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25 civil society organisations petition AU over militarization of public spaces in Khartoum

July 8, 2019 (KHARTOUM) – A coalition of 25 Sudanese and African civil society entities have petitioned the African Union over the militarization of public space, increase in sexual violence cases and intimidation in Sudan’s capital, Khartoum.

Women massively participated in nationwide protests of 30 June 2019 (Photo Reuters)

The group, in a July 8 release, said during the 3 June massacres that took place in Khartoum, the Sudan Doctors’ committee documented 70 cases of rape and sexual violence, adding that harassment in the aftermath of the massacres had continued to be documented by women’s right and civil society organizations.

“To date, female students and workers, women traders and street vendors continue to report incidents of aggressive sexual harassment including grabbing and the use of demeaning sexist and insulting language on the streets of Khartoum and other towns and cities of Sudan by the RSF/Janjaweed soldiers,” partly reads the release.

According to the group, sustained sexual harassment and intimidation of women as they walk the streets of Greater Khartoum on their way to work, schools or the market, can be understood as a response to and a direct attack on the key role women have played throughout the protests that have raged on since December 2018.

“The intimidation directed at women is clearly an attempt to reverse the gains they made in the occupation of public space despite the discriminatory laws and policies imposed by Bashir’s regime,” it said.

The group also appealed to the AU and the international community to categorically address the high level of militarization of civil spaces in Sudan as well as the strong presence of armed militias.

“The AU and international community must pressure the upcoming Sudanese government and support Sudan in establishing rule of law institutions and abiding by regional and international mechanisms that would address and challenge sexual violence and sexual harassment as crimes,” the statement further observed.

Specifically, the coalition urged the AU and the United Nations to immediately establish mechanisms to address the extensive recruitment of child soldiers into Sudan’s paramilitary groups considering their violations of regional and international child rights’ mechanisms and the serious ramifications on peace and stability.

The group further stressed the urgent need for an independent investigation, where Sudanese should play an instrumental role.

“This committee should consist of Sudanese activists and advocates who have documented the cases and are informed of the local context including credible Sudan-based lawyers, civil society, and African male and female expertise,” the statement stated.

Meanwhile, the civil society groups have acknowledged the agreement reached on July 4 between the Transitional Military Council (TMC) and the Freedom and Change Alliance (FCCA), and encouraged the mediators to continue supporting Sudan in the establishment of a civilian and democratic state that meets the expectations and recognizes the sacrifices of Sudanese people.

It, however, expressed concerns that despite the agreement reached last week, the presence of militias is still very conspicuous.

“There are large numbers combing the city’s streets throughout the day. It is clear that these forces have neither been withdrawn nor returned to their camps,” said the group, citing an incident in which militias allegedly raped a woman in Khartoum.

Last month, the AU Peace and Security Council suspended Sudan until the establishment of civilian rule, intensifying international pressure on the army generals to hand over power.