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Amnesty urges Morsi to focus on military misdemeanors

Amnesty International has asked Egypt's new president to reform the country's police and army, as the rights group published a pair of reports criticizing a "bloody legacy" of human rights abuses.

Amnesty tried on Tuesday to draw some positives from its critical investigations, saying that Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi now "has a historic opportunity to tackle the bloody legacy of police and army, and guarantee that no one is above the law in Egypt."

Almost 20 months after a largely peaceful uprising ousted former President Hosni Mubarak, Amensty's observers concluded that violent repression of protesters, mistreatment of detainees and effective impunity for military and police were still commonplace in Egypt.

"The different interior ministers that headed the police force since last year's uprising have repeatedly announced their commitment to reforming the police and respecting human rights, but so far reforms have merely scratched the surface," Amnesty's Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty's Deputy Middle East and North Africa Program Director, said at a Cairo press conference.

Sahraoui did note a slight improvement in recent months in a separate interview with the DPA news agency, but attributed this to the ongoing Amnesty investigations, saying "it is not because things have changed but because [the police] know they are being watched."

Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi addresses world leaders at the United Nations General Assembly on September 26, 2012 in New York City. (Photo: Getty)

Before and since his appointment, Morsi has been vying for power with the military

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) took control of Egypt after Mubarak was ousted, slowly ushering in democratic elections that culminated in Morsi taking office in June.

Two reports, both damning

One of the reports from Amnesty focused on demonstrations that were violently repressed, saying that the victims were unable to sway military courts into action and adding that civilian investigators seemed "unwilling or unable" to take up the cases themselves.

"Male and female protesters were subjected to severe beatings, given electric shocks, sexually threatened and abused by military troops. Thousands were tried or face unfair trial before military courts," the report said.

Morsi, whose ascent to power was marked by a tug of war with the SCAF over control, eventually sacked defense minister and interim military leader Hussein Tantawi and scrapped a Tantawi constitutional decree that would have given key powers to the military. The Muslim Brotherhood leader is Egypt's first democratically elected ruler.

"The army is back in the barracks today, but the authorities should be under no illusion that they can sweep under the carpet 16 months of abuse that translated into more than 120 deaths, thousands of people being tried by military courts and hundreds tortured," Sahraoui told reporters.

Amnesty's second report looked into what it described as the "total impunity enjoyed" by Egypt's security forces, saying "torture and other abuses continue unchecked and unchallenged" in the country.

"Unless there is a political will in Egypt to confront a culture of abuse and rampant impunity, which translates into true reform of the police, the abuses which defined the rule of Hosni Mubarak will continue unabaited," the report warned.

msh/jr (AFP, dpa, Reuters)