By Katherine Veik
Washington D.C., Jul 23, 2011 / 11:35 am (CNA).- The U.S. Helsinki Commission gathered on July 22 to discuss the increase in violence against Coptic Orthodox Christians in Egypt, specifically young women.
Reports of kidnapping and forced marriage and conversion began cropping up in 2007, but remained “unsubstantiated,” said Michele Clark, an adjunct professor of international affairs at George Washington University.
“I am here to confirm these allegations,” Clark said. “These are not isolated incidences.”
Clark and other witnesses testified July 22 before the independent U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe. The commission is also known as the Helsinki Commission because it is tasked with monitoring compliance with the Helsinki Accords, a 1976 agreement between 56 countries that involves cooperation on issues related to human rights, democracy, economics and security.
Jean Maher, president of the France-based Egyptian Union for Human Rights Organization, said that nearly 800 Coptic Christian women have been kidnapped, raped and forced to convert to Islam since 2009.
That number has only increased since the revolution in February, Maher said.
He said that before the revolution, Muslim kidnappers would have to “seduce” their victims. Now, they “just put them in a taxi and go away with them.”
Christian women are an obvious target because they do not wear a veil, which makes them easily identifiable as Christian, said Clark.
Clark said some women are no longer leaving their homes, for fear of being attacked.
Clark and Maher suggested that one of the greatest contributors to the abductions is the inactivity of police.
“Dozens of family members are reporting this,” he said. “They are very badly treated by police.”
Maher said most families of victims are already reluctant to come forward because taking away a woman’s virginity also strips the family of its honor. He said families of victims can also be accused of neglecting their daughters.
“As these victims recognize their voices aren’t being heard, they will no longer come forward,” Clark said.
Clark suggested this leads to a “cloak of silence, which only exasperates the problem.”
She added that in most cases, victims will know the names of their attackers.
In light of this, Clark urged the international community to tie financial aid to Egypt’s upholding and protecting the fundamental human rights listed in its constitution.
“Unconditional financial aid would be an error,” she said.