19-year-old Noura Hussein was sentenced to death on 10 Thursday by a court in Sudan. The court found her guilty of murder after she killed her “husband” in self-defence. She had been forced to marry him by her father and when she refused to consummate the marriage, the man came with a group of relatives who held her down while he violently raped her. He returned the next day to rape Noura again and in the struggle he was fatally stabbed.
The court sentenced Noura to be hanged in 15 days, and human rights organisations including Equality Now are campaigning for the Sudanese government to intervene.
Equality Now is urging the Sudanese government, in accordance with Sudan’s international, regional and national legal obligations, to ensure that all victims of violence in Sudan can obtain justice, including by:
- dropping all criminal charges against Noura, and ceasing any further legal action to have her executed;
- reviewing the penal code on rape, including in order to specifically criminalise marital rape, and ensuring that the law complies with Sudan’s constitution and international human rights obligations; and
- enacting laws that protect women and girls from all forms of sexual violence including marital rape and child, early and forced marriage.
Activists in Sudan have collaborated with international activists in the past to bring much needed changes to the rape laws and to free a young woman who had been gang raped and then imprisoned for fornication. We are hopeful that we can do the same in Noura’s case.
Equality Now is calling on President Omar al-Bashir to plead for clemency and argue that the spirit of the law rather than the letter of the law be followed, and that Sudan should adhere to international standards on women’s rights.
In other countries, those who have experienced rape and domestic violence are provided with support services to assist them in overcoming the trauma they have undergone. Noura is not a criminal, she is a victim and should be treated as such.
Criminalisation of Noura for defending herself from rape and sexual assault and, in particular a death sentence, would violate her rights under the Sudanese Constitution and international law.
Noura has been subjected to both physical and mental abuse by her family and husband, and this is a violation of Articles 14 (protection of children) and 15 (no marriage without free and full consent) of the Constitution.
The Constitution further provides that the “State shall protect women from injustice and promote gender equality,” and that “all persons are equal before the law and are entitled without discrimination, to the equal protection of the law.”
Sudan is also obligated under several international legal instruments, including the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which it is a party, to prevent victims from being criminalised and to ensure that men and women are treated equally in the eyes of the law.
In Sudan, marital rape is not recognised as a crime and girls can be married off as soon as they reach puberty, which could be as young as nine or ten years old.
A father is his daughter’s guardian and can consent to her marriage. As such, Noura is likely to be deemed legitimately married under Sudanese law, regardless of whether she has consented, although this violates both the Sudanese Constitution and international law.
In this context, no crime has been committed against Noura and therefore, the self-defence claim against murder doesn’t stand because there is no crime of marital rape.
As such, the court does not consider her to have been defending herself against rape, forced or child marriage.
In Sudan, as in some other countries, the family of the dead person has the right to ask for execution or can except a payment instead. According to reports from Noura’s court hearing, the family have requested her execution.
A Change.org petition has been set up; it currently (14 May 2018) has more than 310,000 signatures.
* Equality Now is not for profit organisation that works for the protection and promotion of the human rights of women and girls around the world.