17th February 2014
The Ethiopian woman in Khartoum, Sudan, who was gang raped by seven men, has been denied by the Attorney General the ability to make a formal complaint of rape and thus instigate a full investigation. She has instead been charged with adultery which carries the potential sentence of death by stoning.
In August 2013, a young Ethiopian woman was lured to an empty property and then brutally gang raped by a group of seven men. The incident was filmed by perpetrators but was then distributed six months later in January 2014. Both the perpetrators and the Ethiopian woman have been arrested and initially investigated under Articles 153 and 154 of the Sudanese criminal code which relate to the making and distribution of indecent material and indecent behaviour. Since the court case began on the 6th February 2014, the charges against the woman and the seven perpetrators have been amended to include Articles 151 referring to scandalous acts, 154 relating to prostitution, and 146 which refers to adultery. In addition to those directly involved in the gang rape, a further two individuals have been arrested in relation to the crime: A police officer who saw the victim crying soon after she had left the house and to whom the victim had spoke of her ordeal. The police officer decided against pursuing an investigation as it was a public holiday (Eid Al Fitr). He has been charged with negligence. Furthermore, a NISS police officer also distributed the video online. In total, ten individuals are currently on trial within the case.
The intention to place culpability on the part of the victim, is of great concern and seeks to deflect and reduce accountability of the perpetrators, but more disturbing is that the charge of adultery carries with it the potential sentence of death by stoning if found guilty.
The victim is currently attempting to make a formal complaint of rape to instigate a full investigation. Nonetheless the Attorney General has denied her this on a technicality relating to her currently being under investigation for other charges. The Attorney General has claimed that she should have made a complaint at the time of the incident – this is despite the fact there is no legal prohibition regarding time frames within which one must formally register a complaint. This decision is being appealed, and the decision being awaited.
It is of note that the woman, in the aftermath of the rape, was found by a police officer to whom she explained what had happened. Instead of instigating a complaint, the officer dismissed her issues, which along with the threats of violence against her by the perpetrators, discouraged her from pursuing the case at the time. The officer in question has been identified and is now under investigation for negligence.
Denying her the ability to make a formal complaint which serves to refute the charges being laid against her and pursue justice, renders the perpetrators immune from accountability and violates the rights of the victim. It furthermore is prohibitive of her making a future complaint should the current trial follow through to completion as it is illegal for persons to be tried using the same facts and evidence as deployed in an earlier trial which has been brought to a concluding judgement.
Even if the Attorney General allows for a formal complaint of rape to be made, the likelihood of success is limited, although much evidence has come to light during the trial to indicate that she was forced against her will. The ambiguity of Article 149 defining rape as committing non-consented Zina (adultery) is in itself problematic, since the article stands alone without legal explanatory notes rendering it open to arbitrary interpretation. The vague legislation with a strong burden of proof on the victim has meant that few cases are ever successfully prosecuted and often victims are prosecuted and persecuted through Article 146, adultery, which presents the potential sentence of death by stoning.
The Ethiopian woman, who is 18 years old, is also nine months pregnant, and was three months pregnant at the time of the rape itself. Despite requests for bail which have been denied by the Attorney General, she is being held in a bare police cell and until recently was without a mattress or access to suitable food or clothing, all of which SIHA Network has since purchased and provided.
Where the police and judicial authorities have an obligation to investigate, prosecute and punish, they must uphold their obligations under local, regional and international law inclusive of commitments to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
SIHA demands the immediate release of the woman or her transfer to hospital to receive necessary medical attention. Moreover, SIHA believes that the Attorney General should ensure that the victim is immediately able to file a rape case against the perpetrators and directs a full investigation into the crimes of rape and sexual violence. SIHA further demands that the international community exerts pressure upon the Sudanese government and judiciary to enable the victim to formally make the complaint of rape and thus enable suitable proceedings against the perpetrators to fully hold them to account.
For more information please contact email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org on either +256 779 386 476 or +249 (0)912333763 (liaison with lawyers working on the case can be arranged as can statements from SIHA Regional Director)
NOTES AND INFORMATION:
- Previous Press Statements by SIHA Network on the case:
- Although rarely executed, the sentence of stoning for adultery has been deployed twice in recent years, both times in 2012 where two women, Intisar Sharif and Layla Jamool were convicted for adultery. Following appeals in both cases, the sentences were overturned.
- Details on Sudan’s Criminal Code relating to the charges of 146, 152, and 154 can be found on pages 2 – 11 of the SIHA report to the 52nd Session of the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights. The pursuit of justice for rape survivors in Sudan is severely limited by the construction of legislation with the burden of proof resting primarily on the victim.
- A further report by Nobel Women’s Peace Initiative and the International Campaign to Stop Rape and Gender Violence in Conflict detailed the complexities of pursuing rape cases in Sudan and the re-victimisation by the legal system of those who have been violated.
- Migrants in Sudan experience substantial mistreatment and marginalisation by Sudanese authorities and the Sudanese community at large. Significant animosity is directed towards the Ethiopian community on the pretext that they are steeling jobs with prejudices being laid against them that they are either HIV positive or that they are all prostitutes.
The Sudanese media has been engaged in an effort to defame and thus delegitimize the Ethiopian woman in a bid to reduce the perception of criminality by the perpetrators. Such defamation has included falsely claiming that she has HIV and claiming that she is a prostitute. There have even been cynical attempts to falsely claim that the men were accidently prescribed hallucinogenic drugs by a chemist beforehand.