The introduction to this series reviewed what we had learned of Sudan so far, providing links to previous posts. We now set the stage by examining the situation in the two Sudans - both in the Republic of Sudan, the "North", which could be considered "rump Sudan" after the South declared its independence in the wake of a referendum, and the Republic of South Sudan, or the South. In this post, we examine the North.
The key thing to keep in mind is that Sudan is run by indicted war criminal Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir, who seized power in a coup in 1989. At the time, Bashir was a colonel in the Sudanese Army. The coup was bloodless, but was backed by Islamist forces. Bashir, who fought alongside the Egyptian Army against Israel in the 1973 Yom Kippur War, introduced an Islamic legal code in Sudan upon seizing power. More recently, he stated that if the South secedes - which it did - he would make Sudan a state governed by sharia.
Sudan's President Omar Hassan Ahmad al-Bashir
Though Bashir's Islamist background does not get a great deal of attention in literature dealing with the situation in the Sudans, it is a factor under the surface which, I believe, has very significant impact on the overall regional situation, especially including the trouble with South Sudan, as well as globally.
To get an idea what Bashir's idea of sharia is - it is not substantially different from sharia as implemented elsewhere - we begin by considering a situation that developed regarding Lubna Ahmed al-Hussein.
Lubna al-Hussein is a Sudanese Muslim. Significantly for Sudan, she is a woman. She was working for UNMIS (UNMIS - United Nations Mission in Sudan; its mandate ended on July 9, 2011, with the independence of South Sudan) when, on July 3, 2009, at a cousin's wedding, Sudanese Public Order Police showed up looking for any women wearing trousers. Along with other women, she was arrested. Ten of the women pled guilty immediately and were given ten lashes each and released. Hussein and two others insisted on a trial.
I now reproduce in its entirety (including two links) an editorial, written by Hussein, telling her story; When I think of my trial, I pray my fight won't be in vain by Lubna al-Hussein, September 3, 2009:
For wearing trousers, I face 40 lashes. This is the brutal reality of Sudan: we live in fear of those who should protect us
Next week I will stand trial in a Sudanese court, charged along with 12 other women with committing an "indecent act" – wearing trousers in a public place. I will face up to 40 lashes and an unlimited fine if I am convicted of breaching Article 152 of Sudanese law, which prohibits dressing indecently in public. As an employee of the UN I was offered immunity, and the chance to escape trial, but I chose to resign from the UN so that I could face the Sudanese authorities and make them show to the world what they consider justice to be.
It will seem absurd to many people that a woman could face this situation in a country that claims to be "the Dubai of the Nile". Much international media coverage of Sudan in recent years may have focused on issues of conflict. But at the same time my country has reaped millions in oil revenues; skyscrapers and modern hotels have sprung up across our capital city, and although the living conditions of most ordinary people have not improved, our government has promised that we are on the path to prosperity.
And my case is far from an isolated one. In fact the director of police has admitted that 43,000 women were arrested in Khartoum state in 2008 for clothing offences. When asked, he couldn't say how many of these women had been flogged. And it's not just about clothing. After my arrest, two girls were arrested in a public place and the police discovered that their mobile phones had video clips of scenes from the hugely popular Arab soap Noor and Mohannad in which the main characters kiss each other. The girls were charged with pornography and given 40 lashes.
In many such cases the court consists of just one policeman and a single judge – with the policeman acting as the complainant, prosecutor and sole witness. And in a growing number of cases, the accused don't even reach court. One man, in dread of what might happen to him, died recently after falling off a building where he had sought shelter after being chased by the security police.
The laws under which we live have not modernised with our economy. Despite a new constitution in 2005, a comprehensive peace agreement and the protocol of human rights, women are still constrained – not only in their freedom of dress but also their freedom to work. Journalists are prevented from speaking out and people are detained without reason.
This is not new: Sudan has a proud and sad history of courageous men and women who have had to fight against repressive laws. They taught me that we should not hide behind privilege but that we should speak out for those who cannot find their voice. My trial next week may put Sudanese justice in the spotlight for a moment. But I hope that people will not look away once my verdict is announced, because there are many greater challenges that await us.
When North and South Sudan signed a peace agreement after 20 years of brutal civil war, both promised to respect international human rights, to overturn repressive laws and prevent the atrocities of the past being repeated. But the censorship, harassment and detention of journalists and human rights defenders continues.
