Saturday, February 28, 2015

Egyptian-led airstrikes in Libya kill 7 civilians, injure at least 20 others


Seven Dead, Dozens Injured; Libya and Egypt Need to Investigate

February 24, 2015

At least seven civilians, including three children, died in the joint Egyptian/Libyan airstrikes on the eastern city of Derna on February 16, 2015. Libya and Egypt should conduct speedy and transparent investigations into the deaths.

Indiscriminate attacks that cannot or do not distinguish between military targets and civilians or civilian infrastructure violate the laws of war. Serious violations of the laws of war, carried out with criminal intent, may be war crimes.

Egypt said on February 16 that it had carried out air strikes targeting extremist militants in Derna. This followed the mass killing of 21 Coptic Christians, including 20 Egyptians on February 15 by militants who pledged allegiance to the extremist group Islamic State (also known as ISIS).

Libya’s army chief of staff issued a statement confirming its coordination with Egypt in conducting the Derna air strikes. Forces loyal to the internationally recognized government, based out of eastern Libya, are engaged in an armed conflict with militant groups, including groups that pledged allegiance to ISIS, in the eastern region.

“Egypt and Libya say they are fighting extremists affiliated with ISIS, but that doesn’t give them a free hand to kill civilians,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East and North Africa director. “All parties to the conflicts in Libya need to do their utmost to spare civilians and should immediately investigate any civilian casualties.”

Human Rights Watch documented seven civilian deaths that appear to be a result of the airstrikes on Derna, and interviewed families of six of the victims by phone, all killed in their homes in the eastern city’s Al-Shiha neighborhood.

The dead included a mother, Rabiha al-Mansouri, and three of her four children, Afraa, Zakaria, and Huthaifa al-Karshoufi, who died when a missile hit their home. Others were Osama al-Shteiwi, a student who was watching from the roof of his home, who was hit by shrapnel; Attia Bousheiba al-Shaari, who died after the front of his house collapsed on him; and Hanan Faraj al-Drissi, who was on the roof of her home when a missile struck the street in front.

Residents told Human Rights Watch that the air strikes wounded at least 20 other civilians, some of whom were in intensive care at al-Hreish hospital.

Family members interviewed by Human Rights Watch said military plane over-flights and air strikes started at about 5 a.m., and many residents went onto their rooftops to observe them. All of the interviewees said that two missiles struck their neighborhood between 7 and 7:30 a.m. and that none of the homes that were hit were being used to store weapons or ammunition by local militiamen.

The head of Libya’s air force, which operates under the authority of Libya’s internationally recognized government based in eastern Libya, said in an interview that his forces had carried out “air strikes on houses in the city of Derna, which were the headquarters for ground launchers and weapons for the organization Daesh [ISIS],” and that the air strikes killed between 40 and 50 militants. He made no reference to civilian casualties.

Attacks targeting civilians or civilian property, and attacks that do not or cannot discriminate between civilians and fighters, are prohibited under the international laws governing the conduct of armed conflicts.

Attacks that are intended to punish civilians, including family members of a commander or fighter from an opposing faction, constitute collective punishment, which is also unlawful. Attacks that cause extensive and disproportionate destruction of property when carried out unlawfully and wantonly are also prohibited, Human Rights Watch said.

All parties to the conflicts in Libya, which now includes Egypt, are required to abide by the laws of war, which require them to take all feasible steps to protect civilians. Attacking parties are required by international law to take into account the risk to civilians that an attack would pose even if opposing forces are present and have situated military targets within or near populated areas.

Certain serious violations of the laws of war, when committed with criminal intent, are war crimes. Those who commit, order, assist, or have command responsibility for war crimes are subject to prosecution by domestic courts or the International Criminal Court (ICC), which has jurisdiction over war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide committed in Libya since February 15, 2011, under United Nations Security Council Resolution 1970.

