Egypt: 'Egyptian Court Says "Virginity Tests" Violated Women's Rights'

New York Times

An administrative court ruled Tuesday that the Egyptian military had wrongly violated the human rights of female demonstrators by subjecting them to “virginity tests” intended to humiliate them.

The decision was the first to address a scandal arising from one of the military’s first crackdowns on protesters, on March 9, less than a month after it seized power with the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak. And the ruling was also the first time since the military takeover that a civilian court has attempted to exert judicial authority over the ruling generals, who have suspended the Constitution and set themselves up as the only source of law.

Amnesty International in which a general on the council confirmed that women had been physically examined against their will. The general justified imposition of the tests to safeguard soldiers from being accused of raping women detainees.

The court found that protecting against potential charges of rape was no justification for violating women’s bodies, according to a text of the ruling provided by the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, which helped argue the case.

“These acts involve deliberate humiliation and intentional insult to women participating in protests,” the court said in its ruling, calling the military’s conduct of the tests “a criminal offense.”

“It represents a violation of human rights and freedoms which make up the most sublime constitutional rights and freedoms of all,” the court declared.

Egyptian state news media reported that military officials characterized the ruling as meaningless since “virginity tests” were already outside military procedures. The officials said a military court is investigating whether an unnamed army doctor might have conducted the tests.

The decision comes at a moment when there is outrage internationally and domestically at recent episodes of military brutality toward civilian demonstrators, including women. There was recently video of soldiers beating and stripping female protesters in Tahrir Square earlier this month that inspired thousands of women to march through the capitallast week in the largest such event in modern Egyptian history.

The virginity-test case, however, arose from the military’s March 9 demolition of a small tent city still left in Tahrir Square after the February protests. Soldiers arrested about 200 demonstrators, including about 20 women, according to the subsequent testimony of many of those detained. Most, both men and women, were beaten severely. Some said they were tortured with electric prods or stun guns.

Along with more than a 100 men, 17 women were convicted of “thuggery” in quick military trials and detained on a base. The next day, according to the separate testimonies of at least six women who have either spoken publicly or to human rights groups, seven of the woman were forced to undergo the invasive physical examinations — “virginity tests” — by an army doctor. Adding to the humiliation, soldiers watched, the women said.

“It was painful,” one of the women, Samira Ibrahim, 25, told the advocacy group Human Rights Watch, according to its report on the event. All were released within days on suspended sentences.

Until recently, the Egyptian news media, cowed by the ruling generals’ investigations of journalists and bloggers who were deemed to “insult” the institution of the military, scarcely covered the charges. Of the seven women, only Ms. Ibrahim spoke publicly about her experiences or filed legal claims.

On Tuesday, news of the decision was widespread in the Egyptian news media. Ms. Ibrahim was cheered as a hero by hundreds of supporters who marched with her to Tahrir Square. Men formed a ring around a group of women marching, to protect them from harassment.