Ending 'Virginity Tests' and the Future of Women's Rights in Egypt

After an international campaign and a meeting with Amnesty International Secretary General Salil Shetty, one of Egypt’s top military rulers announced Monday that the army will no longer carry out forced ‘virginity tests’ against detained women.

Although this is a positive development, Maj. Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s comments must translate into unequivocal instructions to army staff that women are never forced to undergo this treatment again in Egypt.

When army officers violently cleared Tahrir Square on March 9, 17 women were detained, beaten, prodded with electric shock batons, subjected to strip searches, forced to submit to ‘virginity tests’ and threatened with prostitution charges.

The women were brought before a military court two days later and released on March 13. Several received one-year suspended sentences for charges including disorderly conduct, destroying property, obstructing traffic and possession of weapons.


Human Rights: No Excuses, No Exceptions

By Salil Shetty, Secretary General, Amnesty International

© Bulent Kilic/AFP/Getty Images

For those working in human rights, the events of the last week have led to some interesting but challenging debates. We have heard government officials and pundits argue that torture led to the discovery of Osama Bin Laden. Somewhere, they claim, in a secret detention centre in Poland or Lithuania, or in an interrogation room in Guantánamo Bay or Bagram, someone gave the critical clue that led to this outcome.

As justifications for the legitimacy of torture hit the headlines, Amnesty International has been preparing to release its annual report into the state of the world’s human rights. With the benefit of 50 years of working to prevent torture and promote justice, Amnesty International has found itself re-affirming the centrality of human rights in the key challenges we face today – including the absolute ban on torture.

Some claim that torture works. They argue that last week’s events in Pakistan prove that torture played a role in bringing what they would call justice to the thousands of victims of Al Qa’aeda around the world. So how, they ask, can self-righteous human rights activists criticize torture?


To World Leaders in Davos: We Want Real Action for Human Rights!

It’s day two of the World Economic Forum and Amnesty International is there to remind government and corporate leaders that there is a real world outside the “fortress” of Davos.  We want real action, for real people, for human rights on the ground.

Watch Amnesty’s Secretary General Salil Shetty’s video blog from Davos today:

Davos and the Measures of Success

By Salil Shetty, Secretary General of Amnesty International

The oil continues to leak into the Niger Delta, fouling the water, killing the fish and slowly poisoning the people who live there. It has been that way for decades.

The spills are the legacy of a half-century of exploration and development in the oil-rich region. They have devastated the lives of local residents who rely on the area’s resources for their food, water and livelihoods and left many wondering about the future.

Oil spills in the Niger Delta have devastated the lives of local residents © Kadir van Lohuizen/NOOR

Arguments swirl around who is to blame. Residents say oil companies, including Shell, and the government, which owns about half of the oil industry, are responsible. The companies and the government counter that the spills are due to sabotage and theft, the result of armed raids and people stealing oil from the lines.

Demands by Delta communities and activists for information, independent systems for environmental clean-up and compensation, and for the oil companies to be held to account have been largely ignored by the government and dismissed as unnecessary, or unworkable, by the companies.

Incredibly, despite the obvious environmental devastation, there is almost no independent monitoring of food safety, health impacts or water quality. Companies like Shell effectively run the oil spill investigation and compensation processes, with a lack of transparency causing frequent conflict with and between oil-impacted communities.


Liu Xiaobo’s Empty Chair Holds More Than China Realizes

By Salil Shetty, Secretary General of Amnesty International

There is going to be one empty place at this year’s Nobel Peace Prize awards ceremony. Amongst the pomp and circumstance, before a packed house of a thousand invited guests and dignitaries gathered for the century-old event, the chair of this year’s recipient, Liu Xiaobo, will be vacant.

Liu Xiaobo would have sat on the podium alongside the members of the Nobel Committee in Oslo’s cavernous City Hall as he was honoured for his long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China. He would have given a speech, accepted his medal and diploma and continued his call for peaceful legal and political reform in China. He would have posed for pictures, given interviews, briefly enjoyed the glow of international recognition and then he would have gone home.

Instead, Liu Xiaobo is in jail. He is serving an 11-year sentence for “inciting subversion of state power” for his part as the leading author behind “Charter ‘08”, a manifesto calling for the recognition of fundamental human rights in China. Liu has consistently maintained that the sentence violates both China’s own constitution and basic human rights, but, like many others in China who have chosen to speak out, he has been severely punished.