ICC investigations in Libya remain limited to cases from 2011 involving officials of the former Gaddafi government. Despite ongoing serious crimes that may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity in Libya, the prosecutor of the ICC has not brought any additional cases and has not announced any new investigations. The prosecutor should examine reports of serious ongoing crimes in Libya, with a view to determining whether further investigations are warranted.

The UN Human Rights Council should establish an investigative mechanism or appoint a special rapporteur on Libya to investigate all serious and widespread human rights violations in Libya, which may constitute possible war crimes and crimes against humanity, with the view to ensuring that those responsible for serious crimes are held accountable.

In 2014 the UN Security Council adopted resolution 2174, which threatens those responsible for serious crimes with sanctions, including travel bans and asset freezes, but the Security Council has yet to implement it effectively. The resolution also reiterated that individuals and groups were bound by an existing arms embargo, as stipulated in Security Council Resolution 1970 (2011.)

“Unless the Security Council acts quickly and decisively to hold those responsible for civilian deaths and injuries accountable and to reinforce the existing arms embargo, there is a risk that the situation will deteriorate further and result in many more civilian deaths,” Whitson said.


Several armed groups in eastern Libya publicly pledged allegiance to ISIS in November 2014, declared that they had established “Barqa Province,” and conducted public extrajudicial executions and floggings.

At least two other armed groups have claimed affiliation to ISIS in what they refer to as the Tripoli and Fezzan Provinces, respectively western Libya – including the capital, and southern Libya. These armed groups have claimed responsibility for several attacks, including the apparent mass killing of 21 Christian Copts near Sirte, and a January 27, 2015 attack on a luxury hotel in Tripoli that killed nine civilians.

On February 20, armed groups that claim to be affiliated to ISIS committed twin suicide attacks in the eastern town of al-Gubba, 40 kilometers from Derna, killing at least 44 people and injuring dozens more. A statement released by the “Barqa Province of IS” said the attacks were in retaliation for the Derna airstrikes.

The current armed conflicts, which began in May 2014 in eastern Libya and spread to the west two months later, has left the country with two rival governments: an internationally recognized government based in al-Bayda in the east, and a rival, self-proclaimed government in Tripoli that controls much of western Libya.

Both claim to be the legitimate government of all of Libya, but neither has been able to exert control nationally. Meanwhile, Libya’s institutions, particularly its judiciary, are at near-collapse, with courts and prosecutors in most cities no longer functioning because of direct targeting of judges and prosecutors by militants, and general insecurity.

Al-Karshoufi Family

Human Rights Watch spoke by phone with two members of the al-Kharshoufi family on February 18 and February 20, 2015. They said a rocket struck the family home on the morning of February 16, immediately killing Rabiha al-Mansouri and three of her four children – ages 2, 6, and 7. Al-Mansouri’s husband and their 8-year-old son survived. One relative told Human Rights Watch: “The house was nearly destroyed after one of the missiles landed straight on it at around 7 a.m. It’s a big four-story family home, and the ceiling, which is very heavy, landed where the mother and her four children were staying.”

Another relative told Human Rights Watch that the bombing almost totally destroyed 16 other houses in the same neighborhood and caused some damage to another 32 homes.

Al-Shteiwi Family

A brother of Osama al-Shteiwi, who spoke to Human Rights Watch by phone on February 20, said he saw Osama killed instantly when shrapnel hit his head as he was on the roof of their home trying to film the air strikes, which had begun at about 5a.m. He said Osama had returned to Libya from Turkey, where he was an engineering student, on February 2, when his scholarship funds ran out.

“My brother and I had been up since the early morning when we first heard over-flights of military airplanes and air strikes in the distance,” the brother said. “Just seconds before the missiles landed on our house, I shouted to my brother to come back indoors, but it was too late. Shrapnel hit him on the head and severed it from his body. He died instantly.”

Osama’s brother said he had not heard any anti-aircraft weapons fired from their neighborhood although “there was a lot of shooting that day, from all over the city,” including small arms fire from their neighborhood.

