By Reem Katrib, a RightsViews staff writer and a graduate student in the Human Rights MA Program.
After a 30-year conflict over its autonomy, South Sudan gained its independence from Sudan through a referendum in 2011. The Enough Project explains that this secession “caused a severe economic shock in Sudan, as the country lost nearly 75 percent of its oil reserves and 95 percent of its foreign currency reserves.” Since then, the Sudanese government has repressed political opposition, often using violence against civil society and opposition groups who have expressed their dissent at the mismanagement of the economy.
Prior to secession, Sudan had been plagued by conflict with continuing human rights violations that has meant a distrust of the judiciary in the present. In April 2019, a military council replaced Omar al-Bashir when he was forced out of office. The military leaders and opposition members negotiated to form a “sovereign council” the following August. This council acts as a transitional government and calls for holding the previous government accountable for human rights violations.
Institutional Reform and the Transitional Justice Draft Law
While Omar al-Bashir was ousted from his position in 2019, protests have continued in the face of the economic crisis, doubling of food prices, and the sanctions imposed on Sudan by the United States. The beginning of October 2020, however, saw a peace agreement that would end fighting in the west and south of Sudan and end U.S. sanctions on Sudan. This peace deal was drafted by the transitional government and rebel groups. The drafting of this transitional justice law necessitates these advancements; that is, the lack of active conflict and an end of sanctions on Sudan.
With this drafting process, it is important to note the significant roles women have held throughout the protests, at the forefront of sit-ins and as symbols of the revolution. These protests started as a result of the increase in the prices of bread and fuel after subsidies were cut. Many groups, namely women and victim activist groups, believe they ought to be more involved in this transitional period, both in government and in the drafting of a law on transitional justice.
In the third week of October, the Ministry of Justice claimed that the Justice Chamber is concerned about the compensation of victims in the transitional justice file. Significantly, the undersecretary of the Ministry of Justice, Siham Osman, “called for reform to the judicial institutions.” These reforms would include providing assistance to the Transitional Justice Commission and representatives of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Her concerns are shared by many people in Dabanga Sudan who are worried that despite previous purging of officials affiliated with al-Bashir’s regime in the judiciary, judges who are affiliated with the regime remain in the system. More so, there is a recognition that laws need to be revised and new ones created in order to prosecute crimes not currently in legislation marking another concern for institutional reform.
The crimes that will be looked at in the transitional justice draft law include war crimes, crimes against humanity, torture, and genocide. The trials to be head in the Sudanese case are meant to allow for reparations, and remedies; specifically, compensation to those affected both materially and morally by the perpetrators. Siham Osman says “that the ministry attaches special attention… to fulfill the rights and rehabilitate the victims and people affected.” She also argues that it is essential that perpetrators confess to the crimes committed.
With the creation of the transitional justice draft law, numbers of women’s and victim’s rights activists have emphasized the importance of including victims and women in the transitional justice process. These groups signed a petition that calls for a victim-centered and gender-sensitive approach to transitional justice that ought to be restorative. Their demands emphasize the importance of understanding the needs of those most affected in transitional justice processes.
Transitional Justice, Victim-centered, and Gender-sensitive Approaches
The concerns raised by the victim’s and women’s rights activists are well-founded in the field of transitional justice. This is especially true when it comes to a court or commission’s formation of a metanarrative of victimhood; a narrative that serves as a telling of the conflict and the commonalities between targeted victims. While usually done to highlight the atrocities of certain crimes, this often disregards the complexities of being an individual affected by these crimes.
In fact, metanarratives often do not account for intersectionality and dynamics of class, race, and gender, which expose the systems of oppression in place. The inclusion demanded by activists extends discourse on sexual violence and refuses to settle for brief meetings on gender-related issues. The victim-centered and gender-sensitive approach demands a reclamation of women’s and victim’s agency; they want to be at the table, discussing restorative means of justice.
While the Sudanese Ministry of Justice has only recently discussed the drafting of a transitional justice law, much of the discussion thus far has been related to prosecution of perpetrators, and the compensation of those affected by the conflict.
Institutional reform has also been brought to the forefront with regards to the judiciary system in particular, and the judges that uphold that system. This begs the question whether other transitional justice mechanisms will also be considered throughout this process, such as memory and memorialization. The aforementioned mechanism could be essential to opening discourse and transparency, especially on a governmental level, with the recognition of the atrocities of human rights violations. It also recognizes the power of those who pushed for democracy.
Another concern in this push towards a transition is the demobilization, disarmament, and reintegration of armed groups. With the peace agreement in place, it has been agreed that the security sector in Sudan must be modernized and a cohesion between different groups established. With these concerns in mind, one may then ask, what does a grassroots transitional justice process look like, particularly one that adopts a gender-sensitive and victim-centered approach? More precisely, moving forward, how would the Sudanese transitional justice process ensure the inclusion of some of these voices that need to be heard most, and that are essential to sustainable change and reform?