By Tim Nanns
The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) has accused the Egyptian security apparatus, including police, intelligence services and the army, of endemic use of sexual violence against demonstrators, detainees and activists.
The detailed report, published on Tuesday, features testimonies by victims and research results by various Egyptian NGOs that accuse nearly all branches of the security system to participate – in one way or the other – in the abuses.
The testimonies draw up a picture of sexual violence being used in various ways, most prominently to enforce confessions, to blackmail victims and to stir up a climate of constant fear to prevent protests.
“The number of cases of sexual assault and their gravity are much greater than in the pre-revolution situation. And sexual assault is virtually systematic in the case of arrest,”
a member of an Egyptian women’s rights organisation is quoted in the report.
Though the FIDH report explicitly states that there is no solid evidence of the abuses being organised at a higher scale, it claims that the “widespread nature” as well as the “similarities in patterns of violence” together “point to a cynical political strategy aimed at stifling civil society and silencing all opposition”.
The report’s accusations that, during the proclaimed “war on terror”, security forces were embarking upon a “campaign of wide scale repression” are backed by Nasser Amin, a member of the state-affiliated National Council for Human Rights (NCHR), in a statement to Daily News Egypt, who called upon the government to “respect basic human rights” despite the ‘war on terror’.
The picture drawn up by the FIHD is indeed dark, with the report accusing all governments that were in charge since the 2011 revolution of dramatic failures in investigating and prosecuting cases of mob rape and sexual assault, whilst claiming that there has been a significant rise in documented cases during that period.
Where the FIHD focuses on the increase of sexual violence, Amin goes one step further and claims that “the human rights situation is very bad, worse than under Mubarak”. The FIHD reports that there has only been one trial since a 2014 presidential decree to amend the criminal code concerning sexual violence, despite more than 500 documented cases since 2011.
The real case numbers though, especially concerning sexual assaults under police custody, are likely to be higher, with the FIHD decrying the lack of information. In light of the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood is outlawed, it is therefore difficult to reach possible victims, with a great deal of them belonging or allegedly belonging to the Brotherhood, according to the organisation.
In the report, an anonymous member of a human rights NGO states: “While all prisoners are vulnerable to torture and sexual humiliation during the first few hours of their arrest, in police stations and detention centres, the most serious sexual abuse, particularly in the case of men, tends to take place at the hands of the National Security Intelligence services and the military. This abuse targets prisoners suspected of withholding information.”
Further, the situation for NGOs in Egypt makes solid research difficult, according to the report, since many face legal hurdles, threats, or are themselves outlawed. FIHD claims it used pseudonyms as a result of “threats directed at Egyptian NGOs and the victims”.
The Ministry of Interior only recently called upon citizens to report police violence, and stated that any atrocities that were eventually committed do not “represent the ministry’s strategy”.
The Ministry of Interior, as well as the Foreign Ministry, claimed not to have studied the report and therefore refused to comment.