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2014 | Liv Tonnessen - When rape becomes politics: Negotiating Islamic law reform in Sudan

This Article gives an account of the history of the Islamization of Sudanese law which began when President Nimeiri came to power in 1969 and has continued under the rule of President Omar Al-Bashir. The author explains the major postulates of classic Islamic jurisprudence, their influence on the country's legal system and the subsequent problematic interpretation of certain provisions given by the current Sudanese government - an authoritarian regime.  She provides a thorough analysis of the provisions of Sudan's Criminal and Criminal Procedure Acts of 1991 related to the prosecution for sexual crimes. Both documents vividly demonstrate how discrimination against women is effectively imposed by the State’s laws. Attempts to fight the discrimination, by local and international human rights organizations, are thwarted and severely punished by the government.

The author points out that activists for change are drawing attention to the issue of sexual violence within a broader context of human rights violations and are calling at the same time for large-scale legal reforms and democratization of the country. These reforms are perceived as generally threatening to the present government. The author concludes that ‘the politicization of rape [especially] in the wake of the ICC indictment has curtailed the political space not only for women activists, but also for moderates within the regime. At least two conflicting tendencies are emerging within the government: moderates call for reform and criticize President Omar al-Bashir, while conservatives defend the status quo and the president. These tendencies are associated with competing legal reform initiatives and conflicting views on women's rights. Because the issue of rape is so politicized and is directly linked to the ICC process, moderates who favor legal reform on this issue are increasingly sidelined, which makes the debate appear even more polarized and law reform even less likely to take place.