Daily Archives: 23/03/2011

( Amnesty International has today called on the Egyptian authorities to investigate serious allegations of torture, including forced ‘virginity tests’, inflicted by the army on women protesters arrested in Tahrir Square earlier this month.

After army officers violently cleared the square of protesters on 9 March, at least 18 women were held in military detention. Amnesty International has been told by women protesters that they were beaten, given electric shocks, subjected to strip searches while being photographed by male soldiers, then forced to submit to ‘virginity checks’ and threatened with prostitution charges.

‘Virginity tests’ are a form of torture when they are forced or coerced.

“Forcing women to have ‘virginity tests’ is utterly unacceptable. Its purpose is to degrade women because they are women,” said Amnesty International. “All members of the medical profession must refuse to take part in such so-called ‘tests’.”

20-year-old Salwa Hosseini told Amnesty International that after she was arrested and taken to a military prison in Heikstep, she was made, with the other women, to take off all her clothes to be searched by a female prison guard, in a room with two open doors and a window.  During the strip search, Salwa Hosseini said male soldiers were looking into the room and taking pictures of the naked women.

The women were then subjected to ‘virginity tests’ in a different room by a man in a white coat. They were threatened that “those not found to be virgins” would be charged with prostitution.

According to information received by Amnesty International, one woman who said she was a virgin but whose test supposedly proved otherwise was beaten and given electric shocks.

“Women and girls must be able to express their views on the future of Egypt and protest against the government without being detained, tortured, or subjected to profoundly degrading and discriminatory treatment,” said Amnesty International.

“The army officers tried to further humiliate the women by allowing men to watch and photograph what was happening, with the implicit threat that the women could be at further risk of harm if the photographs were made public.”

Journalist Rasha Azeb was also detained in Tahrir Square and told Amnesty International that she was handcuffed, beaten and insulted.

Following their arrest, the 18 women were initially taken to a Cairo Museum annex where they were reportedly handcuffed, beaten with sticks and hoses, given electric shocks in the chest and legs, and called “prostitutes”.

Rasha Azeb could see and hear the other detained women being tortured by being given electric shocks throughout their detention at the museum. She was released several hours later with four other men who were also journalists, but 17 other women were transferred to the military prison in Heikstep

Testimonies of other women detained at the same time collected by the El Nadeem Center for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence are consistent with Rasha Azeb and Salwa Hosseini’s accounts of beatings, electrocution and ‘virginity tests’.

“The Egyptian authorities must halt the shocking and degrading treatment of women protesters. Women fully participated in bringing change in Egypt and should not be punished for their activism,” said Amnesty International.

“All security and army forces must be clearly instructed that torture and other ill-treatment, including forced ‘virginity tests’, will no longer be tolerated, and will be fully investigated. Those found responsible for such acts must be brought to justice and the courageous women who denounced such abuses be protected from reprisals.”

All 17 women detained in the military prison were brought before a military court on 11 March and released on 13 March. Several received one-year suspended prison sentences.

Salwa Hosseini was convicted of disorderly conduct, destroying private and public property, obstructing traffic and carrying weapons.

Amnesty International opposes the trial of civilians before military courts in Egypt, which have a track record of unfair trials and where the right to appeal is severely restricted.


( I am sorry to report that I must add to my already considerable moral burden yet another set of murders committed by the U.S. government, funded by my taxes, and allowed by my complacency. As of March 19, 2011, I have fresh Libyan blood on my hands and on my soul. The U.S. (and U.K.) bombing of Libyan targets with at least 112 U.S.-made Tomahawk cruise missiles was a fundamentally immoral act, and I fear it marks only the beginning of the murders that are to come.

According to initial reports, 48 people were killed and more were wounded in these opening air strikes. This has usually been reported in the Western media with the disclaimer that this is only “according to Libyan officials” and “cannot be independently verified.” While reporters may have some legitimate cause to question whether the so-called Libyan officials have inflated the true number of casualties of foreign military action, I find it telling that the same standard of journalism is rarely applied to the statements of U.S. government officials. Regardless of this implicit hypocrisy, the implication beneath these disclaimers is that less than 48 Libyans were probably killed in this particular assault and most or all of these Libyans were not the “civilians” they were reported to be by the Libyan state-run media. Instead, it is implied, those killed were likely “combatants” who were working at (or happened to be in close proximity to) military targets such as anti-aircraft weapons.