Human Rights Watch saw a copy of Osama’s burial certificate, which stated the cause of death and listed the injuries he had sustained.

Al-Shaari Family

The son of Attia Bousheiba al-Shaari, who was at the family home the day of the air strike, told Human Rights Watch in a call on February 20 that his father was in front of their house to warm up the car sometime between 7 and 7:30 a.m., waiting for one of his daughters, when a missile struck in front of the home.

“We had been hearing air strikes since the early morning in the city and we heard them coming closer, but our home is in a residential area, we never expected anything like this to happen,” the son said.

“I cannot begin to describe what it felt like when the missile struck. I ran out immediately after and saw that the front of our home had just fallen off. I then saw that my father was lying on the ground next to his car. He had injuries on his face and I specifically remember blood running out of his ear. I brought him to the hospital, but it was too late, he’d died immediately.”

The son said that he had not heard any shooting from their street before the air strike: “Our neighborhood is neutral. I do not know of anyone who stores weapons or ammunition. I find it very strange that our street was targeted specifically.”

Human Rights Watch was unable to contact family members of the other victim, Hanan al-Drissi, but spoke by phone to three of her neighbors, who said she died instantly when a rocket hit her home. One neighbor said that al-Drissi was on the roof at the time, and that one of her sisters, also at the house, was critically injured.

Armed Islamist group beheads 21 Egyptian Christians in video

Islamic State: Egyptian Christians held in Libya 'killed'


A video has emerged apparently showing the beheadings of 21 Egyptian Christians who had been kidnapped by Islamic State (IS) militants in Libya.

The footage shows a group wearing orange overalls being forced to the ground and then decapitated.
President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has said Egypt reserves the right to respond in any way it sees fit.

The five-minute video shows hostages in orange jumpsuits being marched along a beach, each accompanied by a masked militant. The men are made to kneel before they are simultaneously beheaded.

Most were from a poor village in Upper Egypt where some relatives fainted on hearing the news. A caption accompanying the video made it clear the hostages were targeted because of their faith.

It referred to the victims as "people of the cross, followers of the hostile Egyptian church."

There's speculation here that Egypt may now consider airstrikes across the border. President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has said in the past that militants in Libya are a danger not just to Egypt, but also to the Middle East

IS militants claim to have carried out several attacks in Libya, which is in effect without a government.

However, with many armed groups operating in Libya, it is not clear how much power IS actually wields.


The kidnapped Egyptian workers, all Coptic Christians, were seized in December and January from the coastal town of Sirte in eastern Libya, now under the control of Islamist groups.

The video of the beheadings was posted online by Libyan jihadists who pledge loyalty to IS. A caption made it clear the men were targeted because of their faith.

"Egypt and the whole world are in a fierce battle with extremist groups carrying extremist ideology and sharing the same goals," President Sisi said.

The beheadings were described as "barbaric" by al-Azhar, the highly regarded theological institution which is based in Egypt.

The Coptic church said it was "confident" Egypt would exact retribution. Egypt has declared seven days of national mourning.

Libya has been in turmoil since 2011 and the overthrow of its then-leader, Col Muammar Gaddafi.
Since then, numerous other militia groups have battled for control.

The head of the US Defense Intelligence Agency warned last month that IS was assembling "a growing international footprint that includes ungoverned and under-governed areas", including Libya.

Libya has two rival governments, one based in Tripoli, the other in Tobruk. Meanwhile, the eastern city of Benghazi, headquarters of the 2011 revolution, is largely in the hands of Islamist fighters, some with links to al-Qaeda.

On Sunday, Italy closed its embassy in Tripoli. Italy, the former colonial power, lies less than 500 miles (750km) from Libya at the shortest sea crossing point.

Italian Premier Matteo Renzi has been calling for the UN to intervene in Libya. Thousands of migrants use the Libyan coast as a starting point to flee the violence and attempt to reach the EU.
UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond condemned the beheadings.

"Such barbaric acts strengthen our determination to work with our partners to counter the expanding terrorist threat to Libya and the region," he said.

