting the names of many of the dead from the Rab’a Massacre and the circumstances of their death. I cannot comment on the details, but I think it is crucial that Egyptians face the grim details of what happened on August 14. By any objective measure, the Egyptian police and military committed “serious violations of common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions,” i.e., they committed war crimes. The International Committee of the Red Cross notes the following in its definitions of war crimes:
(iii) Serious violations of common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions:
In the case of an armed conflict not of an international character, any of the following acts committed against persons taking no active part in the hostilities, including members of armed forces who have laid down their arms and those placed hors de combat by sickness, wounds, detention or any other cause:
• violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture;
• committing outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment;
. . .
Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions has crystallized into customary international law, and the breach of one or more of its provisions has been recognized as amounting to a war crime in the Statutes of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, of the Special Court for Sierra Leone and of the International Criminal Court, as well as by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. Its inclusion in the Statute of the International Criminal Court was largely uncontroversial. It should be pointed out that, although some of the wording is not the same as the equivalent crimes in the grave breaches applicable to international armed conflicts, there is no difference in practice as far as the elements of these crimes is concerned. This is borne out by the Elements of Crimes for the International Criminal Court and by the case-law of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.
Other serious violations of international humanitarian law committed during a non-international armed conflict:
• making . . . individual civilians, not taking a direct part in hostilities, the object of attack;” (emphasis added)
Many Egyptians are bristling at what they take to be unwarranted foreign interference in Egyptian domestic affairs. Unfortunately, when the Egyptian security services, backed by the military and the civilian interim government, decided to use overwhelming force to clear out the protestors at Raba’a, killing, at a minimum, hundreds, and probably no less than a thousand Egyptians who were not actively involved in any hostilities (even accepting the rhetoric of the Egyptian government that it is fighting a “war against terrorism”), the Egyptian government itself made its conduct an international issue: violations of the Geneva Conventions are, by definition, an international affair.
Even aside from the implications for Egypt under international law for its behavior on August 14, the fact that the Egyptian government deliberately chose to kill hundreds of unarmed civilians is hardly conducive to promoting civil peace. It’s not an event that people are likely to forgive and forget. In fact, unless forcefully denounced, it could augur violence on an even wider scale, especially in light of the fact that it has not broken the will of those Egyptians who refuse to recognize the effects of the coup.
For these reasons, it is crucial we look closely at the claims highlighted in this report, and hopefully, others also to be prepared or being prepared, in the near future. August 14 is not a day that can simply be forgotten in the name of turning the page, and focusing on the future. There will be no future without a detailed accounting.