Sudanese Fadia Khalaf, Defender of the Month of March

March 25, 2022

DefendDefenders’ regulary chooses a Defender of the Month. Here an example:

Fadia Khalaf was not meant to be an activist. By her own admission, she was born into a conservative Muslim family – the first of six siblings. In Saudi Arabia where she was born and raised, the ruling ideology in the Kingdom was wahabbism – a puritanical version of Islam in which women are strictly expected to stay in the background and not play any public role. Yet even in that conservative setting, she managed to nurture a political consciousness:

“I think reading at young age helped build my awareness on concepts like justice and rights in general. I was exposed to concepts around human freedom, and that nurtured the rebel in me,” she says. Fadia Khalaf Tweet

Now aged 25, Fadia is the Co-founder of Missing Initiative, a volunteer, youth organization dedicated to documenting all persons that are reported missing during Sudan’s ongoing political crisis. The initiative was started in the aftermath of the Khartoum massacre, when armed forces of the Sudanese Transitional Military Council attacked a protest outside the country’s military headquarters, killing at least 127 people.

From the start of protests to remove Bashir (Sudan’s long-serving President deposed in April 2019), we would always report people who we would realize never returned home after the protests. This was our way of looking out for each other. But after 3 June 2021 (the day of the Khartoum massacre), the situation was terrible. People were killed, women were raped, while many others were disappeared. All of a sudden, because of our past work, I started getting tens of phone-calls of people letting me know that their persons were missing, asking me to do something about it. I had to post all these missing cases on my social media platforms(Twitter & Instagram via @SlayKaiii) in addition to reporting to police, to try to find them. It was from that crisis that I and five other friends decided to start Missing initiative to continue searching for these people,” Fadia Khalaf Tweet

The initiative helps document persons announced missing, liaises with the police to conduct a search process, follows up on those in police detention to ensure the progress of their cases and helps some of those arrested find legal representation. To date, Missing Initiative has documented over 100 cases of missing persons, and helped locate about 60, from prisons to hospitals. Among these, at least five were found dead in city morgues.

“It’s horrifying, the conditions in which we find some of these people, if we find them at all. Some are in urgent need of medical attention from all forms of torture, others are imprisoned without charge. Others, we find, have died. But at least, it gives closure to their families,” she says. Fadia Khalaf Tweet

As a result of their work, Fadia says that Sudanese now recognise forced disappearances as a state crime, and have gradually developed a consciousness and vigilance to look out for each other against state-inspired violence.

These efforts have not been without consequences. Fadia says she and her colleagues have been threatened together with their families, and that she continues to be randomly followed and her phones tapped. She says as women human rights defenders (WHRDs) in a deeply patriarchal society, they’re even more endangered because the society does not believe they should have any rights at all, much less a voice.

“The day women rise in Sudan, patriarchy will fall because it thrives on subjugating women. And that’s why those like us are harassed because the system fears that we will awaken and empower other women to rise up and refuse to be dominated,” she says. Fadia Khalaf Tweet

Nonetheless, Fadia is optimistic, the growing women and youth agitation is unstoppable: “This spirit and desire for change, I have never seen it before. Young people are willing to die for a better country every day!  It is inspiring. All they need is to be empowered more,” she notes.

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