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Sudanese women activists launched a legal campaign in 2009 calling attention to how the country’s Sharia based Criminal Act of 1991 produced impunity for sexual assault in the Darfur conflict. After years of mobilization, Sudan enacted a rape reform in 2015. While on the surface a success story, extensive interviews conducted in Khartoum suggest that this regime-controlled rape reform is more about the struggle of an authoritarian state to keep an emerging independent women’s movement under control, rather than the protection of rape victims in Darfur. By situating the reform within the broader political dynamics of the International Criminal Courts’ (ICC) arrest order against Sudan’s president for the use of rape as a war tactic in Darfur, it becomes clear that this pushed an already pressured head of state to clamp down on independent women’s groups advocating rape reform. Women activists were framed as collaborators of the ICC and an enemy of the Sudanese state. The immediate implication of targeting women activists is that the regime has silenced critical voices pointing to the limitations of the rape reform as well as those actors most likely to watchdog its implementation. The long-term implication is that it weakens the foundation for generating further policy changes on violence against women.

Liv Tønnessen

Director of Center on Law and Social Transformation and Senior Researcher