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Sudan’s Law Reforms a Positive First Step

Problematic Laws, Practices Still a Challenge

Sudan’s Sovereign Council recently passed into law several long-awaited amendments that, if implemented and used properly, should improve human rights in the country. The amendments include criminalization of female genital mutilation, a widespread practice across Sudan, and abolishing the requirement for women traveling with children to get consent from a male guardian.

Announcing the changes, Justice Minister Nasredeen Abdulbari told the BBC, “We are keen to demolish any discrimination that was enacted by the old regime and to move toward equality of citizenship and a democratic transformation.”

He said the amendments aim to bring Sudan’s laws in line with the constitutional declaration that established the country’s transitional government a year ago, and which guarantees basic rights and freedoms including under Sudan’s international commitments. The amendments also abolish the crime of apostasy – a person’s conversion from Islam to another religion – which had carried the death penalty and has been used to target political activists, and allow non-Muslims to consume alcohol. 

The new laws also ban the “infliction of torture” and forced confessions, human rights violations that have been well documented by Human Rights Watch and others, and clarify that the General Intelligence Service (formerly the National Intelligence and Security Service) no longer has the power to arrest and detain people, but solely to gather intelligence.

Another improvement is the repeal of criminal law provisions that prevented cooperation with the International Criminal Court. This is a welcome signal that Sudan’s leaders take seriously their public promises to cooperate with the court on outstanding arrest warrants against former president Omar al-Bashir and three others. A fifth suspect, Ali Kosheib, surrendered to the court in June.

Law reform has always been deeply contentious in Sudan so these are welcome changes. But as activists are quick to point out, the reforms don’t go far enough to achieve either the goals of the constitutional declaration or the demands of protesters who ousted al-Bashir.

Authorities still need to tackle a raft of other problematic laws including repealing the crime of adultery, ending corporal punishment, and reforming personal status laws that discriminate against women and girls. They should also ratify key international treaties like the conventions against torture and on elimination of all forms of discrimination against women. These steps would help create a legal system that upholds the basic rights and freedoms enshrined in Sudan’s constitutional declaration.

 

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