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Friday 19 March 2010

Sudan: Justice Elusive for Rape Victims

The high burden of proof makes it almost impossible for them to win their cases.

By Tajeldin Abdhalla Adam, Assadig Musa, Simon Jennings and Katy Glassborow in Hilversum (AR No 250, 12-Mar-10)
Source : Institute for Peace and War Reporting

Lawyers from Darfur say antiquated laws and weak investigations make it virtually impossible for rape victims to get justice in Sudan.

They say rape has been used as a tool of war in Darfur, and laws need to be amended so that women do not have to prove that they were to blame for the attack.

The tragic tale of one 16-year-old girl, who was raped in March 2006, illustrates how difficult it can be to bring perpetrators of sexual violence to justice.

Musaahat Mohammed Ali, head of the girl's legal team, says she was raped on the road from Nyala to El-Fashir, when her bus was hijacked by a group of armed men. The men allegedly beat the passengers and took the girl to some nearby woods to rape her.

Although the armed men were subsequently arrested, and a case brought against the suspects, the court ultimately ruled that there was not sufficient evidence to deliver a guilty verdict. Following an unsuccessful appeal, all the suspects were released.

Mohammed Ali explains that the case was thrown out because Sudan's criminal law requires there to be four male witnesses in order to prove that the alleged rape was not consensual sex.

He says that the medical report, which the girl was able to obtain shortly after the rape, was not admitted as evidence.

Other circumstantial evidence was also disregarded, such as the psychological state of the victim; and the claims that the bus was hijacked and the girl taken away into the forest.

Victims say that it is impossible to find four male witnesses who are willing to testify in a rape case.

One woman from Jebel Marra, who was raped recently by three men dressed in army uniform, says people are often too scared to intervene.

“One man came from a neighbouring house to help, but the man standing guard in the doorway shot him in the leg,” she said. “After the attack, the local sheik called the village together and asked why no-one had helped me. Everyone said they heard my cries but were afraid that if they came, they would be hurt.”

Lawyers say that one of the problems with Sudan's rape laws is that the crime is seen as no different to adultery or sodomy.

"Rape, sodomy and adultery are bundled together in one article,” Mohammed Ali said. “The evidence needed for an adultery crime is also the evidence which is needed for a rape.”

Sudanese law defines rape as “sexual intercourse, by way of adultery, or sodomy, with any person without his consent”.

Rasha Saraj, a lawyer from Nyala in Darfur, points out that this definition creates confusion about whether a crime should be classed as rape or adultery.

“If you fail to get a conviction for rape... the woman could be convicted of having committed adultery,” she said.

David Donat Cattin, director of the international law and human rights programme at Parliamentarians for Global Action, says that a woman who accuses a man of raping her could be charged with libelling him if the rape case is thrown out.

“This evidentiary burden is a double sword,” Cattin said. “On the one hand it... makes rape impossible to prove, and on the other hand it damages the victim again. There is no law in the world where this level of corroboration is required.”

Adrienne Fricke, a researcher for human rights group Refugees International, says that rape laws in Sudan draw their logic from Islamic sharia law, which historically sought to protect people accused of adultery from harsh punishment by requiring a high burden of evidence.

She said that other Islamic countries have taken steps to reform laws that penalise rape victims, such as Pakistan, which in 2006 introduced amendments to allow rape to be considered distinct from the crime of adultery.

In order to kick-start proceedings, victims of rape in Sudan must register the attack at a police station and then fill out a so-called Form 8 incident report form at the hospital based on their injuries.

But Fricke argues that the Form 8 procedure is flawed, since it often takes the place of medical documentation, even though it is not nearly as detailed in the evidence it documents.

Moreover, injuries can only be assessed at hospitals in bigger cities. This makes it harder for victims who have been raped in rural areas to obtain justice. By the time they have travelled to a hospital, signs of their injuries may have disappeared altogether.

“The sooner they report a rape, the easier it is to find out if there is a scratch on their bodies and any sign of physical aggression,” Mohammed Ali said.

The confusion surrounding Form 8 means that evidence often gets lost, further hampering victims' efforts to achieve justice.

The woman from Jebel Marra, cited earlier in this article, said that she was given a Form 8 to fill in, but the police later took it back from her, on the grounds that they had not been able to arrest the suspects.

Darfur lawyer Saraj says that, even if a case is successfully reported and taken on by the police, there are major flaws in the investigations of sexual violence.

“There is no special unit to deal with rape cases at local police stations,” he said. “Those people who investigate the crime are not trained or specialised.”