For the sake of argument, let me take this downplaying of so-called “collateral damage” to the extreme and base this discussion on the unlikely idea that only one Libyan was killed by these 112 cruise missiles—each likely carrying a 1,000-lb. warheadfor a combined total of 112,000 pounds of explosives—and that this individual was a loyal member of the Libyan military. In the eyes of the Libyan rebels, much of the international community, and apparently much of the American populace, this murdered Libyan was therefore a “bad” person. Again, for the sake of argument, I will concede this point.

Even in these most unlikely of circumstances, the initial U.S. military intervention in the Libyan civil war would remain a grossly immoral act. I do not know of any major religious or secular moral code that allows for the killing of a human being by another person or persons unknown to the victim without any semblance of due process. Even Osama bin Laden does not go that far; his religious justification for the murder of Americans (though disputed by most Muslims) is based on the idea that we have responsibility for our government’s actions and furthermore that Islam allows for murder in defense of the Islamic community. Osama bin Laden is rightly vilified for his moral philosophy and the resulting murders, but let us consider the moral philosophy underpinning the actions of the U.S. government on March 19 as it murdered one (or 48) Libyan(s) in the name of human rights.

Starting from the beginning of our victim’s story, imagine a baby who is born in the nation of Libya, grows up under a vicious dictatorship never knowing the freedoms cherished by the people of the United States, and ends up serving in the Libyan military. When many of the Libyan people rise up against the government after years of repression, the unelected and brutal Gadhafi regime attempts to crush the revolution violently. We cannot know what motivations drive this young soldier, and we cannot know how he or she feels about the Gadhafi regime or its actions. Nevertheless, we have already decided that this person was actively involved in the armed defense of the regime and was therefore “bad.” On March 19, this soldier reports for duty as normal and is killed in a powerful explosion caused by a U.S. cruise missile launched from a nearby warship. No one in the U.S. government or citizenry had any particular grievance against this Libyan; he or she was simply on the “wrong” side of a local conflict. Therefore, we cannot argue that this individual Libyan “deserved” to die for his or her specific actions (since we do not know what they were); instead, it follows that under our moral philosophy this Libyan deserved to die purely for the actions of his or her government. Unlike the concept of collective punishment, in which a larger group is punished for the actions of certain individuals and which is a crime under international law, this is a philosophy of individual punishment in which an individual may be punished for the crimes of a larger group (his or her government and its proxies) even if the individual is not responsible for those crimes.

As it happens, this precise line of thinking represents one component of Osama bin Laden’s argument for why it is morally acceptable to kill Americans. As I mentioned above, the other major component is that (in bin Laden’s view) Americans—through the actions of their government—are directly attacking the Muslim community, and therefore Muslims may respond violently in self-defense. The self-defense aspect of the argument is absent from the American rationale for so-called humanitarian military intervention, in which we kill some people in order to protect other people, none of whom threaten us in any way.

That being the case, even if we reduce our moral standards to those of Osama bin Laden, we still must acknowledge that the murder of the one (or 48) Libyan(s) on March 19 was morally unjustifiable. Consider, then, the moral implications if the true number of deaths is closer to the 48 reported by Libyan authorities instead of just one, or if some of those murdered Libyans were truly civilians rather than combatants. There are some who will argue that the murder of human beings (even innocent human beings) is a reasonable price to pay for the “greater good”; I am not one of them. No matter how “just” our theoretical cause for war may be, we would do well to remember the moral price of murder. Finally, we should each consider our own responsibility for those murders as citizens of a republic.