Indonesian Girls Lack of Reproductive Health Services

Indonesian laws need to be reformed to help overcome discriminatory practices © Amnesty International

Today, we issued a new report that reveals many Indonesian women and girls, especially those from poor and marginalized communities, struggle to achieve reproductive health in the face of discriminatory laws, policies and practices.

The report, Left Without a Choice, describes how government restrictions and discriminatory traditions threaten the lives of many Indonesian woman and girls by putting reproductive health services beyond their reach.

The Indonesian government has pledged to enhance gender equality, but many Indonesian women still struggle for fair and equal treatment. A combination of unchallenged social attitudes, unfair laws and stereotyped gender roles often relegate women to second-class status.

Our research shows how discriminatory practices and problematic laws are restricting access to contraception for unmarried women and girls, and allowing early marriage for girls younger than 16. The law also requires a woman to get her husband’s consent to access certain contraception methods, or an abortion in the event that her life is at risk. Amnesty International also found that health workers frequently deny the full range of legally available contraceptive services to unmarried or childless married women.


Human Rights, San Francisco, And You

Calling all human rights activists and supporters!

You’re invited to San Francisco, March 18-20, 2011
for Amnesty International USA’s biggest and most exciting annual conference yet. This year, we’ll celebrate our 50th anniversary – that’s 50 years of hard work by you, our members and activists, in shining a light on human rights.

Take advantage of special early bird rates by registering now!

It’s not just an amazing event for connecting with fellow Amnesty supporters from around the country, it’s a valuable opportunity for gaining essential skills in human rights advocacy, volunteering and community organizing.

Here’s just a taste of what you’ll find in San Francisco:

Amazing speakers – including Amnesty’s brand new International Secretariat Salil Shetty, prominent human rights leaders, and special celebrity guests.

Powerful panels – discussing our core human rights campaigns and new strategies for mobilizing the human rights movement on both local and national levels!

Memorable experiences – looking back at the legacy of our work; the challenges we’ve overcome to reach key human rights victories — and setting a course for another 50 years of protecting all rights for all people.

Register now for our 50th Anniversary conference — let’s celebrate 50 years of hard work and strategize for our continued fight for human rights everywhere.

Can’t wait to see you in San Francisco.

Meet Salil Shetty, Amnesty International's New Secretary General

Amnesty is pleased to welcome its new Secretary General, Salil Shetty.

We are thrilled to introduce –albeit somewhat belatedly– Salil Shetty who joined Amnesty International as its eighth Secretary General in July 2010!

Growing up in an activist family in India, Shetty moved on to lead the international anti-poverty NGO ActionAid and later became the Director of the United Nations Millennium Campaign. When he joined Amnesty International as the new Secretary General, he sat down and shared some of his thoughts about his lifelong dedication to human rights.

Q: What made you become an activist? Was there a pivotal moment in your life that motivated you?

A: Given my family background, doing anything else would have been very odd! My mother was a lawyer and very active in the women’s movement and my father is a journalist and very active in the Dalit movement. My home was a movement headquarters, a space for a lot of activists. Our phone lines were always being tapped, we had police lurking outside the house and my dad was arrested several times. It was a very tumultuous time when I was growing up in India. In 1976 a state of emergency was declared, rights were curtailed and that created an intense level of activism among journalists and students, artists and many others in the country. People who don’t know my background might think that I come from an economic, social and cultural rights background because I’ve done work on poverty, but that actually came to me much later. My entry point into this kind of work was much more to do with civil and political rights.

Q: In 2003, you were appointed Director of the U.N. Millennium Campaign, which aimed to inspire people and institutions around the world to support the Millennium Development Goals. What were your biggest challenges and achievements?

A: I believe that the work the campaign has done to catalyze people to take action collectively on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) has made a big difference. There have been some real achievements—for example, rich countries saw record increases in foreign aid between

2003 and 2008, and about 35 countries have seen debt cancellation. Not all of this can be credited to the campaign—the anti-debt movement, for example, has a long history—but cumulatively the campaign has helped. Most importantly, we have seen some very real, concrete achievements in the lives of poor people in developing countries—a big reduction in extreme poverty, increased access to water and about 40 million more kids going to school.