Rights group: Egypt must tackle legacy of abuse

Associated Press
FILE - In this Friday, Dec. 16, 2011 file photo, Egyptian army soldiers, background, arrest a woman protester during clashes near Cairo's downtown Tahrir Square, Egypt. Amnesty International warned Tuesday that the practice of impunity for Egyptian police and military continued even after regime change and Hosni Mubarak’s ouster, and urged the country’s newly elected leader to deal with this "bloody legacy" by bringing to justice those responsible for killing, maiming and abusing protesters. (AP Photo/Ahmed Ali, File)
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CAIRO (AP) — Amnesty International on Tuesday took Egypt's new president to task for failing to address the "bloody legacy" of abuses by security forces committed under military rule after the fall of Hosni Mubarak, which continue even after the establishment of the country's first freely elected government.

The rights group urged President Mohammed Morsi to hold the military accountable for the killing, torture and sexual abuse of protesters during the 18 months when the generals held power after Mubarak's February 2011 ouster.

It also said Morsi should rein in police forces, which it said still use excessive force to deal with protests and have tortured detainees. It called for the government to allow U.N. experts to investigate and assess how to deal with the problems.

"Unless there is a clear political will to confront this and to provide the families of the victims with truth and justice, things are not going to change," Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, deputy director for Amnesty's Middle East and North Africa Program, told The Associated Press.

"For the moment, police officers, soldiers are confident that they can commit violations with impunity without ever having to answer for any of their acts," she said.

Two extensive reports released by the London-based human rights group in Cairo on Tuesday detailed cases of rights abuses by the army and police, focusing on six separate incidents of crackdowns on protests that killed at least 120 people. Amnesty said thousands of protesters were injured or maimed — with documented cases of loss of eyesight — during the crackdowns, and that detainees were tortured in custody.

Most of the crackdowns took place during the post-Mubarak period of rule by a council of generals, during which soldiers had a major role in keeping security inside the country. The military has largely backed down from that role ever since Morsi, of the Muslim Brotherhood, was inaugurated at the end of June as the new president

But Morsi's failure to seek accountability from the police and military for those abuses has only fueled a culture of impunity that is allowing violations to continue, Amnesty warned. One of the Amnesty documented cases of violent crackdown by the police against protesters took place after Morsi came to power in August, in which one was killed.

Officials in Morsi's office did not respond to requests by The Associated Press for comment on the report.

Karim Ennarah, a researcher with the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights who spoke at a news conference by Amnesty on Tuesday, said it appeared that police abuses are getting worse in the three months since Morsi came to power.

He cited the deaths of two people last month in the town of Meit Ghamr, outside Cairo. One was tortured in a police station, including being beaten in the head by a rifle butt, and then died before getting to a hospital. The second person was then killed when police opened fire with live ammunition on a crowd angered by the first man's death.

"The police is acting as if it is an armed gang. It lost control and is trying to regain it by resorting to excessive force," Ennarah said.

In its reports, Amnesty said the country's new leadership must "tackle the bloody legacy of official abuse and guarantee that no one is above the law in Egypt."

Security abuse and flagrant human rights violations were among the sparks that ignited the uprising against Mubarak. Thousands took to the streets initially to protest a young man's brutal death by police beating in 2010.

After Mubarak's regime was ousted in the popular uprising and the army took over, protesters increasingly denounced the military for its excessive use of force, for targeting women protesters, beatings and sexual abuse — including the notorious "virginity tests" that female detainees were forced to go through after being taken into custody by soldiers.

Amnesty noted that at least 12,000 civilians, mainly protesters, have been tried before military tribunals while only three soldiers and a military doctor have faced a military court over abuse of authority. And only one security officer was brought to trial for killing and injuring protesters in one of the six documented cases.

"The only thing we have done (since the uprising) is lose our sons. That's it," said Mary Daniel, the sister of a protester killed last year during a military crackdown on rally. "We have gone from bad to worse."

Amnesty said the army's response to protests was "disproportionate," citing cases when live ammunition was fired as demonstrators lobbed stones or firebombs at the troops. It also cited incidents of army vehicles running down groups of protesters, in one case killing several demonstrators.

Amnesty quoted one protester, Wael Saber Bshay, whose brother was crushed by a military armored personnel carrier during an Oct. 9, 2011 protest that killed 27 people, mostly Coptic Christians.

"We were in a state of shock that the army, which is supposed to protect us ... attacked us," Bshay told Amnesty. "If we were in a state of war with an enemy, I don't think this would have happened."

The Amnesty report also documented that Egypt continued to receive deliveries of small arms and equipment from abroad, including from its largest supplier the United States, despite the violent crackdowns.

In one case, the report said, a U.S. shipment believed to contain tear gas was dispatched to Egypt on Oct. 13, 2011, just days after the protest by the Christians was crushed. Another shipment from the U.S. arrived days after a November protest in which nearly 50 people were killed, Amnesty reported.

The group said authorities should allow visits by the U.N.'s special rapporteur on torture and the U.N. working group on arbitrary detention and torture, whose requests for visits were ignored by the Mubarak regime.

For abuses to halt, those responsible must be brought to trial before an independent, civilian court, said Suzanne Nossel, the executive director of Amnesty International USA.

"If President Morsi truly wants to reform Egypt, he must establish the principle that no one can be above the law, including the army and the security services," Nossel said. "Without accountability by the army and security forces who are responsible for decades of human rights violations, justice for victims will remain elusive."

Amnesty said it has yet to receive a response from Morsi for a memorandum it had sent to him on the day he was sworn in, in which it details how Egypt can address the history of human rights and open a new page.

"This is disappointing," said Sahraoui.

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