UN deplores Tahrir Square rapes, demands action


U.N. officials this week deplored reports that 25 women were sexually assaulted during recent protests in Cairo’s Tahrir Square and demanded that Egyptian authorities take steps to bring the perpetrators to justice.

Michelle Bachelet, the executive director of the U.N. Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, said her agency “is deeply disturbed by the gravity of recent attacks against women, including the reports of sexual assault, many of which occurred in the same Tahrir Square in which women rallied to contribute to a better future for their country.”

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said about 25 women were reportedly sexually assaulted in Tahrir Square in demonstrations in recent days, in some cases with extraordinary violence.

High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said she deplores the attacks and the fact that authorities have failed to prevent them or bring the perpetrators to justice.

Tens of thousands of people took part in the demonstrations against President Mohammed Morsi, two years after mass protests toppled then-President Hosni Mubarak and led to a transition period in the country.

Up to 60 people were killed in the latest wave of protests, and more than 1,000 were injured. The violence spurred Morsi to declare a 30-day state of emergency and curfew in Ismailia, Suez and Port Said districts.

“As a vibrant force in civil society, women continue to press for their rights, equal participation in decision-making, and the upholding of the principles of the revolution by the highest levels of leadership in Egypt,” said Bachelet, the former president of Chile. She said Egyptian authorities must protect women and punish wrongdoers.

Tahrir Square, the center of the 2011 uprising, has been the scene of a number of assaults against women – both protesters and journalists – in the aftermath of the revolution. In October, a correspondent for France 24 TV was “savagely attacked” near Tahrir after being seized by a crowd, the network said.

Complaints about the problem, which has long been a feature of Egypt’s society, gained prominence during the 2011 popular uprising that unseated Mubarak. Women activists and reporters told of severe assaults by men in Tahrir Square, the focus of the mass protests.

Rights activists have faulted Morsi’s Islamist government for failing to take action against the wave of sexual assaults.