Lack of Redress for Women Who Underwent Forced "Virginity Tests" Challenged by Egyptian and International NGOs

Monday 24 September 2012

The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) and INTERIGHTS have initiated a case against Egypt following its failure to address violations by army personnel against female detainees, in what has come to be known as the “virginity tests” incident. The case, brought to the African Commission, alleges violations of the African Charter, to which Egypt is a signatory. In March 2011, Samira Ibrahim and Rasha Abdel-Rahman suffered abuses by military personnel while they were being detained at a military prison. Together with 15 other female detainees Ibrahim and Abdel-Rahman, were subjected to a forced genital examination to determine their virginity. Members of the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) had countered that “virginity tests” were aimed at protecting soldiers from allegations of rape.

In March 2012, a military court found the doctor accused of performing the forced genital examinations innocent of all charges. In the wake of this decision, Samira and Rasha, in addition to Jihane Mahmoud, one of the seventeen female detainees who were subjected to forced genital examinations, and one of the individuals who are expected to be a main witness in the case before the Commission, decided to bring the case before regional human rights mechanisms. EIPR Legal Adviser to the North African Litigation Initiative, Bahaa Ezzelarab, said: “Military courts lack the necessary independence to provide effective redress in cases like this. As a result, military personnel continue to be unaccountable for violations against civilians.”In their letter to the Commission, EIPR and INTERIGHTS have asked it to advocate that Egypt prosecutes all perpetrators involved in this incident in civilian courts. The NGOs will ask the Commission to recommend reforms to Egypt’s Code of Military Justice, so that incidents where the military are alleged to have abused civilians will be heard in a civilian court.

The Commission, which sits twice a year, is expected to consider the NGOs’ request to hear the case during its upcoming session in October in Côte d’Ivoire. Should the Commission agree to examine the case; the NGOs will submit further testimony and arguments. On behalf of the women, the NGOs will seek recognition that the forced genital examinations took place, and an undertaking that such examinations will not be repeated, as well as improved procedures in military prisons to ensure that those detained do not suffer violations of privacy and bodily integrity.

Spokespeople are available for interview:

Bahaa Ezzelarab, Legal Adviser, North African Litigation Initiative (NALI), EIPR on +(202) 279 333 71/72/73, bahaa@eipr.org
Sibongile Ndashe, Lawyer, INTERIGHTS on 00 44 7843 0484sndashe@interights.org

Notes to editors
•    EIPR (www.eipr.org)is an independent Egyptian human rights organisation that was established in 2002 to promote and defend the personal rights and freedoms of individuals. As part of EIPR, NALI provides assistance to North African NGOs and human rights defenders who wish to litigate cases before the African Commission.
•    INTERIGHTS (www.interights.org) is an international NGO, which works to ensure that human rights standards are protected and promoted effectively in domestic courts and before regional and international bodies.
•    Ratified by 53 countries including Egypt, the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights is a charter intended to promote and protect human rights and freedoms in Africa
•    The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights is a quasi-judicial body which promotes and protects human rights in Africa including through being the body which oversees and interprets the African Charter.