Human Rights Law Club Newsletter
Trigger warning: This article depicts instances of sexual violence.
As Jian Ghomeshi hit the headlines at the end of 2014 the issue of sexual violence against women, again, became a central topic of national concern. Nine women have come forward, and it remains unclear what may come next. Most recently, two CBC executives were put on leave in cases related to the Ghomeshi scandal. Regardless of how the case plays out, this is not the first, nor will it be the last time we hear about sexual violence against women.
Though imperfect, the Canadian legal system provides us with a useful tool to seek justice against perpetrators of heinous acts such as sexual violence. As law students, we have heard, read, and seen how this happens in Canada.
The law, however, is not structured to take on such challenges in other parts of the world, and as a result, is failing many women who face violence and choose to come forward.
On October 31st, a new wave of sexual violence hit Darfur after Tabit village members were accused of harbouring a missing Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) soldier. After failing to respond to a military inquiry, SAF soldiers surrounded Tabit, a small village in Northern Darfur. They beat and chased away the men, leaving only women and girls behind. For over 24 hours, the soldiers proceeded to systematically rape over 200 women. Nearly half were reported to be schoolgirls.
The response? An apology.
The soldiers’ commander admitted his men carried out the mass rape and acknowledged that his forces had “committed a mistake” against Tabit women and children. Almost a week later no Sudanese authorities or United Nations African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) forces had arrived in the area, although there are reports that UNAMID investigators attempted to enter the village.
This story comes on the heels of numerous other reports of rape coming from within Darfur:
On October 29th, it was reported that three members of the SAF raped two young women in the farmlands of Khazan Tunjur, a city in North Darfur.
On October 14th, a woman from the Kalma camp for displaced persons was raped by three men for five hours. She was found by farmers late the next day.
Since Sudan was divided into North and South Sudan, instances of sexual violence and systemic rape have skyrocketed, becoming aggressive weapons of war and terror between groups. Safiya Ishaq, a victim of rape at the hands of security forces in Khartoum in February 2011 released a YouTube testimony recounting the events. When interviewed by the Nobel Women’s Initiative, she told them her attempts to file a report with authorities were met with harassment and dismissal. Journalists who attempted to make her sexual abuse public were branded as “spreading false allegations.”
The failure of the justice system stretches far beyond its reporting. According to Sudan’s Criminal Act, rape is defined as adultery without consent. Women who come forward with allegations of rape have to be able to prove that the sexual interaction was non-consensual or else risk being accused of adultery themselves – a crime with grave consequences for women including death. As if these obstacles weren’t enough, a woman will not succeed if the perpetrator doesn’t come forward or if the woman cannot find four adult male witnesses to testify in her defence.
The law is not enough
While it’s important to consider the failure of the law in dealing with sexual violence, it is equally important to acknowledge that the issue stretches beyond the law.
In 2008 Omar al-Bashir, the President of Sudan, was accused by the International Criminal Court of using mass-rape to destroy target groups in Darfur. Over the course of his trial, statements made by al-Bashir about rape and abuse drew significant attention. When asked about the prevalence of rape and abuse against women in his country he responded, “it is not in the Sudanese culture or people of Darfur to rape. It does not exist.”
Legal reform alone is not sufficient to eliminate rape and other forms of sexual violence. A cultural shift — rooted in values of human dignity, non-discrimination, and gender equality — is necessary to address the root causes of sexual violence both within Canada and abroad.
Amanda Cohen (1L) is a Contributor to Juris Diction and a member of the Queen’s Law Human Rights Law Club.
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