(Nairobi) – The sentencing of a young Sudanese woman to death by stoning for adultery presents numerous grave violations of domestic and international law, Human Rights Watch said today. The sentence also underscores the urgent need for Sudan to reform its legal system in accordance with its human rights obligations, Human Rights Watch said.
Intisar Sharif Abdallah, whose age has not been determined but is believed to be under the age of 18, was sentenced by a judge on April 22, 2012, in the city of Omdurman, near Khartoum. Since her sentencing, she been held in Omdurman prison with her 5-month-old baby, with her legs shackled.
“No one should be stoned to death – and imposing this punishment on someone who may be a child is especially shocking,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Sudan should immediately reform discriminatory laws and abolish both the death penalty and all corporal punishments that violate the international treaty obligations it has promised to respect.”
Abdallah was sentenced under article 146 of Sudan’s Criminal Act of 1991, which provides that the penalty for adultery by a married person is execution by stoning, and the penalty for an unmarried person is 100 lashes.
She initially denied the charge of adultery but later confessed after she was allegedly beaten by a family member. The court relied solely on her coerced confession to convict and sentence her in a single court session, while the man alleged to have committed adultery with her denied the charges and was released, a lawyer working with the Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa, a women’s rights group following the case, told Human Rights Watch.
Abdallah did not have a lawyer or interpreter in the courtroom, though Arabic is not her first language, and her age was never assessed by the court even though she appears to be under 18, lawyers who visited her told Human Rights Watch.
Sudanese law provides that those accused of serious crimes have the right to legal representation and that the death penalty may not be imposed on juveniles. In mid-May, pro bono lawyers lodged an appeal in the case and expect a response within two months. Meanwhile, Abdallah remains in prison.
“Abdallah did not even receive the benefit of protections in Sudan’s own laws,” Bekele said. “Authorities should drop the charges and free her immediately.”
The case also points to the urgent need for Sudan to revise laws in line with international standards, Human Rights Watch said. The penalty of death by stoning violates international human rights standards, including prohibitions on torture and cruel and unusual treatment, and should be abolished.
Human Rights Watch opposes the death penalty in all circumstances because of its inherent cruelty.
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights allows countries that continue to impose the death penalty – a dwindling minority – to do so only for the most serious offenses, which would preclude such a sentence for adultery. Sudan is a party to this treaty and to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which prohibits imposing either capital punishment or a life sentence without the prospect of release on a person under the age of 18.
Sudan is one of only seven countries that provide death by stoning as a punishment. Sudanese judges have sentenced several women to death by stoning in recent years, but courts have overturned all the sentences on appeal. The vast majority of adultery cases and stoning sentences have been imposed on women, pointing to the disproportionate and unequal application of this law. The crime of adultery, or zina, also violates guarantees of a woman’s right to have control over and decide freely and responsibly matters related to sexual autonomy.
Sudan should also reform other laws that unfairly punish women and girls and impose corporal punishment, often justified as part of Sharia law, Human Rights Watch said. Under Sudan’s public order regime, women and girls may also face arrest and flogging, up to 40 lashes, if they violate article 152 of the Criminal Act prohibiting vaguely defined “indecent and immoral acts.” Women have been sentenced to flogging for wearing trousers and knee-length skirts, among other acts.
The Protocol to the Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa explicitly prohibits all forms of cruel, degrading, and inhuman treatment of women. The African Commission on Human and People’s Rights has declared that flogging violates article 5 of the charter, which prohibits “cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment or treatment.”
Sudan is reviewing its constitution following the separation of South Sudan in July 2011, which marked the end of the six-year interim period in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2005.
“Sudan should uphold international and African standards,” Bekele said. “It should ban death by stoning and other corporal punishment, and revise laws that discriminate against women and girls.”