The Government Must Submit the Sexual Violence Bill to National Debate... 23 NGOs Urge the Government to Initiate a Debate on Amendments to the Law on Sexual Violence before Submission to Parliament

Press Release

23 January 2011

The "Taskforce Combating Sexual Violence" (thereafter "the Taskforce") expressed grave concern today about the government's proposed amendments to Penal Code provisions relating to sexual violence. The amendments were approved by the Cabinet on 16 January and referred to the President on 19 January in preparation for their submission to the People's Assembly during its ongoing session. The Taskforce criticized the proposed amendments for being a shortsighted and misguided attempt to address flaws in the current law, and deplored the government’s failure to consult with civil society before approving the bill.

The Taskforce welcomes the government’s willingness to review the Penal Code in relation to sexual violence crimes, and to assess the appropriateness of the provisions, taking into account “the atrocity and severity of the criminal acts,” in the words of the Cabinet spokesman. It believes, however, that the proposed amendments are an ineffective 'quick-fix' that will fail to provide better legal protection for victims of sexual violence crimes.

According to the Taskforce, one of the most significant weaknesses in the proposed amendments is the unjustified increase in penalties. With the exception of Article 269, the current penalties are proportionate to the criminal acts and include the death penalty in the most severe cases. In addition, harsher sentences may have the unintended effect of reducing legal protection for victims, since an increase in the minimum penalty may not leave enough leeway to graduate punishment according to the severity of the crime. This could lead police officers, prosecutors and judges to refrain from arresting, charging or convicting a suspect if they believe that the penalty is not proportionate to the crime committed. Furthermore, the proposed amendment to Article 306(bis) to combat “intimidation” - as labeled by the government bill - or "sexual harassment" - as is more correctly termed - is flawed as it fails to provide full protection against all forms of sexual harassment, including sexual harassment in the workplace.
The Taskforce believes the government must embark upon a comprehensive review of all provisions related to sexual violence, to rectify protection gaps and shortcomings in the current legal definitions of sexual violence crimes. Moreover, the government must exert more effort to promote the application of the law, by ensuring safer and facilitated mechanisms to file police complaints, as well as more effective investigation techniques for sexual violence crimes.

In December 2010, the Taskforce released its own bill to amend Penal Code provisions on sexual violence. The bill adopts an integrated, rights-based approach to protect against all forms of sexual violence without discrimination. It provides special protection to children and persons with disabilities and establishes graduated penalties proportionate to the criminal acts. The Taskforce bill proposes an accurate definition of the three main crimes: rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment.

The Taskforce invited all relevant bodies, governmental and non-governmental, to a consultation on the bill before its release. The government, however, refrained from taking part and drafted its own bill without any participation from civil society or other stakeholders, including the National Council for Women and the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood.

The Taskforce Combating Sexual Violence calls upon the government to refrain from submitting the approved amendments to the Parliament until it engages in a broad national debate on the proposals made, involving all stakeholders, including governmental bodies and civil society. This is of the utmost importance as sexual violence constitutes one of the most serious social problems.

Organizations signing the statement:

Participating organizations in the Task Force
1. Al-Sawahiliya Association for Social Development in Suez
2. Women and Development Association in Alexandria
3. Port Fouad Association for the Protection of the Family and Childhood
4. Association for Local Community Development in al-Shalloufa, Suez
5. Kalimitna Association for Dialogue and Development
6. Al-Alimi Law and Attorneys
7. New Woman Foundation
8. Egyptian Foundation for Family Development
9. Helwan Foundation for Community Development (Bashayer)
10. Sahm al-Thiqa foundation for Social Development, Ismailiya
11. Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights
12. Initiative to Support Social Development and Media, Port Said
13. Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights
14. Nadim Center for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence
15. Freedom Center for Human Rights, Port Said
16. Raswa Center for Human Rights Studies, Port Said
17. Hisham Mubarak Law Center
18. Center for Communications for Development (ACT)
19. Arab Law Organization
20. Women’s Development Forum
21. Democratic Civic forum, Suez
22. HarassMap
23. Women’s Group Foundation