Darfur lawyers have welcomed the International Criminal Court arrest warrant for Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir, which was issued last year and included one count of rape as a crime against humanity.

But they also recognise that international law on its own is not enough to bring justice to victims of rape in Darfur.

“In this condition of war we need new laws that can punish and deter perpetrators, and match our laws with international standards,” said Saraj, the lawyer from Nyala. “Unless this happens, local laws remain incapable of dealing with rapes.”

Defending the existing laws, Fathi Khalil, former head of the Sudan Bar Association and National Congress Party, NCP, loyalist, said, “There is no need to change the laws. Before you change them you have to have a good reason. If there is a necessity to change the laws, this is something we are ready to consider.”

The article was produced in cooperation with Radio Dabanga (, a radio station for Darfuris run by Darfuris from the Netherlands.

Tajeldin Abdhalla Adam is a Radio Dabanga reporter and IWPR trainee. Assadig Musa is working with Radio Dabanga. Katy Glassborow and Simon Jennings are IWPR reporters in The Hague and producers of a radio show for Radio Dabanga about justice issues.

Thursday 10 December 2009

International Human Rights Day: Firm Political Will Required to End Violence Against Women


The Coalition of the Campaign “Africa for Women's Rights Ratify and Respect” demands immediate action from governments

10 December 2010, Nairobi, Paris - On International Human Rights Day, as NGO's across Africa conclude their actions marking 16 days of activism against gender violence, the Coalition of the Campaign “Africa for Women's Rights Ratify and Respect” calls upon all African governments to take urgent measures to eliminate violence against women.

Africa is the continent that records the highest levels of violence perpetrated against women. Patriarchy, sexism and misogyny are widespread across the 53 countries. Harmful traditional practices, insufficient legal protection and extensive impunity for acts of violence perpetuate violations of women's rights. In periods of conflict or political unrest, crimes of sexual violence continue to be committed on a massive scale.

From November 25th (International Day on Violence Against Women) until 10th December (International Human Rights Day), NGO's have been intensively campaigning for an end to such atrocities. The Coalition of the Campaign “Africa for Womens Rights Ratify and Respect” lends its support to the theme for this year's mobilisation: Commit ▪ Act ▪ Demand: We CAN End Violence Against Women! The Campaign emphasizes the need for all actors, starting with governments, to give full support to efforts to end sexual and gender based violence.

The Coalition of the Campaign issues specific recommendations to the governments of Burundi, Botswana, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Togo and Mali, which have been a particular focus of the Campaign in 2009, and where sexual and domestic violence remain highly prevalent.

In Burundi, perpetrators of sexual and domestic violence benefit from widespread impunity. There is no specific law prohibiting domestic violence. Extrajudicial settlement of cases of rape favours practices such as marriage between the rapist and the victim. Amongst the root causes of persistent violence, are profoundly discriminatory laws, in particular provisions of the Code of the Person and the Family and the Penal Code, as well as the continued application of customary law.

The Coalition of the Campaign calls on the government of Burundi to:

  • abolish or reform discriminatory laws including provisions of the Code of the Person and the Family and the Penal Code and customary laws;
  • enact legislation criminalizing domestic violence;
  • adopt a comprehensive strategy to combat all forms of violence against women; and
  • ratify the Protocol to the African Charter on the Rights of Women in Africa.

In Botswana, customary law, which profoundly discriminates against women, is applied alongside common law. While Botswana has adopted legislation criminalising violence against women (Domestic Violence Act 2008), under customary law men are perceived to have the right to “chastise” their wives. Furthermore, the Domestic Violence Act contains significant gaps. For example, it does not penalise marital rape.

The Coalition of the Campaign therefore calls on the government of Botswana to:

  • abolish or reform discriminatory laws including customary laws and ensure that common law is superior to customary law;
  • enact legislative provisions criminalizing marital rape; and
  • adopt a comprehensive strategy to combat all forms of violence against women.

In Democratic Republic of Congo, crimes of sexual violence continue to be committed on a massive scale, both in areas of ongoing conflict and areas of relative stability. Two laws on sexual violence adopted in 2006 have so far been ineffectively implemented and perpetrators continue to enjoy impunity. Harmful traditional practices such as dowry, levirate, polygamy, forced and early marriage, female genital mutilation and domestic violence, remain widespread.

The Coalition of the Campaign calls on the Democratic Republic of Congo to implement the recent recommendations on combating violence against women issued by the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (November 2009). In particular, it urges the government to:

  • accelerate the adoption of the law on gender equality and reform of discriminatory provisions within the Family Code;
  • enact legislation prohibiting harmful traditional practices;
  • raise the minimum age of marriage for girls to 18 years;
  • implement the comprehensive strategy against sexual violence endorsed by the Government in April 2009; and
  • ensure provision of compensation, psychological support and health care to survivors of sexual violence.

