Egypt's military rulers have promised that women in custody will not be subjected to virginity tests in future, Human Rights Watch said today.
An apparent admission by a general last month in an interview with CNN that some female protesters detained in March had been forced to undergo the tests sparked an outcry, with Amnesty International calling the practice "nothing less than torture".
But HRW executive director Kenneth Roth told a Cairo news conference that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which has ruled Egypt since the ouster of veteran president Hosni Mubarak in February, had now promised the practice would be ended.
"The SCAF did say that it ordered an end to these virginity tests," Roth said after talks between an HRW delegation and senior officials including Prime Minister Essam Sharaf.
"While it continued to deny that they have done anything wrong retrospectively, when it comes to look prospectively, they say they won't do this again. So we will monitor that pledge closely and we hope that looking forward they live up to that pledge," he added.
The general, speaking to CNN on condition of anonymity, had defended the practice.
"We didn't want them to say we had sexually assaulted or raped them, so we wanted to prove that they weren't virgins in the first place," he told the US broadcaster.
"The girls who were detained were not like your daughter or mine," the general added.
"These were girls who had camped out in tents with male protesters in Tahrir Square, and we found in the tents Molotov cocktails and (drugs)."
Roth took strong issue with the justification.
"We don't accept the SCAF's view of the past, that there was nothing wrong with these virginity tests. It never should have been imposed on anyone," he said.
"If the concern is protecting women prisoners from rape, the best way is to ensure adequate protection in their cells, and to ensure a system of firm discipline and prosecution."