Human Rights Watch has released a report describing how Sudanese security forces have subjected female activists, human rights defenders and journalists to sexual abuse, intimidation, and other forms of ill-treatment. The rights group says it does not believe any security officer has ever been held to account for these actions.
In a new report entitled “Good Girls Don’t Protest,” Human Rights Watch has documented cases in which it says Sudanese authorities abused, harassed and intimidated women who were involved in protests and rights campaigns, as well as journalists and others.
Human Rights Watch senior researcher Jehanne Henry says male activists tend not to have the same experience as their female counterparts.
“So we have got a lot of examples of national security officials in particular, but also police, sometimes, harassing women who are protesting, taunting them, telling them, ‘What are they doing out on the street. it is not the place of women?’ And then we have got much more serious examples as well of national security officers or suspected national security officers who have actually abducted or detained women and raped them,” said Henry.
She described one case from Sudan’s April 2015 elections, when a female activist was distributing leaflets urging a boycott.
“She was arrested from outside of her family home, and then driven away, some distance away from town, and she was raped in a very remote location by three national security officers, she said. And then when they were finished beating her and insulting her and raping her, they drove her back to the main road and dropped her off,” she said.
Sudan is a deeply political culture and women have been politically active for a long time, according to Henry. The report suggests abuses against women seemed to increase as public protests and demonstrations became more frequent around the time of the Arab uprisings, South Sudan’s 2011 secession, Sudan’s economic downturn, and uprisings in Southern Kordofan and Blue Nile.
Henry believes it is necessary to highlight these cases of rape, sexual violence, and harassment committed by security forces, in order to ask the Sudanese authorities to take appropriate action.
“So we want to show that this is happening, ask them to address it by showing zero tolerance for it and by holding security forces accountable when they are found to have done this. And Sudan has denied that its officials do engage in sexual violence, and it has not to our knowledge held anyone accountable for any abuses of female activists,” said Henry.
Sudan’s National Security Act of 2010 gives national security officers broad powers, effectively ensuring individual officers will avoid prosecution.
Sudan has ratified human rights conventions that prohibit inhuman and degrading treatment, yet public morality laws proscribe a woman’s manner of dress, movement, and role in public life. Violations can bring punishments of lashing and stoning.
HRW is urging the Sudanese government to reform these laws, including the national security act, and repeal corporal punishment.
Calls to a Sudan government spokesman for response were not answered.