I wish the best for the brave Libyans fighting for their own freedom, and I abhor the violence the Libyan state is directing against them. But I dearly hope that not another dime of my tax dollars will be spent murdering any Libyans—as in John Quincy Adams’ vision for America, my heart, benedictions, and prayers are with the Libyan people, but that is all. Please join me in demanding that our government stop murdering in our name.

by Nicholas Kramer


(The New York Times) Twelve days are not nearly enough to comprehend the magnitude of the catastrophes that hit Japan starting March 11. From the children who lost parents in the crush of the earthquake, to those whose loved ones are still missing after the tsunami, to the scores of workers risking their health by heroically attempting to stabilize the Fukushima nuclear complex — there is no end to the tragic stories.

Yet in addition to the grief and empathy I feel for the Japanese people, I am beginning to develop another emotion, and that is anger. As we anxiously await every bit of news about the developments at Fukushima, hoping that radiation leaks and discharges will be brought to an end, that the risk of further catastrophe will be averted, and that the Japanese people will have one less nightmare to cope with, governments across the world continue to promote further investment in nuclear power. Just last week, for example, the government of my home country of South Africa announced that it was adding 9,600 megawatts of nuclear energy to its new energy plan.

There are two dangerous assumptions currently parading themselves as fact in the midst of the ongoing nuclear crisis. The first is that nuclear energy is safe. The second is that nuclear energy is an essential element of a low carbon future, that it is needed to prevent catastrophic climate change. Both are false.

Nuclear technology will always be vulnerable to human error, natural disaster, design failure or terrorist attack. What we are seeing at Fukushima right now are failures of the systems. The reactors themselves withstood the earthquake and tsunami, but then the vital cooling systems failed. When the back-up power systems also failed, the reactors overheated, eventually causing the spread of radiation. This is only one example of what can go wrong.

Nuclear power is inherently unsafe and the list of possible illnesses stemming from exposure to the accompanying radiation is horrifying: genetic mutations, birth defects, cancer, leukemia and disorders of the reproductive, immune, cardiovascular and endocrine systems.

While we have all heard of Chernobyl and Three Mile Island, the nuclear industry would have us believe these are but isolated events in an otherwise unblemished history. Not so. Over 800 other significant events have been officially reported to the International Atomic Energy Agency — Mayak, Tokaimura, Bohunice, Forsmark to name just a few.

The argument that nuclear energy is a necessary component of a carbon-free future is also false.

Greenpeace and the European Renewable Energy Council have put together a study called “Energy [R]evolution,” which clearly shows that a clean energy pathway is cheaper, healthier and delivers faster results for the climate than any other option. This plan calls for the phase-out of existing reactors around the world and a moratorium on construction of new commercial nuclear reactors.

Furthermore, an energy scenario recently produced by the conservative International Energy Agency highlights the fact that nuclear power is not necessary for lowering greenhouse gas emissions. It shows that even if existing nuclear power capacity could be quadrupled by 2050, the proportion of energy that it provided would still be below 10 percent globally. This would reduce carbon dioxide emissions by less than 4 percent. The same amount of money, invested in clean, renewable energy sources such as wind and solar could have a much greater impact on lowering global warming.

Nuclear energy is an expensive and deadly distraction from the real solutions. “Fuel-free” sources of energy do not generate international conflicts (as I write I cannot help but think of Libya), they do not “run dry” and they do not spill. There are initial financial investments to be made, but in time the price of renewables will decline as technological advances and market competition drive the costs down. Furthermore, implemented wisely, a green, nuclear and fossil-free future will create a host of safe, new jobs.

As international organizations like Greenpeace join Japan’s Citizens Nuclear Information Center in an appeal to the Japanese government for improved evacuation plans and other protective measures for people still within the 30-kilometer exclusion zone; as the issue of food and water contamination continues to grow in Asia; as iodine tablets continue to sell out around the globe and people in places as far away from Japan as Los Angeles are on high alert for “radioactive plumes” — it is imperative that as citizens of the world we continue to voice our opposition to further investment in nuclear energy. We need a truly clean energy revolution now.

By Kumi Naidoo

Kumi Naidoo is executive director of Greenpeace International.