In Mali, discriminatory laws, in particular in the area of the family, place women in a situation of extreme vulnerability. Harmful traditional practices persist including female genital mutilation, forced and early marriage and levirate. Following ten years of drafting, reforms to the Family Code were passed by parliament in August 2009 but, following widespread protests by ultra-conservative groups, the President sent the law back to Parliament for a second reading.

The Coalition of the Campaign therefore calls on the government of Mali to:

  • ensure that the proposed reforms of the Family Code, are adopted, in full, without further delay;
  • criminalise female genital mutilation and marital rape;
  • adopt the Protocol to the African Charter on the Rights of Women in Africa.

In Togo, discriminatory customs and traditions, including forced and early marriage, female genital mutilation, ritual bondage, levirate and repudiation are widespread. Patriarchal attitudes persist that consider the physical chastisement of family members, including women, acceptable. Proposed reforms to the Personal and Family Code, which would amend some of the discriminatory provisions, have been stalled.

The Coalition of the Campaign therefore calls on the government of Togo to:

  • reform all discriminatory legislation including the Personal and Family Code
  • enact legislation on domestic violence, including marital rape, and on all forms of sexual abuse, including sexual harassment
  • introduce immediate measures to modify and/or eliminate customs and cultural practices that discriminate against women
  • ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.

“As we mark International Human Rights Day, we remind all governments of the fundamental rights of women to be protected from all forms of violence. It is abhorrent that women continue to suffer such atrocities, and on a daily basis, whilst governments fail to act”, stated Souhayr Belhassen, FIDH President. “Eliminating violence against women is a question, first and foremost, of political will”, she concluded.

Tuesday 4 August 2009

Tanzania: Immediate Steps to Protect Women Are Requested by the UN Human Rights Committee

Geneva 3rd Aug 09 – The UN Human Rights Committee examined the implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in Tanzania during its 96th session (13 – 31 July 2009).

On this occasion, the Southern Africa Human Rights NGO Network, the Legal and Human Rights Centre, the Tanganyika Law Society and the Centre for Civil and Political Rights (CCPR Centre) submitted a report on the Human Rights situation in Tanzania. This report highlighted the particular concerns such as the death penalty, overcrowding in prisons, indigenous peoples and the independence of NGOs.

The report also reveals that Albinos are subjected to brutalities and killings. According to the NGO findings, more than 40 Albinos have been killed in the past two years for reasons associated with superstition and witchcraft. The perpetrators must answer for their crimes. UN Experts recommended that Tanzania “as a matter of urgency, strengthen its efforts to put a halt to incidents of mutilation and killings of persons with albinism, and to ensure the timely and efficient conduct of investigations and prosecution of the perpetrators”.

“Violence against women is a major concern for rights groups. Marital rape and endemic female genital mutilation (FGM) demonstrate a deplorable attitude towards women, as several cases in the NGO reports illustrate”, said Clarence Kipobota of the Legal and Human Rights Centre. Additionally, inheritance of widows concerned the experts. Both the law and customary practices violate Article 3 of the ICCPR. In its concluding observations and recommendations released on July 31st the Human Rights Committee emphasized the importance of taking concrete steps towards eliminating domestic violence. The Committee recommended that the authorities “should take all necessary measures to effectively combat violence against women”. It further recommended that “domestic violence, including marital rape, should be defined and criminalized and called on the authorities “to sensitize society as a whole” and “ensure that the perpetrators of such acts are prosecuted”.

Tanzania must implement these recommendations as rapidly as possible in order to comply with its international obligations and report back to the Committee by July 2010, on the measures taken to implement recommendations selected for the follow-up procedure. “It is a matter of urgency to tackle the shortcomings identified by the Human Rights Committee in order to comply with the ICCPR” said Patrick Mutzenberg of the CCPR Centre.

Contact: Patrick Mutzenberg – CCPR Centre:

UN Human Rights Concluding Observations on Tanzania available here

Monday 6 April 2009

Chad: Fighting violence against women, but how?

GUELENDENG/N'DJAMENA, 3 April 2009 (IRIN) - Awa was killed by her husband last November in Guelendeng, 150km south of the Chad capital N’djamena. Her death was the tipping point for the town’s women, who, appalled by the rampant violence they face, have decided to fight for their rights.

