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Opinion: Sudan must end 'cruel' amputation punishment

By Netsanet Belay, special to CNN
updated 5:59 AM EDT, Mon March 18, 2013
Amnesty International is calling on the Sudanese government to rethink its policies on corporal punishment.
Amnesty International is calling on the Sudanese government to rethink its policies on corporal punishment.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Sudan threatens to train judges to cut off hands, legs of convicted criminals
  • Deputy Chief Justice says doctors who refuse to carry out amputations will be punished
  • Belay: Sudan must put an end to the use of cruel, inhuman punishments

Editor's note: Netsanet Belay, an Ethiopian national, is Amnesty International's program director for Africa. A trained human rights lawyer, he has worked for more than 10 years promoting and defending human rights at local, national, regional and global levels. He spent more than two years in prison in Ethiopia for his activism.

(CNN) -- Sudan's Deputy Chief Justice recently made the alarming announcement that his government might start training judges to cut off the hands and legs of convicted criminals, if doctors refuse to carry out amputations as punishment.

Abdul Rahman Sharfi said non-cooperation over the use of such amputations would be punished.

Adopting a defiant posture, he denied his government had ever stopped the use of one of the most severe forms of "hudud" punishments, which are based on an interpretation of Islamic law.

Sharfi revealed that 16 people had been subjected to amputations since 2001, although the first reported case was that of Adam al-Muthna, 30, whose right hand and left foot were amputated by three doctors on 14 February.

Netsanet Belay of Amnesty International
Netsanet Belay of Amnesty International

Al-Muthna had been found guilty of highway robbery.

The amputation prompted a public outcry, particularly by the Sudanese Doctors' Union, which complained that doctors were horrified to have to break the Hippocratic Oath -- to protect patients, and not harm them -- in order to comply with government orders.

Amputations are just one form of cruel punishment carried out in Sudan.

Ex-envoy warns of new Sudan disaster

Since 2005 thousands have been sentenced on counts of adultery, which carries the punishment of flogging, and, in some cases, stoning.

Layla Ibrahim Issa Jumul was 23 years old and the mother of a six-month-old infant when she was sentenced to death by stoning on counts of adultery by a Sudanese judge last July.

He didn't mind that she didn't have a lawyer to defend herself, or that she didn't understand what "stoning" meant.

The second woman to be sentenced to death by stoning in 2012, she spent two months shackled, alone with her baby, in Omdurman prison, near the capital Khartoum.

Both women were eventually released on appeal, following intense campaigns by Sudanese and international human rights organizations on their behalf.

Others, though, are less fortunate.

Almost every day in Sudan, someone is given 20 to 100 lashes on a court order for minor offenses, and following a summary trial. Many such floggings are carried out in public.

These punishments are cruel, inhuman, degrading and may amount to torture.

They are a clear violation of international human rights law and Sudan's own international commitments, notably the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

They are highly controversial within Sudan, which explains in part why the authorities have been unable to enforce them systematically. But for those affected, the suffering is real -- and revolting.

As Sudan reviews its constitution, it is imperative that the authorities respect their international commitments, and address the issue of corporal punishments and the death penalty as a matter of priority.

Such cruel punishments can no longer be tolerated. And laws need to be enforced and respected to put an end to them once and for all.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Netsanet Belay.

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