On Sunday, President Sisi banned all travel to Libya by Egyptian citizens.

Despite the turmoil in Libya, thousands of Egyptians go to the country looking for work.

There had been demonstrations in Egypt calling on the government to do more to secure the release of those held.

*Photo-still from video, courtesy of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC)

Military court sentences 21 students to 15 years imprisonment

Mada Masr

Military court sentences 21 student protesters to 15 years in prison

Wednesday February 11, 2015 

On Wednesday, the North Cairo Military Court sentenced 21 students to 15 years imprisonment each.

Ten of these students were present in court during the sentencing, while another 11 were sentenced in absentia.

These 21 students of Sadat City University had stood trial on charges of protesting without a permit and vandalizing public property on campus.

The office of the Prosecutor General referred these students to a military tribunal in light of the presidential decree which stipulates that "attacks against public institutions, facilities and public properties fall under the jurisdiction of the military judiciary."

The events in question date back to October, prior to Presidential Decree 136/2014 which was issued on October 27, when security forces arrested ten students on the aforementioned charges, and filed these same charges against another 11 students.

Prosecutors in the Nile Delta city of Tanta, who had initially filed criminal charges against these 21 students, moved to refer them to a military tribunal following the issuing of Presidential Decree 136/2014.

One of the lawyers for these students, Mohamed Eissa, told Mada Masr that the referral of his clients to a military trial "was fraught with problems from the very beginning, as the arrests took place prior to the issuing of this decree which grants military courts jurisdiction over their case."

Subsequently, the lawyer pointed out that the referral of these students to a military trial violates the principle of non-retroactivity of legislation, especially when such legislation violates a defendant's rights.

According to Eissa, several of the lawyers for these 21 students sought to file a legal appeal citing the military court's lack of jurisdiction in this case, due to the fact that the law was issued after the students were arrested and charged.

However, other defense lawyers and even family members agreed to have these students stand trial before the military court, as they were under the impression that military courts mete out justice more thoroughly than civilian courts.

The differences amongst the defense team led Eissa and other lawyers to take another legal path.

Eissa's camp filed a legal appeal before the State Council Court against Presidential Decree 136/2014, and specifically against the referral of the 21 students to a military court.

The State Council Court has accepted the lawyers' motion, and has set February 24 as the date for the preliminary session through which to examine this legal appeal as well as assessing the constitutionality of this presidential decree.

Eissa concluded: "The law has been amended so as to allow appeals against verdicts issued by first degree military courts. However, upon looking into the appeals of the military judiciary we find that all previous verdicts issued by military courts have subsequently been upheld."

Police tactics result in stampede killing 22 football Ultras

Twenty-two people killed outside Cairo soccer stadium

Sun Feb 8, 2015

CAIRO (Reuters) - Twenty-two people were killed outside an Egyptian soccer stadium on Sunday when security forces barred fans from entering, the public prosecutor's office said.

Most of the dead were suffocated when the crowd stampeded after police used tear gas to clear the fans trying to force their way into a league match between two Cairo clubs, Zamalek and Enppi, doctors and witnesses said.

A health ministry spokesman told Reuters by phone the final toll was 19 dead and 20 injured. The reason for the discrepancy in numbers between the health ministry and the public prosecutor's office was not immediately clear.

Soccer matches are often a flashpoint for violence in Egypt where 72 fans were killed at a match in Port Said in February 2012. Since then Egypt has curbed the number of people allowed to attend, and supporters have often tried to storm stadiums they are banned from entering.

Outside the Cairo hospital treating the injured, scores of youths wearing Zamalek T-shirts appeared shocked as families arrived to see if their relatives were safe.

One mother cried and shouted when she found the name of her son on a list of the dead posted by hospital staff.

"I'd told him: leave soccer matches," she said.

Relations between security forces and fan groups known as Ultras have been tense since the 2011 popular uprising that ended the rule of autocrat Hosni Mubarak, in which the Ultras played a key role.

