STATEMENT TO THE 56th ORDINARY SESSION OF THE AFRICAN COMMISSION ON HUMAN AND PEOPLE’S RIGHTS
Caught Between Militant Ideology and Terror: Women in the Horn of Africa face growing threats and degradation of their dignity as a result of fast spreading militancy and Islamic Salafism.
BY: THE STRATEGIC INITIATIVE FOR WOMEN IN THE HORN OF AFRICA (SIHA) NETWORK
Banjul, April, 2015
Honorable Chairperson, Commissioners, the Secretary of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and distinguished participants,
The Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa (SIHA) is highly concerned about the rapid spread of religious militancy and Salafism in the Horn of Africa, and specifically for the plight of women, who suffer on a daily basis as a result of lashings, stoning and discriminatory laws and acts. Religious militancy and fundamentalism remain the biggest challenges women and men in the Horn of Africa face. As they attempt to live and access basic human rights, they are faced with constant threats and are subjected to laws that dictate all aspects of their lives.
SIHA is specifically aware that subjugation of women and the undermining of their humanity have been central components of religious militancy ideology. Salafi groups have shown a tendency to exclude women, have exhibited extreme intolerance to other religious beliefs and ideologies and have generally refused to co-exist peacefully with others. Thus, militant ideologies around the Horn of Africa are accelerating ongoing wars and civil conflicts.
In this statement, SIHA will show how the Sudanese legal framework has been largely influenced by militant ideologies, particularly when it comes to women’s human rights. This influence seems to go against the country’s international and regional obligations. Fanatical ideologies have instead led to situations of women being detained and flogged and their human dignity compromised. In this environment, women’s ability to prosper is hindered and their well-being is constantly under threat.
Similarly in Somalia, the fragile state is struggling to protect its citizens as it is under constant attack by militants. Women are therefore unable to secure government protection and continue to experience physical threat such as sexual violence and undue persecution such as death by stoning.
Sexual violence, impunity and criminalization of women are shared elements for women in Sudan and Somalia.
In Sudan, women who are charged with adultery (Zina), a crime often tied up with legal definitions and understandings of rape, are arrested by the public order police (now known as the community security police) which has the right to raid houses and arrest women at random from the streets. These women often find themselves sentenced to 100 lashes and if they are married, they are regularly sentenced to stoning.
Lashing and stoning remain the most common forms of punishments used to intimidate, control and subjugate women in Sudan. Thousands of women are lashed every year under laws that criminalize their personal behavior, most importantly, their dress-code, as a result of vague laws that disfavor women and give the state the power to control their existence and lessen their feeling of security in the public sphere.
We are also concerned about the ongoing crackdown on religious freedom evident in many cases of prosecution for both women and men. These cases are often charged as apostasy and justified by Articles 125 and 126 of the Criminal Act of 1991 (on offending religious beliefs and apostasy). As a result, many individuals will find themselves facing the death penalty if they oppose the fundamentalist interpretations of religion.
In Somalia, sexual violence and death by stoning or by firing squad remain a daily ordeal, especially for women. Women remain at the mercy of militia groups and especially of Al-Shabab who act with total impunity. Women subjected to sexual violence are stigmatized, suffer criminalization and are unable to access justice in the court of law while their perpetrators are often set free. Worse, these victims are frequently accused of committing adultery and are in turn stoned to death without a fair trial. These trials are conducted by militant groups in the name of religion to impose their political will onto the population.
The Somali government is exercising little political control to end this impunity and the horrific sexual violence and stoning punishment imposed on Somali women in Al-Shabab-controlled areas.
Any strong women who challenge religious militancy are sure to be silenced, such as was the case of Saado Ali Warsame, a parliamentarian who was shot dead in July 2014.This brutality is a daily reality for Somalis living in Al-Shabab controlled areas and in areas where Al-Shabab has influence.
As a coalition of civil society organizations working on women’s rights, we are extremely troubled about the impact and growing influence of militant ideology on the women and girls in the region. We have seen Salafi extremism srpead to other countries as the kidnapping of female students by Boko Haram and the killings of innocent students at Garissa highlight.
We call on the African Commission to consider the following recommendations and urge the said Commission to:
-Call upon the Sudanese Government to abolish the punishment of lashing and stoning which are incompatible with Article 5 of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Prohibition of Torture and Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment.
-Call upon Sudan to reform the Public Order Articles of the Criminal Act of 1991 and revise the recent amendment of the Articles related to offending religious beliefs and apostasy.
-Advise the Government of Sudan and the Government of Somalia to give space to Civil Society Organizations to function and implement projects that fight militant religious ideology.
-Call upon the Sudanese and the Somali Governments to ratify the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa.
-Call upon Somalia Government to revise their national gender policy to include provisions on Gender-Based Violence.
-Call upon the Government of Somalia to establish the Human Rights Commission mandated by the Constitution of Somalia, and ensure that it receives the necessary parliamentary support to become an effective body that investigates all cases of brutality and violence and brings perpetrators of human rights violations before relevant judiciary bodies.