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Violence against women in Sudan on the rise - activists

International women's day in Al Koma, North Darfur
International women's day in Al Koma, North Darfur MINUAD/ Albert González Farran

International NGO Human Rights Watch said Sudan's security forces have tried to silence female human rights defenders in the country, by abusing them. Women who have spoken out have been targeted with different kinds of abuse, while their male counterparts are less likely to suffer the same type of treatment. 


This is not a new development in Sudan. It has been going on for years as women are more vulnerable - so-called soft targets.

The report highlights abuse ranging from rape and threats of rape, to deliberate - and more subtle - efforts to damage their reputation by accusing women of being liberal, 'loose',  accusations that they uses drugs/alcohol and more"Sudanese authorities have used these tactics of violence and repression (including sexual violence) as a way to silence women for decades – but it has become more obvious as public protest actions have increased since 2011," Jehanne Henry, senior researcher in the Africa division at Human Rights Watch who wrote the report, told RFI.

Sudanese authorities continue to try to silence women who take part in protests, rights campaigns, and other types of demonstrations in public, but also those who provide social services and legal aid, as well as journalists.

"This has long been the system through which this government deals with dissidents and those who speak about the human rights. It could be intimidation, it could be sexual harassment, rape, detention, arbitrary detention, kidnapping, holding them for a long time without pressing any charges," Uzaz Mohamad, a Sudanese Human rights advocate based in the US, told RFI.

"They also use honour and bad naming, and this is something very important in our society. So there are many different ways to sabotage women activists' reputation, to de-validate them, to discredit them in the eyes of the public."

She says the abuse has become more of a trend because campaigners are more exposed through the use of social media.

Mohamad explains how the abuse stems from the government itself she gives the example of a female journalist who was prevented from speaking on March 12, 2016 at a meeting where she was expected to criticise Sudan's morality laws.

"They identify women who could be seen as leaders in human rights, women of strong character, who are willing to speak up and they target them in different ways. Could be cohersion, detention, forbidding them from travelling, unable them to continue working like Amal Habani, she was banned from writing after she reported on the rape of Safiya Ishaq."

The alleged assault and rape of Safiya Ishaq, a member of the group Girifna (“we are fed up”), was widely reported. The government denied it and several journalists were arrested and charged for reporting it.

Not much can be done to prevent this from happening, and the government has consistently denied the scale of sexual violence by its forces, especially in Darfur.

Laws such as the National Security Act of 2010, give national security officers very wide-ranging powers.

A few weeks ago the National Intelligence and Security Services raided the office of TRACKs for Training and Human Development, a Sudanese organisation that provides information on human rights. It wasn't the first time, and activists say they are questioned on a daily basis for no good reason.

"The National Secutiry Act of 2010 gives security services great powers, checked virtually by no one," John Hursh, a policy analyst and Sudan expert for the Enough Project, an NGO fighting against crime against humanity, told RFI.

"The amount of deference and power the security services have in the regime really demonstrates where the regime is headed - away from the Islamic revolution since it is now just a military authoritarian state. And that legislation gives them the power to do as they please in a lot of ways."

And the governement has not only denied using sexual violence against activists in individual cases - it has not investigated the allegations. Moreover, these laws completely shield individual officers from prosecution.

"The laws provide complete immunity: the criminal code of 1991 has immunities; the national security act of 2010 has immunities; the police forces act also has immunities – it’s a patchwork in many laws in fact," HRW's Jeahanne Henry said.

When it comes to the national security act, discriminatory public order and morality laws, the punishments may include flogging and stoning.



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