THE KHARTOUM MASSACRE: REFLECTING ON THE SEXUAL VIOLENCE THAT STILL GOES UNADDRESSED ONE YEAR LATER
Tomorrow will mark exactly one year since the 3rd June massacre and mass rape of peaceful protesters at the Khartoum Sit-In and many other innocents in the surrounding areas. While we mourn the suffering of those who were attacked, we also celebrate their bravery and their accomplishments as a movement. Today we reflect on the injustices they experienced and demand accountability and reform.
Women were instrumental drivers and leaders throughout the Sudanese revolution, despite their marginalized role within Sudanese society, where a militarized interpretation of Shari’a law has positioned women and girls in subordination to men. The women-led protests mounted throughout the Sudanese Revolution demonstrate the ability of women to speak, mobilize, and lead at the frontline. New women’s movements, such as the Sudan Women Protest, created new spaces for a unified platform of women’s resistance, increasing their capacity to achieve common goals: to advance women’s rights, create equality in law, and provide development opportunities for women regardless of ethnicity, religion, or political orientation. In Khartoum, women succeeded in creating both a geographic and symbolic safe space for protestors, known as the “sit-in” site, a site occupied around the clock by all manner of Sudanese society to discuss, express themselves, and participate. This space transcended traditional barriers in Sudanese society and was seized by the young and the old alike, who viewed it as a microcosm of what an inclusive Sudan may look like.
This space of inclusivity and peace was violently disrupted when the sit-in site was attacked on the 3rd of June 2019. In this attack, a communications and internet black-out was imposed on the area while military/security forces killed hundreds of civilians and raped an estimated 70 women and men. These civilians were targeted for their involvement in the protests and they were predominately women. This attack, which continued across different areas of Khartoum for a following six days, forced the public eye to recognize the horrific pattern of violence being deployed against peaceful Sudanese citizens. This pattern is characterized by the use of rape and sexual violence as a weapon of intimidation and humiliation intended to rob unarmed civilians, mostly women, of their dignity and personhood. The perpetrators of these crimes against humanity, which were committed in a manner calculated to create psychological as well as physical harm, enjoyed full impunity for their actions.
Thus, the Khartoum Massacre is representative of the direct link between militarization of spaces and the predation on women and girls throughout the totalitarian reign of the militant Islamist ex-regime. The reliance on militias to govern civilian spaces has legitimized violence and normalized sexual violence as a weapon of war. It has undermined the rule of law in the country, allowing state-sanctioned militias to operate with no measures of accountability. Most importantly, the Massacre highlights that sexual violence occurs within a highly politicized space, where systemic violence against women is part of a clearly formulated political and military strategy propagated to ‘break the enemy’ and to dehumanize women and girls.
SIHA urgently recommends that the international community address the militarization of civilian spaces in Sudan, while also acknowledging the gendered implications of this militarization. Sexual violence against women and girls is part of a systemic strategy of gender-based subordination and oppression, which it must be addressed as a priority issue during this complex transitionary process.
SIHA Network issues the following recommendations, which are crucial steps toward achieving a peaceful and gender-equal Sudan where women and girls fully enjoy their rights and freedoms as human beings:
- The definition of rape under the 1991 Sudanese Criminal Act must be harmonized with international legal standards
- The definition of consent under the 1991 Sudanese Criminal Act must be harmonized with international legal standards
- The age of majority and the age of marriage under the 1991 Sudanese Criminal Act and the Muslim Personal Law Act of Sudan 1991 must be harmonized with international legal standards
- Adultery must be removed from the 1991 Sudanese Criminal Act as a crime
- In conjunction with the removal of adultery, Women who report rape, sexual harassment, or sexual violence must be fully protected from zina charges
- All legislative provisions that afford immunity to state actors who perpetrate sexual violence must be abolished
- The Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (Maputo Protocol) must be ratified and the Sudanese legal framework should be thoroughly reviewed to fully harmonize it with these two fundamental human rights doctrines
Access to justice
- Develop confidential reporting procedures for SGBV survivors
- Build the capacity of the police, prosecutors and the judiciary to handle sexual violence cases
- Engage with traditional leaders to address harmful practices under customary law
Access to healthcare services
- Conduct trainings for healthcare service providers and the police on collaboration between the two sectors to better support survivors of sexual violence
- The government must not restrict humanitarian programmes providing essential services, including medical, psychosocial, and other survivor-support services
Investment in awareness, response, and protection programming
- Establish safe spaces and collaborative community-based referral pathways
- Develop sexual violence response programmes that incorporate economic opportunities for survivors
Break the culture of silence and address stigmatization
- Civil society organizations must challenge the culture of silence and stigmatization surrounding sexual violence