“The silence and the denials” – UN rights expert calls for open dialogue on violence against women in the Sudan

GENEVA / KHARTOUM (27 May 2015) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on violence against women, Rashida Manjoo, called for more open and constructive dialogues among all parties to address the causes and consequences of violence against women in the Sudan.

“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,” Ms. Manjoo stressed at the end of her twelve-day official visit* to the country.

“Constructive and open dialogues among all stakeholders; unfettered access; and an environment that is conducive to full and frank disclosures and dialogues, without the fear of reprisals; is essential in our common quest to promote and protect all human rights for all,”, the expert said, noting that during her visit concerns were expressed in this regard.

The Special Rapporteur noted that open and constructive dialogues must address challenges such as social stigma and silences surrounding certain manifestations of violence; an unresponsive, and sometimes hostile environment, when the issue of violence against women is raised; as well as the lack of or the underreporting of cases and the limited existence of disaggregated data.

She also pointed out to traditional, cultural and social norms that prevent disclosure and the seeking of assistance from persons outside of the family unit; and the focus on reconciliation, at the expense of accountability, for crimes against women and girls.

Ms. Manjoo encouraged the Government of Sudan and all stakeholders to find common ground in constructively engaging and addressing the tensions that exist, in particular with the international community and the UN, in the interests of the people living in Sudan.

During her information-gathering visit to Sudan, the expert confirmed that information received from confidential sources through reports and interviews show a range of manifestations of violence against women, whether in conflict or non-conflict areas. “Reports and interviews reflect the existence of violence in the family and the community, including against women and girl children, whether physical, psychological, sexual or economic,” she explained.

Other manifestations include an increase in trafficking of women and girls, particularly of asylum seekers and refugees, rape and sexual harassment/humiliation in the context of conflict, humiliations of women activists including of Darfuri women students, and insecurity prevalent within and outside numerous IDP camps, which renders women and girls vulnerable to violence.

Violence also occurs as a consequence of “the discriminatory interpretation and implementation of provisions of some laws, including the Criminal Law, the Public Order Law and the Personal Status Law,” Ms. Manjoo noted.

Over the past 10 years, concrete legal and institutional measures have been made towards addressing women’s human rights in particular the adoption of affirmative action policies in favour of women through the Electoral Law 2014, the Trafficking in Persons Act and the Asylum Act in 2014; the amendment of article 149 of the Criminal Law, and also the inclusion of a new provision on sexual harassment in the Criminal Law.

In addition, she noted that information was also shared on numerous policies and strategies on violence against women, including the national plan for eradicating violence against women (2011 – 2016), with its successor (2015 – 2031) currently in the process of finalization.

Despite the assertions of transparent and inclusive consultations and engagement with civil society individuals and organisations, in the development of laws and policies, there are still concerns about the selective inclusion of certain sectors of the NGO community in such efforts.

“The reports that I have received indicate a clamping down on NGOs generally, but more specifically women’s rights organisations, including through deregistration, challenges to applications by the relevant authorities, and also the imposition of barriers to registration,” Ms. Manjoo said.

“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 expert highlighted.

The Special Rapporteur urged the Government of Sudan “to set up a Commission of Inquiry, consisting of both national and international persons, to look into the reports of allegations of mass rapes in different regions, including recent allegations regarding the village of Thabit.

(*) Check the full end-of-mission statement:
English: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=16009&LangID=E
Arabic: http://www.ohchr.org/AR/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=16009&LangID=A

Ms. Rashida Manjoo (South Africa) was appointed Special Rapporteur on Violence against women, its causes and consequences in June 2009 by the UN Human Rights Council. Ms. Manjoo is a Professor in the Department of Public Law of the University of Cape Town. Learn more, visit: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Women/SRWomen/Pages/SRWomenIndex.aspx

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms of the Human Rights Council that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

UN Human Rights, Country Page – Sudan: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/countries/AfricaRegion/Pages/SDIndex.aspx

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