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Women's group questions rules behind Sudan 'trousers case' crackdown.

November 22, 2009 (WASHINGTON) -- A women's advocacy network recently highlighted Sudanese women's rights with a presentation to an African human rights commission. The rights group, called the Strategic Initiative on Women in the Horn of Africa (SIHA), wants Sudan to amend the Criminal Law of 1991 and abolish the penalty of lashing.

A number of Sudanese, Ethiopian, Eritrean and Somali NGOs make up the SIHA network. In a written paper presented to the 46th Session of the African Commission for Human and People's Rights, the activists called for reform to Sudan's public order regime. The human rights event was held this month in Banjul, Gambia. Sudanese women's rights were spotlighted recently by the media coverage of the infamous "trousers case" involving Lubna Hussein, a journalist and then-UN employee. The case began in July when 13 women wearing trousers were arrested from a restaurant in Khartoum and charged with the commission of "indecent and immoral acts" under the 1991 Criminal Code. Among those arrested, Lubna Hussein was the only one not sentenced to lashing. SIHA refers to that trousers case in its paper, titled "Beyond Trousers: The Public Order Regime and the Human Rights of Women and Girls in Sudan." The public order regime in Sudan is a set of laws and mechanisms which, in addition to dealing with matters of public security, prohibit and enforce a range of behaviour from dancing at private parties, to "indecent dress", to intention to commit adultery. The Regional Director of the SIHA Network, Hala Alkarib, said that SIHA is presenting its submission "on behalf of Sudan's men and women who stood against the Public Order Regime during the 'trouser case'." "It is not just a question of trousers. The public order regime expresses and enforces an ideology that considers that women should not have equal access to public and private freedoms--including the basic components of the right to liberty, security of person and fair trail as set out in Auricles 6 and 7 of the Charter", said Ms. Alkarib. SIHA argues that public order laws are applied arbitrarily and that "Sudanese men and women are unable to predict consistently what behaviour, either in public or private, may or may not attract the censure of the authorities." The SIHA paper also derides the public order police and puplic order courts for violating basic rights, such as the right not to be arbitrarily detained, the right to have one's case heard, and the right to legal counsel. The paper makes the sweeping conclusion that the public order regime not only represses the lives of individuals, but also the development of Sudan as a whole. Ms. Alkarib described how women have become increasingly frightened about walking on the street or being seen in public. Many are reviewing the risks of political engagement. "We need an urgent debate on the public order regime which focuses on the reality of the excuse of public order as a tool to restrict women's full participation in Sudanese economic, social and public life. Reform of the public order regime is a fundamental component of Sudan's transition to a democratic order," she said. Mr. Algabir Alaffif Muktar of the Alkhatim Adlan Centre for Enlightenment and Human Development spoke at the launch of the paper. "There is a need for courage. Reform of the public order regime requires a fundamental shift in approach to the use of law and state power," he said according to a press statement from SIHA. (ST)

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Publication:Sudan Tribune (Sudan)
Date:Nov 23, 2009
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