Women’s groups in Sudan advocate for rape law reform

Women’s groups in Khartoum are working together to push for reform of north Sudan’s criminal laws on rape and adultery. Despite all of the difficulties that they face, they are taking positive steps forward and using the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence to launch their campaign.

A new network of Sudanese women’s organizations calling itself “the section 149 alliance” has come together to advocate for reform of section 149 of north Sudan’s Penal Code. Section 149 is one of the huge problems that face northern Sudanese women, including Darfuri women, who want to report a rape. This section of the criminal code mixes up the offences of rape and adultery.

As Refugees International reported back in 2007, the criminal system in north Sudan makes it almost impossible to prosecute rape cases successfully. The crime of rape is difficult to prove in most criminal systems, but in north Sudan many judges require four adult male witnesses to testify that a rape took place. Such evidence is of course almost impossible to obtain. Sadly, reporting rape brings stigma onto survivors in almost all countries. But in north Sudan, women have even more to fear than the stigma. Sudanese women are scared to report rape because they could themselves be prosecuted for adultery if the rape prosecution fails. For an unmarried woman the punishment for adultery is 100 lashes; for a married woman the punishment is death by stoning. This is obviously an enormous disincentive for rape survivors to come forward.

So it is good news that women’s groups in Sudan are campaigning to change this system. They are pointing out to lawmakers in Sudan that the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement between north and south Sudan requires them to change their laws to bring them in line with international human rights. The current laws on rape and adultery in north Sudan are clearly in violation of international human rights laws. There are many Islamic religious scholars who have stated that Islamic law does not prevent reform of these rape and adultery laws. It is heartening to see that Sudanese women’s groups are standing up for the rights of rape survivors and calling on their politicians to reform these unjust laws.



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