Next spring our country will face elections. Opposition parties will not be able to fight these elections unless the laws are changed to be compatible with our new constitution. The elections are one step towards a referendum in which our brothers and sisters from the South will decide whether they want to remain in a united Sudan or to create a country of their own. These are painful and difficult choices that will decide the future for generations to come.
I feel anger and frustration that our government will not allow people to freely discuss our future. Sudan is a great country and one rich in diversity of faith, beliefs and ways of being. It has enough resources to provide for all its people. But it will never fulfil its great potential unless we are able to contribute to our future without pressure or fear.
When I think of my trial, I pray that my daughters will never live in fear of these "police of security of society". We will only be secure once the police protect us and these laws are repealed. I also pray that the next generation will see we had the courage to fight for their future before it was too late. We need Arab, African, American and European leaders to stand with us and help us make sure that the next chapter of our history is less bloody and brutal than the last. This will require conviction and boldness from their side. I hope they will display the qualities of those Sudanese men and women I most admire.
Some background to and significance of the story can be found at Pants Pants Revolution, dated August 5, 2009; here are the first three paragraphs:
Khartoum -- To the media she is the "Sudan trouser woman." Images of Lubna Hussein wearing the outfit that led to her arrest in Khartoum last month have zipped around the world. News reports give the impression that she is a radical on a crusade, her trial a fight over women's rights in an Islamic capital city. But this impression fails to scratch the surface. What is at stake is no less than a burgeoning social movement that promises to test the authoritarian Sudanese government on a global stage.
Hussein is one of thousands of women arrested each year for one of the "public order" offenses listed in Sudan's criminal code. Article 152, the one relevant to Hussein's case, reads: "Whoever commits an indecent act or an act that breaches public morality or wears clothes that are indecent or would breach public morality which causes annoyance to public feelings is liable to forty lashes or fine or both punishments."
The laws are officially meant to keep the public safe. But in practice, public order police use the vaguely worded regulations to extract bribes from women on the street, while public order justices deliver immediate punishment for infractions, devoid of due process. This means that public order laws are the subject of suppressed but persistent debate inside Sudan.
Notice this last paragraph, about how laws meant to keep the public safe are instead used to oppress the people. :)
The article goes on with a little history, explains how Hussein had immunity due to her work for the UN but waived it to go to trial and draw attention to this law, and talks about how the incident has caused reform-minded activists to start working more closely together. But, it also explains the government's strategy of delay, hoping international attention will die down.
Interestingly, the world's feminists were conspicuously silent on the matter. This lack of feminist response was discussed on the BBC, where commentary addressed how the world's feminists dislike intervening in indigenous cultures.
However, my observation is that the West's feminists sure don't seem to mind when foreigners come to the West and intervene in our cultures, bringing this kind of oppression, in this case sharia, to our lands. Make no mistake about it: when guys like Bashir and the mullahs he empowers take charge here in the West - and that is happening - those feminists who are militant and hypocritical, whose only real goal is the destruction of Western society, will find that they had been sheltered by the very system they loved to hate.
Regardless, in the event, initial court proceedings against Hussein were marked by violent police oppression of her supporters. From Sudan police beat protesters as woman goes on trial for wearing trousers, August 4, 2009:
Police fired teargas and beat supporters of a Sudanese woman facing 40 lashes for wearing trousers in public shortly before her trial was adjourned this morning.
Police in Khartoum moved in swiftly and dispersed about 50 protesters, mostly women, who were supporting Lubna Hussein, a former UN worker charged with "indecent dressing" in violation of the country's Islamic laws.
Some of the women demonstrators wore trousers in solidarity with Hussein. "We are here to protest against this law that oppresses women and debases them," said Amal Habani, a female columnist for the daily newspaper Ajraa al-Hurria (Bells of Freedom).
Ultimately, Hussein was convicted and sentenced to a fine, which she refused to pay. She was then jailed until the country's journalists' union paid the fine on her behalf. However, from INTERVIEW - Sudanese woman in trouser case defies travel ban, November 23, 2009:
Hussein said the group that paid her fine had close ties to the Sudanese government, which wanted to end the case quietly.
She said she planned to pursue her campaign through the courts and would ultimately go to the African Court of Justice if necessary.
