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  • Criminal Law Reform and Transitional Justice: Human Rights Perspectives for Sudan ed. by Lutz Oette
  • Philip C. Aka
Oette, Lutz , ed. 2011. Criminal Law Reform and Transitional Justice: Human Rights Perspectives for Sudan. Surrey, England, and Burlington, Vt.: Ashgate Publishing. 311 pp. (cloth).

From its independence in 1956, Sudan was a state wracked by conflicts and human-rights1 violations of every description and gravity, including ethnic cleansing and genocide. Precisely for its culture of human-rights abuses, it became the midwife of a "new birth of freedom,"2 the human right to self-determination, signified by the secession of South Sudan in July of 2011.3

Because of the predicate it affords for the enjoyment of other categories of human rights, the right of self-determination is assessed by some human-rights scholars as the mother of all human rights,4 but it is a right still rare in postcolonial Africa. South Sudan, which became independent less than a year after this book was published, is only the third country in the continent to win this right—after Eritrea (its neighbor to the west) in 1991, and South Africa in 1994—by way of majority rule. For South Sudanese, the right came after two civil wars, the last for twenty-two years until 2005, in which about 2 million people died, and millions more were displaced, most of them southerners—and in the wake of a referendum in January of 2011, in which they voted massively to form their own state, separate and apart from Arab Sudan.5 The vote was a centerpiece of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2005 between the warring parties6 that ended the second civil war in the country. It was brokered by an array of regional and international peacemakers that included the United States.

For a postindependent Africa almost unyieldingly committed to maintaining colonial boundaries, what, arguably, makes South Sudan a true case of self-determination or the first of its kind is that, unlike, for example, Eritrea, which enjoyed a history of autonomy before its forced incorporation into Ethiopia, South Sudan has no recent memory of independent existence. Yet, given the human-rights troubles of the old Sudan, the vote for independence was, as President Barack Obama indicated in an op-ed piece in the New York Times, urging the Islamist government in Khartoum not to do anything that would disrupt the vote, "an exercise in self-determination long in the making."7

This book explores the role of criminal law reforms in "the broader struggle for the recognition and protection of human rights for everyone in Sudan" (p. 5), especially within the context of a transition from conflict to the postconflict society that the country signifies. It provides a needed legal angle, involving the role of law as an instrument of repression, that complements the extensive literature on the political root causes of the Sudanese [End Page 131] conflict, particularly in the period since the CPA. The volume developed out of a seminar in Kampala, Uganda, in March 2010, attended by numerous participants from and outside Sudan, including most of the book's contributors. Organized by REDRESS, an international nongovernmental organization (NGO) based in London,8 the conference highlighted several challenges related to criminal law reform and human rights in Sudan, including the need to "demystify" Sharia law,9 the importance of international human-rights standards as a yardstick for existing laws and as guide for reform, the necessity for a culture of accountability based on nationally generated solutions that then build on, but are not overly dependent on, regional and international efforts, and the need for a holistic approach to gender-based discrimination and violence. In partnership with local NGOs, REDRESS promotes criminal-law reform in Sudan.10 The volume culminates the activities of the organization in the human rights of legal reforms in Sudan going back to 2007. Its editor, Lutz Oette, a counsel at REDRESS, teaches human rights law at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London.

The book consists of thirteen chapters, grouped in two unequal parts,11 plus a nonchaptered introduction. In chapter one, "Law Reform in Times of Peace Processes...


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