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President Husni Mubarak should urgently appoint an independent commission to investigate the use of force by police against Sudanese migrants demonstrating in a makeshift camp in Mohandiseen, Cairo, Human Rights Watch said today. At least 20 persons reportedly died.

“The high loss of life suggests the police acted with extreme brutality,” said Joe Stork, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Middle East division. “A police force acting responsibly would not have allowed such a tragedy to occur.”

According to media accounts, a police force of nearly 4,000 officers surrounded the encampment of Sudanese refugees and migrants, fired water cannons into the crowd, and then entered in force, beating persons indiscriminately. The Egyptian Interior Ministry attributed the fatalities to “a stampede,” and said in a statement that “the migrants’ leaders resorted to incitement and attacks against the police.” Other reports said some of the protesters fought police with sticks and bottles. The dead reportedly included a girl who appeared to be about three or four years old.

The Sudanese migrants have been protesting outside the offices of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees since September 29 seeking to be relocated to other countries. The evident planning of the police operation to clear the park in Mohandiseen suggested that the police acted on the basis of a high-level policy decision. Human Rights Watch called for an investigation that looked at all levels of the police command, including the role of Interior Minister Habib al-`Adli.

The use of force by state security forces is governed by international standards. The U.N. Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials states that "law enforcement officials may use force only when strictly necessary and to the extent required for the performance of their duty." The U.N. Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms provide that law enforcement officials “shall, as far as possible, apply non-violent means before resorting to the use of force” and may use force “only if other means remain ineffective.” When the use of force is unavoidable, law enforcement officials must “exercise restraint in such use and act in proportion to the seriousness of the offence.”

“The blood is still on the sidewalks, and already the government is blaming the Sudanese refugees and migrants,” said Stork. “Given Egypt’s terrible record of police brutality, an independent investigation is absolutely necessary to assess responsibility and punish those responsible.”

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