Report: Survivors of gender-based violence in Sudan need justice

The Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic at Yale Law School recently completed a study of gender-based violence (GBV) in Southern Sudan.

Partnering with the Enough Project, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that campaigns against genocide, the clinic spent nearly a year and a half researching the extent of gender-based violence in the region and analyzing the ability of survivors to secure justice. Three Law School students in the clinic — Chelsea Purvis, Caroline Gross and Karen Kudelko — wrote the study during the 2009-2010 academic year, under the supervision of clinic director Professor James Silk.

“The time to explore the issue was just right,” said Kudelko. “Sudan was soon to be facing elections, and the South would be holding a referendum on secession in 2011. Therefore, there was bound to be a reexamination of the laws and structures within the country.” 

Released Jan. 24, the study concludes that gender-based violence is prevalent in southern Sudan and that survivors face multiple obstacles to obtaining justice — barriers that are cultural, legal and systemic. It asserts that Sudanese authorities and the international community have failed to protect women and children from rape, assault, abduction, human trafficking and other forms of gender-based violence, and it offers recommendations on how the United States and others can help prevent these kinds of crimes and hold perpetrators accountable.

“Among other things, we encourage the U.N. Security Council to fully implement or strengthen resolutions that protect survivors of sexual violence, and we urge the United States to make GBV a focus of its policy in southern Sudan and treat GBV issues as critical aspects of efforts to improve peace and security in Sudan,” said Purvis.

The study also calls upon the governments of Sudan and southern Sudan to reform law and policy toward GBV and to support survivors, and it asks international and domestic donors and investors to provide funding, personnel and infrastructure aimed at helping women attain justice.

Students in the Lowenstein Clinic, which takes on a wide variety of human rights projects each semester, say they are honored to have worked on this one.

“Knowing I have contributed to something that will hopefully change the shape of how survivors seek help in southern Sudan makes me very proud of the work we have done,” said Kudelko, “but it cannot end there. We need to follow through and make sure our study is understood and that the laws and policies of southern Sudan are changed to provide survivors with proper access to justice.”

More on the report

A guest post about the report written for the Enough Project website by the Allard K. Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic at Yale Law School notes:

“… For too long, women and girls who have suffered rape, domestic violence, and human trafficking in southern Sudan have been unable to obtain justice. Men kidnapped, tortured, and gang-raped women during the 21-year civil war between the North and the South that ended in 2005. Now women face physical assault and rape by soldiers in the Sudan People’s Liberation Army and officers in the Southern Sudan Police Services. Women are subjected to violence during inter-ethnic raids. These raids have traditionally been attributed to cattle rustling, but Médecins Sans Frontières has reported that recent attacks have specifically targeted women and children.

Soldiers and police officers commit a significant portion of the gender-based violence.  Unfortunately, they are immune from prosecution under several Sudanese laws, unless their supervisors waive the immunity. Supervisors rarely do so. In addition, a presidential decree issued in 2005 protects soldiers and officials from being prosecuted for crimes carried out “during the execution of [their] duties.” Therefore, officials have been able to avoid prosecution for rape by claiming that the sexual assaults were committed while carrying out their duties.

Even where the perpetrator is not affiliated with the government, barriers to prosecution exist in the legal definition of rape itself. Rape is classified in Sudanese criminal law within zina, the larger category of offenses that encompasses rape, sodomy, and adultery. If a woman is raped by a man who is not her husband and she cannot prove that the sex was not consensual, she could end up being accused of adultery and prosecuted for zina. And she faces a high burden of proof:  Under customary law, she must produce four witnesses who can attest to the fact that the sex was not consensual. When, despite these legal barriers, women do report crimes, they face corruption, retaliation, and social stigma.

The United Nations owes it to the women of Sudan to treat these serious problems as integral to the resolution of the conflict, rather than a side issue. …”

The report’s recommendations include the following:

The UN Security Council must:

  • Fully implement Resolution 1325 — which seeks to protect women and girls from conflict-related violence — by developing consistent indicators to monitor progress.
  • Strengthen Resolution 1820 on sexual violence during conflict by: (1) closing the loopholes that allow parties to avoid responsibility for authorizing or condoning sexual violence, and (2) extending the resolution’s applicability beyond sexual violence to encompass all gender-based violence in conflict.

The United States must:

  • Make GBV a focus of its policy in Sudan, holding the national government of Sudan and the government of Southern Sudan accountable for perpetrating, and failing to protect women from, GBV.
  • Treat GBV issues as critical aspects of efforts to improve peace and security in Sudan. The United States can do so in the context of assisting Sudan with its political transition after the 2010 elections and the referendum on Southern Sudanese independence in 2011.

 The governments of Sudan and Southern Sudan must:

  • Amend criminal law to provide separate definitions of rape and adultery.
  • Study the current customary law system, amend the laws to afford women appropriate rights, and reduce the bureaucratic obstacles women face in seeking justice.
  •  Change evidentiary rules in rape cases to allow a woman’s testimony to have as much weight as a man’s.
  • Eliminate the requirement in rape cases that there be witness testimony that a sexual act was not consensual.
  • Ensure, by executive decree or legislation, that a woman will not be prosecuted for adultery if she is unable to meet the evidentiary standards for proving she has been raped.
  • Reform police-reporting processes to be more efficient, confidential, and reliable to ensure that when survivors of GBV seek help, they are protected. Women should be made aware of these protections.
  • Support outreach and education programs to make women aware of their rights and to counter the stigma that attaches to survivors of GBV.

 International and domestic donors and investors must:

  • Provide funding, personnel, and infrastructure to support efforts to codify customary law and to provide paralegal training for customary court officials.
  • Provide funding, personnel, and infrastructure to support governmental and non-governmental projects aimed at helping women attain justice.

The full report can be found on the Enoughproject.org website. Click here to read it.

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