‘Open dialogue needed on violence against women in Sudan’: UN Special Rapporteur
The silence and denials about the existence of violence against women in Sudan is a challenge that needs to be addressed as a matter of priority, according to Rashida Manjoo, UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against women, its causes and consequences.
“A large number of women and girls live in a context of deep inequality, underdevelopment, poverty and conflict, and this is exacerbated by violence in both the public and private spheres, whether at the hands of state or non-state actors,” she reported in a statement today, concluding her 12-day mission to Sudan.
During meetings with state officials, representatives of the Sudanese civil society, and displaced in Khartoum, North and West Darfur, and North Kordofan, Manjoo noted concerns about the lack of “an environment that is conducive to full and frank disclosures and dialogues, without the fear of reprisals, as well as a “gap between stated intent and actual practice”.
Displaced, refugees, asylum seekers
The prolonged and protracted situations of conflict, particularly in Darfur, requires more attention, particularly in a context of on-going hostilities and conflicts, Manjoo stated.
The insecurity prevalent in most camps for the displaced in Sudan further renders women and girls vulnerable to violence, whether at the hands of criminal elements, rebel groups, or the authorities,.
She also pointed to the increase in trafficking of women and girls, particularly of asylum seekers and refugees. Furthermore, she said, the “racialised/ethnicised targeting of Darfuri women students includes particular humiliations linked to their perceived racial identity, and includes the practice of cutting their hair, and questioning their ‘Arab’ identity”.
‘Silence and denials’
Information received through reports and interviews indicate the existence of a range of manifestations of violence against women and girls, whether physical, psychological, sexual, or economic, and whether in conflict or non-conflict areas.
“The silence and the denials, whether by state authorities or civil society participants, regarding violence as experienced by women, is a source of concern.”
The Special Rapporteur said that “it is impossible to verify the true extent of the violence practised against women, owing to a range of factors. These include the limited existence of disaggregated data; social stigma; the underreporting of cases; an unresponsive and sometimes hostile environment, and the focus on reconciliation, at the expense of accountability, for crimes against women and girls.
“However, during the visit, the majority of interlocutors focused largely on two issues linked to girl children i.e. female genital mutilation and early marriages. The silence and the denials, whether by state authorities or many civil society participants, regarding the subject of violence as experienced by women, is a source of concern,” she noted.
“The issue of access to justice and to justice itself, for crimes experienced by women and girls, requires attention, especially through addressing the accountability deficit that seems to be the norm in Sudan for gendered crimes,” the statement reads.
“Moreover, the various and overlapping institutional mechanisms, with complementary, but sometimes duplicating functions need to be reviewed, to ascertain clarity on roles, functions and capacities.”
Regarding alleged mass rapes in different regions, including the mass rape of at least 200 women and girls in the village of Tabit in North Darfur in October last year, Manjoo urged the Sudanese government to “set up a Commission of Inquiry, consisting of both national and international persons”.
‘Lack of trust’
The UN Special Rapporteur also pointed to the challenges UN agencies and Unamid are facing, “including security concerns, access restrictions, and political and administrative actions, which negatively impact partnerships and activities.
“The tension, lack of trust, and the conflation of issues, as regards the international community in general, and the UN in particular, were reflected in dialogues with some interlocutors. This unhealthy situation does not bode well for the people who live in Sudan, and who depend on both the government and the international community, for the effective promotion and protection of civil, political, economic, social, cultural and developmental rights.”
She therefore urged the Sudanese government and all stakeholders to “find common ground in constructively engaging and addressing the tensions that exist, in the interests of the people living in Sudan”.
The discriminatory interpretation and implementation of provisions of some laws, including the Criminal Law, the Public Order Law and the Personal Status Law, was also raised as an issue of concern, according to Manjoo.
“For example, article 152 of the Criminal Law on ‘indecent behaviour’ has a disproportionately negative impact on the lives of women and girls; while the Public Order Law includes provisions that are interpreted to regulate freedom of dress, movement, association, and work, which in many instances targets and criminalises women’s behaviour.
“The various and overlapping institutional mechanisms, with complementary, but sometimes duplicating functions need to be reviewed.”
“During my visit to a prison in Khartoum, I interviewed many women who are incarcerated for minor crimes, including for being unable to pay back micro-finance loans, or for informal small economic activities to meet subsistence needs. Pregnant women are regularly imprisoned, and there are a large number of children living with their mothers in prison, including women who have served their time but are unable to leave – as they cannot afford to pay the compensation (diya) or the money that they owe to lenders.”
The Rapporteur was informed of an on-going review, launched in 2006, of all laws that discriminate against women. According to information received, more than 26 laws have been identified as containing discriminatory provisions towards women, including the Personal Status Law. In 2010, the reviewing committee tabled its report at the parliament, through the Women’s Caucus.
Proposed changes at the federal level include a new amendment to set a minimum age of marriage; the harmonisation of substantive and procedural laws at a domestic level, in line with international human rights standards; and the consideration of ratification of both the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against women and the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (Maputo Protocol).
At the institutional level, the Combating Violence against Women Unit (CVAW) is the main government body that plays an influential role in coordinating efforts to end violence against women, and provides leadership throughout the country in this regard. Since 2007, the Ministry of Interior has gradually established Child and Family Protection Units within the police services.
“The State has the responsibility to act with due diligence to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls.”
A Gender Desk has also been established within the police service. Women’s directorates within 17 States, gender focal points within each ministry, and a National Committee for the advancement of Women, also form part of the institutional mechanisms working towards the promotion and protection of women’s human rights.
Despite the situation of insecurity in parts of the Sudan, it is clear that there have been legislative and institutional developments to address the situation of women’s human rights in general and violence against women in particular, Manjoo concluded her statement.
“A review of emerging and good practices in the different States will be of benefit to the people who live in Sudan, the government and also the international community that is committed to assisting the country,” she said.
“The State is the ultimate duty bearer, and has the responsibility to act with due diligence to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls. This responsibility includes the protection, prevention, investigation, punishment, and provision of effective remedies, including compensation measures.
“Furthermore, the State has a responsibility to hold accountable not only the perpetrators of violence, but also state authorities who fail to protect and prevent the violations of women and girls human rights, due to a lack of response, or because of ineffective responses. Holding accountable State authorities who perpetrate violence, is also an imperative in the current context,” she stressed.
Rashida Manjoo, Professor at the Department of Public Law of the University of Cape Town, South Africa, was appointed Special Rapporteur on Violence against women, its causes and consequences by the UN Human Rights Council in June 2009. As Special Rapporteur, she is independent from any government, or organisation, and serves in her individual capacity.
A comprehensive report of her findings concerning Sudan will be presented to the UN Human Rights Council in June 2016.
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