Thank you so much. Hi, everyone.
Allow me to thank you all for the opportunity. I am Sudanese, and I live and work in Sudan in Khartoum. I am a researcher by profession, and I am the executive director of the Sudanese Organization for Research and Development. Later in my statement I will talk briefly about my organization.
I'm really honoured to have the chance to talk to you today and I thank you for that.
Since July 2011 the Sudan we used to know has split into two countries, following a referendum where southern Sudanese chose separation over unity.
The independence of southern Sudan unfortunately did not lead to stability in both countries, as hostilities started again and will seemingly continue unless more pressure is put on the two countries—the two leaders of the two countries—to resort to negotiations and go back to the negotiation table.
The resumption of hostilities was not unexpected as certain outstanding issues were not resolved at the end of the interim period following the implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. Those issues include the settlement of the borders between the two countries, the contested Abyei area, and definitely the whole problem of the oil, and the situation of southern Sudanese in the north, and northern Sudanese in the south.
In addition to that, conflict in Darfur, which started in 2003, is still going on. Although it's not in the spotlight as it used to be, it is still going on. After the independence of southern Sudan more conflict erupted in the region of South Kordofan and the Blue Nile.
The economic situation in Sudan has deteriorated from bad to worse, and the Sudanese pound continued its fall while prices are rocketing higher, rendering Sudanese people hungry, homeless, unemployed, and sick.
Human rights violations continued where the national security forces act with full impunity and they enjoy full immunity. Human rights activists are frequently arrested, imprisoned, and interrogated. Independent newspapers are frequently shut down, closed, and censored. Women in particular are harassed. Unconstitutional laws, such as legalizing marital rape, girl child marriage, and wife battering, are applied under the so-called Islamic sharia family laws.
The space for civil society is therefore shrinking. Our area of work is also limited to providing emergency assistance and income-generation activities.
Support to non-governmental organizations and civil society groups and community-based organizations decreased significantly since southern Sudan independence. Most UN agencies, international NGOs, and donors shifted their weight to southern Sudan. This move is explained based on the comparison between the two countries in terms of the level of infrastructure and services and the capacity-building needs in South Sudan. Also, the international community assumed that Sudan enjoyed stability and was governed by a so-called democratically elected government.
Both assumptions, stability and democratic government, proved to be invalid. My country is far from being stable, with war covering almost one third of the country and the so-called elected government increasingly practising atrocities and human rights violations, actively working towards effecting an Islamic constitution and building an Islamic state in Sudan.
In 2007, in the midst of the comprehensive peace agreement and interim period, the Sudanese Organization for Research and Development was born as a result of a series of conversations among like-minded civil society activists, who were concerned at the time about the role of civil society in promoting notions of democracy, citizenship rights, and peaceful coexistence. SORD soon started to take its place among the civil society organizations working to achieve those goals.
As a research-based organization, SORD has proven itself and gotten recognized through its serious work and engagement in civic education, gender justice, and social inclusion. During the past four years, SORD has successfully implemented programs and projects for civic education, support to community-based organizations, and women's rights. Our work has expanded to include five other states beyond Khartoum, reaching thousands of women and young people around the country.
One of the main umbrella programs that the Sudanese Organization for Research and Development is currently undertaking deals with issues of gender justice and women's rights in Sudan. Under this umbrella program, we are advocating for the ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women and the African protocol on women's rights.
We are working on enhancing women's political and social leadership. We are working on combatting discrimination and discriminatory practices, mainly within the legal framework of Sudan, and we are challenging the existing personal status law between two brackets—the family law for Muslims and providing or proposing alternative laws. The work SORD is doing is making a difference at two levels: increasing the level of public awareness and education, and changing the behaviour and the practice of a huge number of segments of society. We are seeing some potential for changing those laws.
Producing research-based evidence, and using documentary films and women's stories and experiences have helped and give SORD credibility.
Having said that, our work is in a religiously sensitive area such that the family law for Muslims has opened fire on us from the Islamic fundamentalist Salafi groups, which have lately become very vocal in criticizing our work and criticizing SORD—even naming some names inside the organization—saying that we are doing some work that is against Islam and Islamic culture.
However, at the same time, that has provided publicity for our work, and we are getting a lot of demand from different parts of the country, based on these attacks from the hardliners or the Islamic fundamentalists.