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Strategic Initiative of Women in the Horn of Africa (SIHA) Network panel discussion on the experiences of human and women rights activists in Sudan


Strategic Initiative of Women in the Horn of Africa (SIHA) Network panel discussion on the experiences of human and women rights activists in Sudan

Banjul, November 18, 2010

On November 12th 2010 the Strategic Initiative of Women in the Horn of Africa (SIHA) hosted a panel discussion in Banjul, the Gambia on the experiences of human and women rights activists in Sudan. This event offered a platform for Sudanese women and human rights activists to share their views and experiences and an opportunity for SIHA to highlight all the manifestations and implications of the arbitrary regime on the lives of many women from all walks of life in Sudan. It was held on the margins of the 48th Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights which is currently taking place in Banjul, the Gambia.

For the second year in a row, a delegation of Sudanese human and women rights activists brought their submission paper to the African Commission on Human and People’s rights to call for an urgent reform of the Public Order Regime (POR) in Sudan. The paper, entitled Beyond Trousers: The Public Order Regime and the Human Rights of Women and Girls in Sudan describes the challenges faced by women and girls on a daily basis in negotiating the impact of the Public Order Regime on their personal, social, economic and professional life. It was presented to the commission in English last year and has now been published and distributed in English, French and Arabic.

The Sudan Public Order Regime enforces a set of laws that are particularly infused with a conception of women as problematic actors whose movements and presence in public and private life are "dangerous" to those around them. "Offences such as sharing a public or private space including waking on the road with a man, "indecent dress, dancing " and many more are interpreted with great latitude and enforced by a special police and court system (The Public Order Police and the Public Order Court). As a result, even where provisions of the POR are not expressed in gender specific terms, women are the core targets for the application of ill-defined moral standards.

During the panel discussion, a women rights activist and victim of the Public Order Regime, Amiera Osman, illustrated to the public the arbitrary and ill-defined application of the Public Order Laws and the brutality of its regime: “When I was walking in the streets of Khartoum with my friend, wearing trousers and a blouse with long sleeves, we were arrested by officers of the Public Order Police, after they had called us “indecent women” and said we were coming from an indecent family. These police men were in plain clothes at that time and driving a civilian registered car, and they were alluding to sexual favors in return for our release. Both of us were charged under article 152 of the Criminal Act 1991 for “indecent dress” and we were fined.” Amiera has been arrested by the Public Order Police 6 times already and now refers to herself as a “serial dress code violator”.

The Public Order Regime employs oppressive tools that have a deep damaging impact on women, girls, families and societies. "It alienates Sudanese values and hinders their development”, said Hala Alkarib, the Regional director of SIHA Network. Furthermore, the practice of the POR is undermining the capacity of Sudan to realize its obligation to ensure the rights of its citizens to "economic, social and cultural development with regard to their freedom and identity and in the equal enjoyment of the common heritage of mankind." (Article 22, African Charter). One of the characteristics of the Public Order Regime is its general and vaguely worded final penalty provision which provides that "in the case of any contravention of this act" a person may be punished by a variety of criminal penalties including imprisonment, fine, confiscation and lashing (Section 26).

The Sudanese human rights activist, Ahmed Elzobier expressed his concern on the increasing repressive nature of the Public Order Regime, especially among the most vulnerable girls and women in the society. As Amiera had the opportunity and the courage to speak out for herself, many women do not, out of shame and fear. Among them displaced people from the South, Nuba Mountains or Darfur living in Khartoum area. “Many girls and women that have suffered from arrest by the Public Order Police tend to keep silent about the whole incident, in fear of society and their family. Bribery to prevent further shame is common, even though these women are very poor. It is a cause of fear among women to walk on the streets or the markets of Khartoum”, Ahmed Elzobier explains. “Poor women are victimized by the Public Order Laws, especially those working in the informal sector, e.g. tea sellers or women on the market.”

The case of Nadia Saboon, a tea lady in Khartoum who was escaping arrest by the Khartoum Public Order Police when she fell on a harmful piece of iron and passed away, is another illustration of the restrictments placed on the public, economic and professional lives of the women in Sudan.

Ms Hala Alkarib believes that as the political tension in the country is rising and the time is approaching for the upcoming South Sudan referendum, Khartoum and other areas in North Sudan are witnessing an increase in the activity of Public Order Police raids on women. “In August 2010, the Sudan Parliament called for the enforcement of Zina punishment, which means the stoning of women who are accused of having extra marital affairs, and called for the promotion of early marriage and polygamy hereby clearly breaching the African Protocol to the African charter on human and people’s rights to which Sudan is signatory”.

The discussion paper ends with a set of recommendations to the Sudanese government and to the African Commission on People’s and Human Rights for bringing the laws in Sudan in conformity with the requirements of the Africa Charter on People’s and Human Rights.

SIHA calls on Sudan to implement the African charter and the recommendations of the African Commission to Sudan to both abolish the penalty of lashing and immediately amend the Criminal Law of 1991, in conformity with its obligations under the African Charter.

“We call on the Sudan government to review and lift all the gender discriminatory codes in Sudan Public Order Acts, then, we call upon the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Women to offer assistance to the Government of Sudan in the processes of law reform and to call attention to the impact of the POR in Sudan on the human rights of girls and women.” said Ms Hala Alkarib.
The Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa (SIHA) is a horn of Africa women rights network. SIHA launched its discussion paper in November 2009 and called for attention towards the repressive Public Order Regime. The discussion paper was released with a set of recommendations to the Government of Sudan and to the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights.

For contacts: SIHA Regional Secretariat Kampala-Uganda 256-414286446 or sihahornofafrica@yahoo.co.uk

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