Amnesty International says that abuses by Egyptian police and military continued with impunity after regime change and Hosni Mubarak's ouster, and urges the country's newly elected leader to deal with this "bloody legacy" by bringing to justice those responsible for killing, maiming and abusing protesters.
Two extensive reports released by the London-based human rights group in Cairo on Tuesday detail cases of rights abuses by the troops after Mubarak left office in February 2011, focusing on six separate incidents of crackdowns that killed at least 120 protesters.
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.
'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.' —Suzanne Nossel, Amnesty International
For such practices to halt, those responsible must be brought to trial before an independent, civilian court, said Suzanne Nossel, the executive director of Amnesty International USA.
She urged the country's new President Mohammed Morsi to take "forceful and immediate" steps to ensure civilian oversight of both the military and the police and to "tackle the bloody legacy of official abuse and guarantee that no one is above the law in Egypt."
"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."
The Amnesty reports were not the first time the group has criticized Egypt's troubled transition — last November, the watchdog accused the military rulers who took over after Mubarak of adopting the same oppressive tactics used under the former president, including targeting critics, banning critical media coverage and torturing protesters.
Most of the cases documented in the new reports cover the period under Egypt's military rulers, though one violent police crackdown took place as late as August — just over a month after Morsi was sworn in.
Few repercussions for abuse
Amnesty cited that at least 12,000 civilians 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.
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 businessman's brutal death by police beating in 2010.
After Mubarak's regime was ousted in the popular uprising and the army took over, protesters in Egypt increasingly denounced the military for its excessive use of force, for targeting female 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.
Morsi ordered the retirement of the nation's top two generals after he was sworn in and replaced them with a new military commander and chief of staff, making accountability elusive, Amnesty said.
The group described instances of the army's response to protests as "disproportionate," citing cases when live ammunition was fired as demonstrators lobbed stones or fire bombs at the troops. It also cited incidents of army vehicles running down groups of protesters, in one case killing several demonstrators.
Amnesty quoted one Egyptian protester, Wael Saber Bshay, whose brother was crushed by a military armoured personnel carrier during the 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."
Amnesty also said that torture of detainees in police and military custody continued after Mubarak's ouster and urged authorities to allow visits by UN experts on arbitrary detentions, something that the former regime refused to do.