Sudan trouser ruling violates international law: U.N.

Sep 8th, 2009 | By | Category: Signs of the Times (click on article name)

Sudan trouser ruling violates international law: U.N.

By Stephanie Nebehay

Reuters: The Wastington Post
Tuesday, September 8, 2009; 7:42 AM

GENEVA (Reuters) – Sudan’s conviction of a woman for indecency for wearing trousers violates international law and is emblematic of wider gender discrimination in the Islamic country, the United Nations human rights office said on Tuesday.

It said that Lubna Hussein, a former U.N. employee, and a group of other women were arbitrarily arrested in July at a Khartoum party and subjected to unfair trials.

On Monday, she was found guilty of indecency by a Khartoum court and jailed for a month after refusing to pay a fine of 500 Sudanese pounds ($200).

The 12 other women were convicted in July and 10 of them were flogged, according to Hussein, who herself escaped the 40 lashes she had been expected to receive.

“Lubna Hussein’s case is in our view emblematic of a wider pattern of discrimination and application of discriminatory laws against women in Sudan,” U.N. human rights spokesman Rupert Colville told a news briefing in Geneva.

“No defense witnesses were heard. It is not clear there is a chance to appeal,” he told Reuters.

Hussein’s case was seen as a test of Sudan’s Islamic decency regulations, which many women activists say are vague and give individual police officers undue latitude to determine what is acceptable clothing for women.

Hussein argued that her clothes, a pair of green slacks that she wore in court, were respectable and did not break the law.

Sudan’s criminal law does not define indecent dress, Colville said. The arrests of all the women “were in our view arbitrary and left to the discretion of the police officers”.

Under domestic law, indecent dress can be punished by up to 40 lashes, or a fine, or both. “But under international human rights standards, flogging is considered as cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment,” he said.

The women’s arrests and convictions violate key principles enshrined in the landmark International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ratified by Sudan, according to the U.N. human rights office.

They include guarantees of a fair trial (article 14) and freedom from arbitrary arrest (article 9), Colville said.

Hussein was represented in court by the U.N. legal officers, but the other women had “a total lack of legal representation, including adequate time to prepare their defense”, he said.

“The rights to freedom from arbitrary arrest and due process of law and freedom from cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment are expressly protected in the bill of rights contained in Sudan’s interim constitution,” he said.

These rights were also enshrined in international human rights treaties ratified by Sudan.

(Editing by Giles Elgood)

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