Marieme Helie Lucas on Noura Hussein Hammad

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Noura Hussein Hammad is a new case of a woman with the death penalty. What is her brief story?

Helie Lucas: She has been given in marriage by her tutor (wali) (in this case, her father — as this is legal in Sudan) at age 16, against her expressed will. She even fled her father’s house and lived for three years at her aunt’s, hundreds of kilometers away to make it clear she was not accepting this marriage… This actually means that her father signed a marriage contract with the husband to be, eventually out of the presence of the bride to be. The consummation of the marriage may take place at a different time during another ceremony.

After three years, the father sent a message asking her to come back home, stating that he abandoned the idea of marrying her off against her will. He lied about it. When she arrived, she found out that everything was ready for the 2nd stage of the ceremony. She was then forced to go to her husband’s house, where she steadily refused to allow for the consummation of the marriage, for several days. The husband then requested several male family members to hold her down and he raped her in their presence. The day after, he tried to rape her again, but she ran to the kitchen and defended herself with a knife. He died.

She then went back to her father’s place, but he disowned her and took her to the police. She admitted the facts.

She has been judged and sentenced to death by hanging, for murder.

This is a case of child marriage, forced marriage, gang rape, and killing in self-defense. Sudanese law as well as international law both criminalize forced marriage of underage girls. Rights defenders are calling for an annulment of the judgment and a due process, taking into account all the mitigating circumstances that surround the husband death, including human rights abuse, rape, forced marriage, child marriage. They also ask that the state of terror and mental instability in which she must have fallen after the gang rape be considered.

Jacobsen: How can people help her in particular and others in similar situations in general with advancing their ability to fight theocratic laws and violations of human rights?

Helie Lucas: Sudan is a signatory of several international treaties and conventions regarding human rights. It must be held accountable vis a vis international law. It seems that this is the best avenue at the moment to save Noura’s life. On the ground, Sudanese rights groups are creating a climate of awareness for women’s rights and children rights. There is also a growing mobilization in Muslim countries in support of Noura, which denounce a fundamentalist interpretation of Islam as well as contradictions inherent to the discrepancies between the constitution and some institutions like that of wali (tutor), which deprived women of a number of rights otherwise guaranteed under the Constitution. Internationally AI is demanding a revision of the judgment and due process taking into account the specific circumstances of the husband’s murder and the various forms of violence and human rights abuses suffered by Noura.

It is absolutely crucial for supporters outside Sudan to understand that they should first and foremost support the efforts for justice from within. Women’s and rights groups in Sudan know how to best fight for Noura’s life and for women’s and children’s rights. They should keep the lead in this struggle. The mere existence of such progressive forces need to be given visibility, their courage in fighting for justice and human rights in such dire circumstances should be given a well-deserved appreciation, and their expertise fully acknowledged. We should also publicly acknowledge Noura’s courage, for resisting all pressures and for, in the end, not turning to self-destruction but to self-defense. In similar circumstances, many young women commit suicide or fall into mental illness. She is one of these rare cases, publicly fighting for her freedom and that of other women and girls till the end.

Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Marieme.