"Huge numbers of Zamalek club fans came to Air Defense Stadium to attend the match ... and tried to storm the stadium gates by force, which prompted the troops to prevent them from continuing the assault," the interior ministry said.

The public prosecution ordered the arrest of the leaders of the Zamalek supporters group, Ultras White Knights, after Sunday's incident, official media reported.

On their Facebook page, the Ultras White Knights described the 22 dead as "martyrs" and accused security forces of a "massacre."

Despite the violence, the match went ahead and ended with a 1-1 draw.

The Egyptian Football Federation said it had reversed an earlier decision to allow fans to return to the stadium by the start of the second half.

 Shortly after the incident, the Cabinet said in a statement that the national league championship would be postponed indefinitely.

*Photo of burning police pickup truck courtesy of Youm 7 Newspaper & photo of angry football fans courtesy of Reuters, respectively. 
 **Additional reporting by Mostafa Hashem, Ali Abdelati and Mohamed Abdellah; Editing by Robin Pomeroy and Eric Walsh

Notorious judge sentences another 230 protesters to life imprisonment

Associated Press

Leading Egypt Activist Among 230 Sentenced to Life

Wednesday - February 4, 2015


CAIRO — An Egyptian court sentenced 230 people, including one of the leading activists behind the country's 2011 uprising, to life in prison after convicting them Wednesday of taking part in clashes between protesters and security forces later that year.

All were tried in absentia except Ahmed Douma, a secular activist who is already serving a three-year-sentence for breaking a draconian law regulating protests. Thirty other people, all minors, were sentenced to 10 years in prison.

The ruling, which can be appealed, is the heaviest sentence yet against the secular activists who spearheaded the mass protests four years ago that forced longtime autocratic President Hosni Mubarak to step down.

In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the U.S. was "deeply troubled" by the mass life sentences, adding that they "run counter to the most basic democratic principles and due process under the law."

"It simply seems impossible that a fair review of evidence and testimony could be achieved under these circumstances," Psaki told reporters.

After hearing the verdict in the Cairo court, Douma clapped his hands in mock applause, bringing an angry riposte from Judge Mohammed Nagi Shehata.

"Are we in Tahrir Square here or what? You are clapping to me? Show respect in the session... Don't say anything else or I'll give you three more years," Shehata said.

"I respect myself," replied Douma, who is also serving a three-year sentence issued by the same judge for contempt of court.

The judge has courted controversy in the past by sentencing three Al-Jazeera journalists to at least seven years in prison last year and issuing a mass death sentence Monday in connection to the killing of more than a dozen policemen in 2013.

"The harshness of the verdict is not a surprise to us, as the judge is driven by personal and political motives that shed light on the degree of impartiality of the Egyptian judiciary," said Douma's lawyer Mohammed Abdel-Aziz. "All talk about the independence of the judiciary is baseless."

Abdel-Aziz and the rest of Douma's defense team boycotted sessions after accusing Shehata of "terrorizing" them and not responding to any of their demands.

The case is connected to Cairo clashes in December 2011, during which a fire gutted parts of a library housing rare manuscripts and books.

Douma and the others were fined a total of $2.2 million over buildings that were damaged during the protests, including parliament and other government buildings.

The nearly weeklong clashes that left some 40 people dead erupted after young activists took to the streets to protest the post-Mubarak political transition overseen by the military. The clashes caught world attention when riot police were filmed beating, stripping and kicking female demonstrators in Tahrir Square.

The violence also laid bare the deep divisions between secular and Islamist activists, who had briefly united to topple Mubarak.

The schism eventually paved the way for the military's return to power amid massive protests against Islamist President Mohammed Morsi in 2013. After the military toppled Morsi, authorities launched a wide-ranging crackdown on dissent, killing hundreds of people in street clashes and jailing thousands, mainly Islamists but also some of the leading secular activists from 2011.

