Under Sudan’s Criminal Act (1991), rape is defined as zina (adultery and fornication) without consent. This means that the strict rules of evidence used for zina are also applied to rape. Women activists have contested this legal position, despite government repression of those advocating reform. Data from 50 interviews in 2011, 2012, and 2013 show that criminal law reform on rape/zina is politicized and polarized, with little dialogue between the government and women activists. The 2005 peace agreement and the Interim National Constitution sparked a review of Sudan’s laws, while the outbreak of armed conflict in Darfur and the International Criminal Court indictment of President al-Bashir focused attention on sexual violence in Sudanese society. These developments have furthered debate on legal reform of rape/zina provisions, including the controversial topic of marital rape. But in this highly politicized environment, reform advocates find their space for maneuver is small.

Liv Tønnessen

Director of Center on Law and Social Transformation and Senior Researcher