In December dozens of women took part in a protest march, the first of its kind in Guelendeng, to condemn the violation of their rights and to call the government to account over the impunity that prevails.

Murders, beatings, underage marriage, sexual violence – the list of violations is long. "There have been so many cases of violence that we can no longer sit and do nothing,” Catherine Ndaokaï, information and awareness officer for the Violence Against Women Monitoring Committee, told IRIN. “This violence is so widespread that men even sit around and chat about it.”

Involvement in the march posed a threat for many participants, said Martine Klah, president of the monitoring committee that was created the day after the march "so that the movement does not stop here".

In this region where men are traditionally seen as the "dominant ones", Klah said, “Men told us that they were going to kill us one by one for having held that march.”

Cultural beliefs constitute one of the greatest obstacles to fighting the violence, the women said. "Women are at the bottom of the (social) ladder and are seen as property", said Delphine Kemneloum Djiraibe, national coordinator of the Monitoring Committee to Call for Peace and National Reconciliation in Chad. "People can do whatever they want to a woman.”

The prevailing context of violence in a country where attacks on civilians by armed groups and general instability have been the norm for decades has undoubtedly exacerbated violence against women, human rights activists say.

"Men say that women are behind the (violent attacks), but back in the time of our grandparents people did not kill each other,” information officer Ndaokaï said "Even if a women was caught (doing something wrong), a man would have just got rid of her."

Women in Chad face considerable obstacles in fighting sexual violence

Legal gaps

The women of Guelendeng recognise there is a lack of support for victims of abuse. "We don’t know the basic legal documentation to defend the rights of women," monitoring committee president Klah said.

Chad has laws on the books, including on reproductive health, but the implementing decrees were never published, rights activists say. A Family Code bill, drawn up several years ago still has not gone through Parliament. Human rights activists say the delay is due to conservatives who think the law gives women too much power.

In the meantime magistrates are attempting to use existing documentation from the Penal Code, such as sections relating to ‘bodily harm’, Lydie Asngar Mbaiassem Latoï, director of the promotion of women and gender integration unit at the Ministry of Social Affairs, told IRIN.

But existing legal remedies are inadequate, women say. The gaps and the prevailing tendency for impunity mean that the perpetrators of this violence are almost never prosecuted – and men know this, which encourages them to continue these acts, Larlem Marie, President of APLFT, an organisation promoting basic rights in Chad, told IRIN.

"Recently a man who wanted to attack his wife told her he could kill her because either way he would get away with it,” Larlem said. “He pointed to a case in which a man killed his wife without the slightest repercussion,” she told IRIN.

Women often fail to file a complaint because they are terrified of retaliation. Djiraibe pointed out that even were a woman to pursue a case, she would have nowhere to go to be safe from her attacker, as no facilities are available for victims of violence, particularly domestic violence.

“There is opposition to (creating facilities of this kind) on the grounds that it encourages women to leave their homes,” she said. “So there is no alternative (to the conjugal home); if women (lodge a complaint) they will end up on the streets.”

Habiba, now 16, lives in fear that her husband will kill her

Widespread violence

While Guelendeng’s women are speaking out, many more women around the country suffer in silence, rights activists say. Humanitarian and human rights organisations report that the phenomenon is widespread but a lack of studies makes it difficult to determine the extent.

The Social Affairs Ministry plans to launch a nationwide survey this year that will in part measure the extent of violence against women, with support from UNFPA, according to Mbaiassem Latoï. And the ministry and UNFPA are working on a free helpline connected to the police, aimed at giving victims legal and medical help.

Aid workers say it is an issue that demands immediate action. "There is no sense of urgency even though we are facing a growing level of violence and there are more and more reports of feelings of insecurity,” said Marzio Babille, UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) representative in Chad.

Human rights activists say support from the authorities is critical to protecting women’s rights. The women of Guelendeng said they are fortunate in this respect. "We can go and see the (regional) prefect if we have a problem; he listens to us and supports us,” said one of the women.

Gabdibe Passore Ouadjiri Loth, the prefect, has been involved in several human rights cases and has links with the Ministry of the Interior and the presidency. "If a man will not protect his own mother, whom will he protect?" he said. But he recognised that the country was still run by “male chauvinists”.

The Ministry of Social Affairs’Mbaiassem Latoï said: “Things are moving forward slowly but surely. Everything is under construction: laws, policies.”

She added: “The (economic and security) crisis has turned everything upside down: many women have become heads of households and men are realising that they should not neglect them. This awakening has not reached its peak, but it will come. Either way, civil society will not stop".

Source: humanitarian news and analysis, UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 06.04.09 Read full article