"I have received a lot of threats. Some were outright death threats. But I have faith, and I believe that I will die the day that I am meant to die," she said.
To give a further taste of the flavor of government repression in Sudan, we now turn our attention to some atrocities committed by government forces in the summer of last year, right under the eyes of the UN.
A report entitled In Close Proximity: alleged abduction, detention and extrajudicial killings by Abu Tira, dated October 13, 2011, and published by Harvard Humanitarian Initiative's Satellite Sentinel Project (website), documents the flagrant and blatant murder by Sudan's security forces of a contractor working with the UN, right in front of UNMIS peacekeepers, in addition to other atrocities in close proximity to the UNMIS Compound. In [brackets] I have added explanations and links.
Abductions and Killings
According to multiple sources, fighting in Kadugli started on 5 June. An eyewitness account collected by SSP [Satellite Sentinel Project] alleges that IDPs [internally displaced persons] abducted from the UNMIS compound on 6 June were taken to an area between the CRP [Sudan's Central Reserve Police, armed much more heavily than regular police forces, including mortars, heavy machineguns and, on occasions, artillery; weapons that are far to indiscriminate for what westerners would consider "police" activities] training center and the UN compound and reportedly killed there. Their bodies were dumped in a nearby riverbed, according to the eyewitness. In a similar incident, the August 2011 UNHCHR [UN HIgh Commissioner for Refugees] report describes armed CRP personnel moving in and out of the UNMIS protective perimeter on 8 June, conducting identity checks among the IDPs there. CRP forces reportedly abducted three IDPs suspected of supporting the SPLM-N [Sudan People's Liberation Movement - North].
Also, SSP has received an eyewitness report alleging that CRP, SAF [Sudanese Armed Forces], and PDF [Popular Defense Forces - a paramilitary organization now becoming more important for political organization activities] forces tied civilians to the gates of the Kadugli airport checkpoint on 8 June and beat them. Witness reports communicated to SSP claim that those individuals were later shot and killed, and subsequently buried in a nearby mass grave.
The Murder of Numeiri Philip Kalo
An eyewitness report received directly by SSP contradicts core aspects of the August 2011 UNHCHR report's account of the 8 June abduction and murder of a UN individual contractor. SSP has learned that the contractor, Numeiri Philip Kalo, a Nuba man and known SPLM-N supporter, worked for Tri-Star Fueling and was a Catholic seminarian. SSP has identified discrepancies regarding this incident between witness reports, the leaked UNHCHR draft and the final version of that report released in August 2011.
Eyewitness reports communicated directly to SSP claim that on 8 June Numeiri Philip Kalo, among others, was pulled out of an UNMIS vehicle directly in front of the east main gate of the UNMIS compound. CRP personnel reportedly put Numeiri Philip Kalo in a CRP-operated Toyota Land Cruiser. The CRP then took him around the corner of the UNMIS compound, near the CRP training center, and shot him while Egyptian UNMIS peacekeepers looked on. Eyewitness reports communicated to SSP state that Kalo's body was riddled with bullet holes when it was dumped out of a moving CRP vehicle on the road in front of the CRP training center. An individual who spoke to SSP independently identified the CRP training center on a map, and stated that Numeiri Philip Kalo's body was reportedly dumped on the side of the road in front of the CRP facility.
However, the August 2011 UNHCHR report states that on "8 June, an UNMIS individual contractor (IC) was pulled out of a vehicle by SAF in front of the UNMIS Kadugli Sector IV compound in the presence of several witnesses." The draft report included a notation that this occurred "while UN Peace keepers could not intervene." This point was not included in the final report. Both versions of the report continued with the following language: "He was taken away from the vicinity of the compound and gunshots were heard. Later he was discovered dead by UNMIS personnel and IDPs. Several sources confirmed that the victim was an active SPLM member." Neither version of the UNHCHR report mentions CRP personnel or the CRP facility.
Some key things to conclude: 1) (North) Sudan essentially has no rulebook when it comes to armed conflict; Bashir's forces will do whatever they feel they need to do to win; 2) peacekeeping is a joke; the peacekeepers can't even protect themselves; 3) official UN reports do not tell the whole story even about what is happening to people working for the UN, much less about the local people.
So, Bashir and his government in Khartoum are the bad guys.
However, as this series continues, we will explore some problems with our good guys in South Sudan.