Sudan: intimidation of woman human rights defender combatting violence against women (joint communication)

The following is based on a communication written by the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders and other UN experts to the Government of Sudan on 6 July 2022. The communication remained confidential for 60 days before being made public, giving the Government time to reply. The Government did not reply within this timeframe. If a reply is received, it will be published on the UN Special Procedures’ database.

This is a shorter version of the original communication.

Read the full communication


Topic: the intimidation and harassment of woman human rights defender working to combat violence against women, Ms. Sulaima Ishaq Al-Khalifa, which may be in reprisal for her cooperation with UN in the field of human rights.

Ms. Sulaima Ishaq Al-Khalifa is a woman human rights defender and director of the Unit for Combatting Violence Against Women at the Ministry of Social Development in Sudan since November 2019. She previously worked as director of the Trauma Outreach Office in the Trauma Centre in the Ahfad University for Women in the city of Omdurman, Sudan. After alleged killings, rape and sexual violence perpetrated by security forces against a sit-in at the Khartoum Military Headquarters on 3 July 2019, she headed the subsequent provision of psychosocial support for sexual and gender-based violence survivors.


Since the military took control of the government on 25 October 2021 Ms. Al‑Khalifa has continued in her position as Director of the Unit for Combating Violence against Women, continuing to provide services for survivors of sexual and gender-based assault. She has also spoken to a number of international news outlets, denouncing incidents of sexual violence and the alleged government involvement in the incidents.

Ms. Al-Khalifa has cooperated with UN bodies and mechanisms in the course of her human rights work, most notably monitoring information on cases of sexual violence and coordinating access to medical, legal and psychosocial assistance as part of the working group established by the Representative of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Sudan, who also holds the position of Director of the Office of Support for Civilian Protection in the United Nations Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in the Sudan (UNITAMS). The working group consists of a number of actors, including at least six UN entities. Ms. Al-Khalifa’s involvement in the working group was
explicitly mentioned in the report of the UN Secretary-General on the situation of human rights in Sudan as well as in the activities of UNITAMS.

On 12 March 2022, the Minister for Social Development, appointed in February 2022, called for a meeting with Ms. Al-Khalifa to discuss her human rights work, the head of the General-Directorate of Women and Family Affairs was also reportedly present. Ms. Khalifa reportedly felt threatened at the meeting.

On 22 March 2022, the Government of Sudan wrote to the President of the UN Security Council questioning the figures produced by UNITAMS on sexual violence perpetrated by police. On 28 March 2022, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Sudan, presented the latest report on the situation for human rights in Sudan, which included incidents of sexual violence. In a statement made to the UN Security Council the same day, the Sudanese authorities claimed that information in the report, including information on sexual violence, was exaggerated or erroneous and went beyond the specified timeframe of 3 months.

On 7 April 2022, Ms. Al-Khalifa was summoned by the Office of the Prosecutor of Crimes against the State. She was questioned as to whether she provided information to the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for his briefing to the UN Security Council on 28 March 2022. Under section 47 of the Criminal Procedure Code, a preliminary investigation was opened against Ms. Al-Khalifa for “crimes against the State”. One man at the Prosecutor’s office, who is suspected to have been an officer from the General Intelligence Services asked her for the names, ages, marital status, and addresses of victims of sexual and gender-based violence she had documented. Ms. Al-Khalifa refused to provide this information.

Mr. Khalifa was released on bail during the evening of the 7 April. She later received a phone call from the General Intelligence Services that they would come to her office on 10 April. However, the visit did not take place. On 12 April 2022, Ms. Al-Khalifa was brought in for questioning for a second time to the Office of the Prosecutor of Crimes against the State. She was allegedly interrogated about a report that had been submitted by the Unit for Combatting Violence Against Women to the National Mechanism for Reporting and Follow-up about sexual violence committed in Khartoum during protests on 19 December 2021.

After the interrogation, when leaving the building, she was served an arrest warrant for “cybercrimes” by an officer from the General Intelligence Service. No specific provision of the Cybercrimes Law was mentioned. She was brought to the Cybercrimes Prosecution Office and interrogated further. She was later released on bail that day.

At the time of writing, Ms. Al-Khalifa has reportedly not received any further calls or summons since the 12 April. According to the information received the Unit for Combating Violence against Women is finding it more difficult to carry out its work in prevention and response to violence against women due to lack of cooperation from other sectors of Government.


Without prejudging the accuracy of the information received we would like to express our deep concern regarding the multiple interrogations and charges allegedly filed against Ms. Sulaima Ishaq Al-Khalifa, which appear to be an attempt to intimidate her for her work collecting information about sexual assault and rape committed by security forces and other individuals. We are particularly concerned because the allegations would suggest that the targeting of Ms. Al-Khalifa is in reprisal for cooperating with the UN in the field of human rights. If proven to be true, this would be deeply reprehensible infringement on the work and rights of a woman human rights defender. In this regard, we are concerned that Ms. Al-Khalifa may be at imminent risk of detention or persecution for her human rights activities. We fear that the intimidation of Ms. Khalifa may be a measure used to discourage others from sharing information about the situation of human rights in the country, which may have a chilling effect on civil society, particularly women’s rights, in Sudan


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