African Commission declares “virginity tests” case admissible: Lack of accountability for violations in military prisons addressed in regional human rights mechanism
The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights has recently declared admissible a case arising out of the sexual assault on female protesters who were detained in military prisons in Cairo in March 2011. The case, filed by the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) and Interights, addresses the failure of the Egyptian government to respond to violations by army personnel against female detainees, in what has come to be known as the “virginity tests” incident.
The case was filed at the African Commission in September 2012 on behalf of Samira Ibrahim and Rasha Abdel-Rahman, two of seventeen female protesters detained after participating in a protest that was forcibly dispersed by the armed forces on 9 March 2011. All seventeen female detainees were subjected to different forms of assault. Together with five other detainees, Samira and Rasha 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.
A positive admissibility decision by the African Commission means, among other things, that the complainants have exhausted domestic remedies, or that such remedies have been unduly prolonged. In March 2012, a military court found the doctor accused of performing the forced genital examinations innocent of all charges.
EIPR and Interights submit that Egyptian authorities must be held in violation of the African Charter, which was ratified by Egypt in 1984. The two organizations have asked the Commission to advocate that Egypt prosecutes all perpetrators involved in this incident in civilian courts, as well as reform the country’s Code of Military Justice, so that incidents where the military are alleged to have abused civilians will be heard in a civilian court. 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.
The case raises concerns about the independence of military courts in general, emphasizing the lack of guarantees of fair trial, which make such courts an inappropriate forum to try civilians or military personnel accused of committing violations against civilians. Notably, Egypt’s 2012 Constitution as well as the draft Constitution adopted by the Council of 50 in December 2013 have both failed to clearly prohibit the trial of civilians before military courts.
Spokespeople are available for interview:
Bahaa Ezzelarab, Legal Adviser, North African Litigation Initiative (NALI), EIPR on +(202) 279 333 71/72/73, firstname.lastname@example.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.