To the Sudanese Military Council: Please Do Not Lose Sight That This Is An Opportunity For Democracy, Stability, Fairness and Prosperity For All In Sudan
By Judy Gitau, Africa Co-ordinator at Equality Now
The announcement that President Omar al-Bashir had finally stepped down and that a government led by the people would ultimately replace him was great news for the people of Sudan. An opportunity for democracy, stability, fairness and prosperity for all. The lives lost and the sacrifices made for the uprising had seemed to result in transcendent change.
For women, who played a leading role in these protests, it had also meant a chance for equality and progressive agenda for the rights of women and girls. You see, the Bashir regime had highly restricted women's rights using public order acts such as those introduced in 1996 as a strict moral code arbitrarily applied to control women’s involvement in public life and criminalize what were matters of personal choice such as dressing. A well codified and established system of male guardianship also left women and girls extremely vulnerable to a range of human rights abuses including child marriage, domestic abuse, and marital rape. Sudan’s Personal Status Law of 1991 legalizes child marriage, with Article 40 giving fathers the explicit right to marry off their daughters from the age of ten. It was no wonder that women were a leading voice of the protests.
Hundreds of women, including numerous high profile women’s rights activists, had been specifically targeted and some arrested by authorities for their role in the uprising. Equality Now had been reliably informed by its partners' people working in Sudan on the frontline, about law enforcement representatives sexually harassing detained women. There were also several reports of rape. But there was hope, including for accountability for all of these violations because a new dawn was breaking and indeed had come.
And yet as soon as the proverbial day broke, vestiges of the old order reached out to try and stifle the voices of the Sudanese people. The narratives of torture, cruelty, murder and rape have been emerging daily from Sudan. Local doctors have reported the killing of over a hundred people on the 3rd of June as the military council tried to disperse pro-democracy protesters. Sudanese hospitals have also recorded 70 rapes of women and girls.
Yet the spirit of the Sudanese people remains unbowed. Following this deplorable response by the military council the people are speaking even louder through civil disobedience. Their hope not be silenced.
As a community of nations we must stand by the people of Sudan and call on the military council to abide by the different international and regional human rights instruments that Sudan is a party to. Sudan has signed up to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights, both of which stipulate the civil and political freedom of its citizens. It is incumbent upon the country’s leadership, even in transition, to respect and fulfil these rights. In fact, on April 13 after the ousting of President Bashir, Lt-Gen Abdel Fattah Abdelrahman Burhan, the head of the Military Council, spoke to international media and promised that the Council would not only to restore peace, order and security, but also hold those who killed protestors to account. This is a clear indicator that the council is aware of the political and civil liberties that must be protected even in times of crisis. The deaths, torture and sexual violations that have taken place must therefore be investigated and prosecuted. We as members of the international community must demand it.
And no-one should lose sight of the reasons for the uprising. The need for rule of law, democracy, fairness and prosperity for all. And we should keep front of mind the women and girls, long denied civil liberties and subjugated, who have the best opportunity in generations to determine themselves what being equal in Sudan means.
When the time will come for reconstruction of a new Sudan, may it bring a new era of women’s rights.