WASHINGTON, July 22, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — Christian Solidarity International Board Member Michele Clark testified on Capitol Hill today about the continued abuse of Coptic females in Egypt, a nation struggling to come together in the aftermath of this Spring’s Arab revolution.
Video of the hearing, courtesy of C-SPAN:
The U.S. Helsinki Commission, more formally known as The U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, held today’s hearing to examine the recent escalation of violence toward Coptic Christians in Egypt, as well as reports of disappearances, forced conversions and forced marriages of Coptic women and girls.
Clark, who also serves as an adjunct professor at the George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs, told the Commission that there is no denying these reports.
“These reports are not allegations nor should they be disputed,” Clark said. “Coptic women disappear. Coptic women are forcibly converted, or converted under false pretenses, and Coptic women are forcibly married to Muslim men.”
In 2009, Clark was asked by Christian Solidarity International and The Coptic Foundation for Human Rights to investigate the issue. Together, Clark and Coptic women’s rights advocate Nadia Ghlay released a 42-page report that detailed dozens of cases of abuse against Coptic Christians in Egypt.
CSI-USA President and CEO Dr. John Eibner called the report’s findings “deeply disturbing,” and said that they “should challenge human rights activists and institutions…to undertake, as a matter of urgency, further research into this form of gender and religious based violence against Coptic women and girls in Egypt.”
Today, Clark highlighted the discoveries of her report to members of the Commission. Among her key findings:
– Coptic women and girls are deceptively lured into forced marriages with Muslim men and subsequently converted to Islam.
– The criminality of alleged forced marriages and conversions is generally dismissed by the authorities. Young women are presumed to be willing participants.
– Counseling sessions with members of their own clergy, traditionally part of the conversion process to Islam, are no longer available to potential converts to Islam.
– Coptic women experience physical and psychological abuse both before and after their conversions and marriages.
– Coptic women and girls are vulnerable to deception and fraudulent practices because of difficult home environments, economic pressures and sheltered lives.
Clark called on members of the Commission to implement the following trio of recommendations:
1. The reinstatement counseling sessions for those contemplating conversion to Islam by the Government of Egypt.
2. The restoration of Christian identity cards to former converts to Islam who decide to return to their original faith by the Government of Egypt.
3. The investigation of all allegations of kidnapping, rape and other acts of violence against women associated with forced marriages and conversion of Coptic women by the Government of Egypt.
The Commission’s Chairman, Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), said that lawmakers must focus their efforts on curbing the abuse of Coptic women in Egypt.
“The Egyptian Government has failed to initiate credible investigation into the cases of the abducted women, and that does have perhaps the intended consequence of creating a climate of impunity for the perpetrators,” he said. “If there is no penalty for this terrible abuse and violence, it only encourages more violence.”
Smith is the original sponsor of “The Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000,” which provided U.S. officials with more tools to crack down on nations that are complicit in allowing the selling or trafficking of women to occur.