UN Photo/Albert González Farran

Sudan: Change the law – allow victims of sexual violence to access justice

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Date: 
13 Mar 2014

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In August 2013, while house hunting in Omdurman, Sudan, a 19-year-old pregnant and divorced Ethiopian woman was lured to an empty property and brutally gang-raped by a group of seven men, aged 19 to 22. Immediately following the attack, a police officer found the distraught victim, but didn’t file a formal complaint of rape because it was a public holiday and the police station was closed. Disturbingly, the rapists filmed the attack, which later surfaced via social media in January 2014. After learning of the film, the authorities ultimately arrested everyone involved, including the victim. Sudan’s Attorney General has – without legal basis – consistently blocked her from filing a rape complaint on the basis that she was under investigation for the criminal offense of offending public morality. At one point, she even faced a sentence of death by stoning for adultery, as the prosecutor debated her marital status before affirming that she was divorced.

TAKE ACTION NOW! << Click on this link to send all letters below online.

This case highlights the overwhelming challenges women face in obtaining justice in Sudan for rape and sexual violence. Since being arrested, and despite being close to giving birth, the young woman has been held in police cells and, until recently, been consistently denied placement in a medical facility. As of 20 February, upon their confession, three of the perpetrators have been convicted of adultery, two of indecent acts, and one of distributing indecent material; their sentences consisted of lashes and fines. The seventh was freed due to insufficient evidence. The victim, however, was found guilty of committing indecent acts under section 151 of the Criminal Act, described as “whoever commits in a public place an act or conducts himself in an indecent manner or a manner contrary to public morality or wears an indecent or immoral uniform which causes annoyance to public feelings.” She has been sentenced to one month in prison and has been levied a hefty fine of 5000 Sudanese Pounds (approximately $900 USD). Her sentence has been suspended due to her pregnancy, and she has been placed under probation for six months.

Tragically, however, the victim’s troubles don’t end there. She is now being threatened by the court with immigration offenses, which carries a two-year prison term and subsequent deportation. Further troubling, the prosecutor has also filed criminal charges under section 146 referring to adultery, which criminalizes pregnant unmarried women. An appeal has been filed on the victim’s behalf against the new criminal charges, and the court hearing on her immigration charges has been postponed until April 2, 2014.

There is an urgent need for legal reform, especially to article 149 of the criminal code referring to rape. Under current laws, when a woman or girl reports she has been raped, she also exposes herself to possible prosecution. Effectively, a victim has to prove her own innocence by demonstrating that the encounter was non-consensual. If she fails to do so, she is liable to be prosecuted for adultery, also known as zina. The punishment for zina is 100 lashes if the woman is not married and execution by stoning if she is married. The law lacks clear guidelines on its interpretation and implementation, which allows judges wide discretion that is often unjust to victims seeking redress through the criminal justice system. In this case, even with filmed evidence of the rape, the victim was still found guilty of immoral acts. All these factors, combined with the traumatic stigma and fear of community reprisals, often deter women and girls from reporting crimes of sexual violence and make it very difficult for them to achieve justice even if they do.

Sudan is obligated in its interim Constitution of 2005 and under several international conventions to ensure that men and women are treated equally under the law and to prevent victims from being criminalized. Both the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Sudan is a party, echo these rights.

What You Can Do: 

TAKE ACTION NOW! << Click on this link to send all letters below online.

Join Equality Now in calling for justice for all survivors and victims of sexual violence in Sudan.
Please take urgent action today by writing to the officials below to demand that:

  • The prosecution drop all criminal charges against the young woman, and cease any legal action to deport her to Ethiopia.
  • The young woman is promptly provided with adequate medical and psychological support as a victim and survivor of sexual violence.
  • Immediate steps are taken to amend the Sudan Criminal Act of 1991 and the Sudan Evidence Act of 1994 to prevent the criminalization of sexual violence victims, and to ensure that women and girls who have been raped receive equal protection under the law in accordance with Sudan’s international obligations.

President Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir
Office of the President
People’s Palace
PO Box 281
Khartoum, Sudan

H.E. Mohammed Bushara Dousa
Minister of Justice
Ministry of Justice
Justice Towers
Gamhoria Street
PO Box 302
Khartoum, Sudan
Email: moj@moj.gov.sd

H.E. Fatih Ezzidin Ahmed Speaker of the National Assembly
The Peoples Hall Omdurman
PO Box 14416, Khartoum, Sudan
Fax: 00249 187 560 950 Emails: info@parliament.gov.sd
sudanipg@parliament.gov.sd

H.E. Mashair Aldawalab
Minster of Welfare & Social Security
Ministry of Welfare & Social Security (General Directorate for Women & Family Affairs)
PO Box: 12661
Khartoum, Sudan
Fax: 83777633
Emails: info@gdwfa.gov.sd

H.E. Ali Ahmed Karti
Minister of Foreign Affairs
Ministry of Foreign Affairs
PO Box 873
Khartoum, Sudan

Letters: 

Dear President/Minister/Speaker,

I am deeply concerned by the overwhelming challenges women and girls face when seeking justice   for rape and sexual violence in Sudan. I am particularly disturbed by the brutal August 2013 gang rape of a 19-year-old pregnant and divorced Ethiopian woman by seven men in Omdurman. I was outraged to learn that a victim of sexual violence was re-victimized by the very judicial system that should be seeking justice for her. This was tragically demonstrated by her arrest alongside the perpetrators who raped her, her detainment, the various charges levied against her, and her subsequent guilty charge and sentence for committing indecent acts. This case highlights the tremendous challenges victims face victims and the urgent need for legal reform, especially to article 149 of the criminal code referring to rape.

Under current laws, when a woman or girl reports she has been raped, she also exposes herself to possible prosecution. Effectively, a victim has to prove her own innocence by demonstrating that the encounter was non-consensual. If she fails to do so, she is liable to be prosecuted for adultery (zina). The law lacks clear guidelines on its interpretation and implementation, which allows judges wide discretion that is often unjust to victims seeking redress through the criminal justice system. In this case, even with filmed evidence of the rape, the victim was still found guilty of indecent acts. All these factors, combined with the traumatic stigma and fear of community reprisals, often deter women and girls from reporting crimes of sexual violence and make it very difficult for them to achieve justice even if they do.

Sudan is obligated in its interim constitution of 2005 and under several international conventions to ensure that men and women are treated equally under the law and to prevent victims from being criminalized. The Interim National Constitution of the Republic of Sudan in article 28 of its Bill of Rights states that “Every human being has the inherent right to life, dignity and the integrity of his/her person, which shall be protected by law” and in article 31 that “all persons are equal before the law and are entitled without discrimination, as to . . . sex . . . to the equal protection of the law.” Both the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) echo these rights and state, “(1) Every individual shall be equal before the law and (2) Every individual shall be entitled to equal protection of the law.” The African Charter and the ICCPR prohibit “cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment and treatment,” but Sudan violates this article when it punishes sexual violence victims by charging them with adultery.

I join Equality Now in calling for justice for all survivors and victims of sexual violence in Sudan. I urge Sudanese authorities to take urgent action in accordance with Sudan’s international, regional and domestic obligations to ensure that:

  • The prosecution drops all criminal charges against the young woman, and ceases any legal action to deport her to Ethiopia.
  • The young woman is promptly provided with adequate medical and psychological support as a victim and survivor of sexual violence.
  • Immediate steps are taken to amend the Sudan Criminal Act of 1991 and the Sudan Evidence Act of 1994 to prevent the criminalization of sexual violence victims, and to ensure that women and girls who have been raped receive equal protection under the law in accordance with Sudan’s international obligations.

Thank you for your attention.

Yours sincerely,