UNITED NATIONS. LET'S SEE REAL CHANGE. BY LUBNA HUSSEIN (U.N. INFORMATION ASSISTANT IN SUDAN JAILED FOR WEARING TROUSERS)

 

15 SEPTEMBER 2009

LET'S SEE REAL CHANGE
BY LUBNA HUSSEIN (U.N. INFORMATION ASSISTANT IN SUDAN JAILED FOR WEARING TROUSERS)

Because I worked for the United Nations (after arrest with 12 other women for an "indecent act" of wearing trousers in a public place), I had immunity from prosecution. But I chose to resign from the U.N. so that I can confront the Sudanese authorities and force them to display to the world what they claim to be their justice.

To many people, it would seem strange that a woman would face such a situation in a country like mine, that has gained millions from oil revenues during recent years with elegant buildings and luxurious hotels spreading throughout our capital (Khartoum). Although living conditions from most people did not improve, the government promised that we are on the way to prosperity. Yet the laws that govern us were not modernized.

Despite a new constitution in 2005, and a confirmation of human rights' principles, they still falter in the behaviour of women -- not only the right of what to wear but her freedom to work. They also prevent journalists from expressing their views and arrest people without giving any reason.

My stand is not novel. My country, Sudan, has an honourable history of courageous men and women who had to fight against oppressive rules. They taught me that we should not hide behind privileges and immunities. Instead, we should represent those who are unable to express themselves.

My trial will attract attention for some moments. But I hope that a momentum would build to face bigger challenges.

When the Sudan Government and the Popular Movement for a Free Sudan signed a comprehensive peace agreement after more than 20 years of a savage civil war, all parties pledged to respect the International Declaration of Human Rights to avoid the recurrence of past measures. That commitment included canceling several oppressive regulations, particularly the notorious one governing Public Order which is used to persecute ordinary civilians. Censorship, harassment and detainment of journalists continue unchecked. Women are being persecuted for working in traditional coffee shops -- during the last few weeks, a woman fell and died trying to escape from police chasing her. A young man selling paper napkins to aid his impoverished family similarly died as he fell running from the police.

After my case was publicized, "Public Order" police arrested a number of young women in a public place and searched their cell phones. they found in some of them partial photos from a Turkish television series "Nour and Muhand," where a man and a woman were kissing. The girls were taken to court on the basis of Article 153 of the 1991 constitution (mine was Article 152). Each of the women were actually lashed 40 times. Would you believe that these courts are constituted of only one judge and one policeman. The policeman who arrested them is the only witness, the uncontested prosecutor and the main reference. You would not believe it. Thousands of cases impossible to list on any paper. Let me say that the number of women arrested during 2008 -- in the district of Khartoum alone -- only for what they wore, was about 43,000. The Police Chief who gave that figure added that he did not know for sure how many of them were actively lashed.

Elections in Sudan are expected next summer. But opposition parties will not be able to run unless regulations are changed. These elections are a prelude towards the referendum in which our sisters and brothers in the South will decide whether they would continue with our unity or separate. These are painful and difficult choices which will decide the future of our children and forthcoming generations.

I feel angry and frustrated because our Government did not fulfill its promise to cancel oppressive regulations before these elections to allow our people to discuss freely its future. Sudan is a great and valuable country, enriched by its different beliefs and varied ways of life. It has adequate resources for its men, women and children. But we can not accomplish our capable ambitions if we are not able to discuss and participate in shaping our future without pressure or fear.

When I think about my trial, I pray to God that my daughter would not live in fear of the so-called "Social Security Police." We will not be safe until our police become our protector and those oppressive regulations are lifted. I also pray that future generations would look back to note that we had the courage to fight for their welfare before it was too late.

We do need support of other peoples, of Arab and African leaders, of the Americans, Chinese and Europeans to stand with us and ensure that the forthcoming chapter in our history is less bloody, less savage than that of the past. We need to have the conviction and the boldness to act now, inspired by those formidable men and women whom I most admire because they stood firm on their ground and did neither surrender nor give up before seeing real change.