Sudan: A shrinking environment for Women Human Rights Defenders

Press release

Geneva-Paris-Kampala, August 30, 2018. Once pioneers in the defense of women’s civil and political rights, women human rights defenders (WHRDs) in Sudan are today victims of patriarchal practices implemented by security forces. This situation alarmingly restricts women’s participation in public life. The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders and ACJPS call on the Sudanese government to put an end to all forms of discrimination and harassment against WHRDs and ensure a safe environment for their work.

In a country in which, despite persistent gender discrimination, women have long been pioneer in the battle for their civil and political rights, the work environment for WHRDs is now rapidly shrinking. In a report published this month by the African Centre for Justice and Peace Studies (ACJPS), the organisation analyses the situation of WHRDs in Sudan from June 2016 to February 2018: “[t]he ideologues in power today tend to abuse these already oppressive laws in order to restrict women’s participation in public life. Women face unmerited legal action and trials, arbitrary arrest and incommunicado detention, prohibitions against travel and work, physical abuse, sexual harassment or assault and threats of violence or even death.”

Some of the main issues which make WHRDs a particularly targeted category are the absence of complaints mechanisms and the impact of legal restrictions on WHRD’s capacity to access legal, psychological and medical assistance. WHRDs are frequently subjected to torture and ill-treatment by the NISS upon arrest, en route or upon arrival at the detention centres. During their detention, WHRDs’ social media accounts are often controlled by NISS officers who use them to spread defamatory information about the account owners.

More than 20 WHRDs were subjected to arbitrary detention during the period covered by the ACJPS report. Several others faced accusations of apostasy, cybercrime and other trumped-up charges in retaliation to their human rights work. In this worrying context, the Observatory and ACJPS join their voices to call on the Sudanese authorities to immediately ratify and implement the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment of Punishment (CAT), put an end to all forms of harassment, including at the judicial level, against WHRDs in Sudan, and conduct impartial and effective investigations into all violations of WHRDs’ rights.

The Observatory and ACJPS reiterate their serious concerns regarding the general context of intimidation and repression against human rights defenders in Sudan, in particular in reaction to nation-wide demonstrations that began on January 6, 2018 and were set off by the announcement of Sudan’s 2018 budget and the lifting of subsidies and measures. Sudanese authorities have carried out a campaign of massive arrests and detentions, including against human rights defenders, political party leaders, journalists, students and other individuals for their involvement in the protests[1]. The police and the NISS have used excessive force to disperse and arrest protesters, including the reported use of tear gas and beatings with sticks and water hose pipes[2].

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and FIDH. The objective of this programme is to intervene to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. OMCT and FIDH are both members of , the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.

For more information, please contact:
OMCT: Marta Gionco: +41 228 09 49 39;
FIDH: Maryna Chebat: +33 6 49 10 83 65 - @MS_Chebat
ACJPS: Mossaad M. Ali +256779584542 -

[1] For more information, see the Joint open letter concerning the crackdown on peaceful protests and the wave of arbitrary arrests and continued incommunicado detentions by Sudanese government forces, February 14, 2018.
[2] For more information, see for instance ACJPS Statement, February 7, 2018 and OMCT Press Release, Sudan: Escalating government crackdown on protesters sparks greater safety concerns, January 30, 2018.

Read more