Egypt's courts are now swamped with the trials of thousands of protesters and government opponents. Judges have approved harsh and wide-ranging sentences against critics of the government while overturning earlier verdicts against Mubarak, his sons and senior security officials over the killing of protesters and corruption.

Judge Shehata gained international notoriety for sentencing three Al-Jazeera English journalists to prison after convicting them in June on charges linked to aiding the Muslim Brotherhood, which the government declared a terrorist organization following Morsi's ouster. One of the three, who has Australian citizenship, was released and deported by presidential order on Sunday.

Earlier this week, Shehata sentenced 183 alleged Morsi supporters to death over the killing of 15 police in a grisly attack on a station in 2013, which unfolded as security forces violently cleared Cairo protest camps, killing hundreds of Islamist demonstrators.

Last year, Egypt's powerful lawyers union criticized Shehata for "disparaging" and "terrorizing" Douma's defense team after the judge referred five of the team's six lawyers to prosecutors for investigation.

Shehata accused them on various occasions of disrespecting him. The defense team has subsequently withdrawn from the case and the union backed their decision, instructing all members to boycott Shehata's court.

"The judge has a clear political stance where he perceives the youth who led the uprising as a bunch of crooks and police as victims," said Abdel-Aziz.

*Photo of (dog-faced, Assholic, counter-revolutionary) Judge Nagy Shehata courtesy of the Associated Press (AP)

Jailed Al-Jazeera staff member gives up Egyptian citizenship, awaits retrial

Mada Masr
Mohamed Fahmy's release from prison 'imminent,' says Canadian FM

Monday Feb. 2, 2015

Egyptian-Canadian journalist Mohamed Fahmy’s release from prison is “imminent,” Canada's Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird told the Canadian press on Monday, according to the Agence France Presse.

Baird’s spokesperson confirmed that Fahmy would soon go free, but did not provide further details.
The Canadian CTV news channel reported that Fahmy has relinquished his Egyptian nationality in order to meet the requirements for deportation. Egyptian law does not allow the deportation of dual nationals.

Fahmy would be able to reenter Egypt in the future and reapply for Egyptian citizenship at a later time, according to CTV. He had previously maintained that he would refuse to give up his Egyptian passport, but finally conceded when authorities told him this was his only way out, CTV reported.

The Interior Ministry released on Tuesday an image of Fahmy's agreement to renounce citizenship, dated January 25, 2014. 

Australian correspondent Peter Greste — who was imprisoned alongside Fahmy on the same charges stemming from their work with the Qatar-based satellite channel Al Jazeera English — was released from prison and deported to Australia on Sunday.

Canadian diplomats reportedly met with Egyptian officials to push for Fahmy’s deportation the following day.

Greste’s deportation was in accordance with Law 140 (2014), following approval from the Cabinet and the prosecutor general. The law allows the deportation of foreigners at any point during their prosecution or detention at the request of their home countries.

Fahmy’s family already submitted an application for his deportation after President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi passed the decree last November.

Fahmy and Greste were arrested with Egyptian producer Baher Mohamed on December 29, 2013, while reporting on the violent aftermath of former President Mohamed Morsi’s ouster for Al Jazeera English. They were charged with aiding a terrorist organization and spreading false news with the aim of destabilizing the country.

The three men were convicted of all charges in June and sentenced to seven years in maximum-security prison. Mohamed was sentenced to an additional three years on accusations of possessing a bullet at the time of his arrest.

In the midst of international outcry against the verdict, Sisi insisted that the Egyptian judiciary is an independent entity, and he would not interfere in its rulings. However, he later gave statements acknowledging that “the sentencing of several journalists had a very negative effect, and we had nothing to do with it.”

He added that he wished the journalists had been deported after their arrest, rather than put on trial.

On January 1, the Court of Cassation accepted the defendants’ appeal and ordered a retrial for the three men. With Greste deported and Fahmy allegedly on the verge of returning to Canada, Mohamed alone will remain behind bars in Cairo’s Tora Prison as he awaits retrial.