Activists call on AU to act on Khartoum’s Public Order Police treatment of women

Statement from the Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa (SIHA )

From tomorrow November 10th until November 24th, 2010 the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights will hold their 46th ordinary session in Banjul, the Gambia. The Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa (SIHA) , a women rights network active in the Horn of Africa will submit for the second time a paper titled “Beyond Trousers” on the Public Order Regime in North Sudan to the Commission. One SIHA representative, one Sudanese lawyer and one victim of the repressive Public Order Regime (POR) in North Sudan will address the commission.

She ran vastly and they chased her brutally until she fell on a harmful piece of iron and gave up her soul.” This is the case of Nadia Saboon the tea lady of Khartoum while she was escaping arrest by the Khartoum Public Order Police.

This is the second year that the delegation of Sudanese human and women rights activists are bringing their submission paper to the 48th session of the African Commission on Human and People’s rights to call for an urgent reform of the Public Order Regime in Sudan.

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. This was said by one of the POR victims who was held with her husband while having tea in a public park:

“They snatched me all of sudden and told my husband to leave because they were not interested in him and that they will deal with me and my revealing outfit.” (She was wearing jeans, a long t-shirt and scarf) “My husband started to object, and on finding out that he was my husband they held us both; him for assaulting aPublic Order Officer and me for indecent clothing.”

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 time is approaching for the upcoming South Sudan referendum, as the political tension in the country is rising, 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.

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.

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