Rape in Somalia: Women and ‘Double Victimisation’

Mugo Mugo, Conflict Researcher and Co-Founder of African Media Initiative on Development (AMID-Africa), Global Education MagazinePatrick Mugo Mugo

Institutional Filiation: Aljazeera Television Producer (F/L), Eastern and Horn of Africa, Nairobi Bureau and also Conflict and Policy Researcher at Horn and Eastern Africa

UN’s-mandated University Graduate with Masters of Arts in Media, Peace and Conflict Studies (2012)

Contacts; patrickmaragi@gmail.com,@PMugoMugo , www.mugomugo.com

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Abstract: Rape is crime that ought to be punished and prevented, but in Somalia after more than two decades of protracted conflict, sexual violence is now being referred to as ‘normal’ by Human Rights Watch report1. United Nations human rights argue that women and girls in Somalia suffer ‘double victimization’ due to the pervasive nature of sexual violence. The perpetrators of the violence include security agents, armed gangs and well known neighbours to the victims, all with ‘complete impunity’. The Federal Government of Somalia is yet to walk the talk when it comes to resolve to tackle sexual violence.

Keywords: Rape, Somalia, Mogadishu, Women, Girls, Human Rights Watch, Conflict, Federal Government of Somalia, camp, Internally Displaced Persons, AMISOM

Introduction

Somalia has had no centralised and capable governing authority that can safeguard its most venerable population from sexual violence. The security forces now stand accused for orchestrating, rather than preventing and prosecuting sexual violence against women, girls and boys. The Human Right Watch report brings froth the pervasive nature of sexual violence in the country that has had no central government since 1994 with the most vulnerable segment of her population with nowhere to turn to. The state security machinery, which ought to protect the defenceless, happens to be associated with perpetrating, if not being a silent observer. According to the rights body in its 2014 report titled Here Rape is Normal: A Five-Point Plan to Curtail Sexual Violence in Somalia, women and girls are a target from “members of state security forces, operating with complete impunity, sexually assault, rape, beat, shoot, and stab women and girls2”. In Somalia women, girls, and boys are not even safe even in places where they have sought refuge like in the camps3. Within the vicinity of the camp women and girls get attacked when going to the market, field to fetch firewood. As a result, Somalia women and girls face what the UN’s independent expert on human rights in Somalia refers to as “double victimization”. First is the rape or sexual assault itself, then failure of the authorities to provide protection neither effective justice or medical and social support.

Sexual Violence and the Compounding Factor

The two decades of protracted conflict has resulted in the collapse of medical services making it torturous for affected women and girls to secure medication. Culture of impunity and the patriarchal nature of the Somalia police force make it even complicated for the victims not turn to the police for protection or prosecution of perpetrators. One of the heart-breakingstories in the Human Rights Watch report is that of the 37-year-old single mother of six, Maryam, who was raped in 2012 at a camp in Wadajir district of the capital Mogadishu.

[…]The four men all raped me one by one while one of them stood guard outside. I was struggling with the last man and he stabbed me with the bayonet on his gun. I was screaming and no one came out to help. (On reporting to the police that one of the rapists was wearing a police uniform she then started to bleed profusely from my vagina). They told me to go home and wash off the blood. But before they let me go, they told me I had to wash the floor where I was bleeding. I sat down, they gave me a brush and I cleaned the floor4

This was not the first time Maryam was raped by then five months pregnant and after the police station humiliating experience, she never returned to the station to pursue her case. At the back of her mind, fear for retribution from her assailants, among them an attacker dressed in uniform. Maryam later miscarried, and three months later she was raped again at night in her tent by a different gang of assailants, notes the report. The Federal Government of Somalia has in time indicated its intention to tackle sexual violence against women and girls. In May 2013, the government signed a pact with the United Nations representative on sexual violence in conflict committing to addressing the problem. The government has yet to follow its words with action as no credible actions have been taken to protect the women, girls and boys who now continue to be assaulted.

State of Rape in Somalia

The United Nation’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) notes, in the first half of the year, 800 cases of sexual and gender-based violence were reported in Mogadishu, Somalia capital. Jens Laerke, OCHA spokesperson said5 the rape perpetrators are said to be armed men and men wearing military uniforms. UNICEF6 spokesperson Marixie Mercado also notes that around one-third of the victims of sexual violence were children, mostly boys with UNICEF and partners providing help to some 2,200 victims. According to UN7 “between January and November 2012, United Nations partners and service providers registered over 1,700 rape cases”. With all of these figures, the actual number is likely much higher, as many victims of sexual violence never report their experiences to the authorities for various reasons, including fear of reprisals from authorities or perpetrators. Women and girls are also wary of the ostracism and social stigma associated with rape and they have little confidence that the authorities will undertake an adequate investigation into their cases.

Another story in the Rights report is that of 34-year-old Shamso8 who in early 2013 was raped by three men in her home at night in a camp. The attackers stabbed her when she attempted to resist in front of her three children.

[…] One of the men came in and raped me while the second and third men stood outside [the hut] and guarded it. They took turns. The men didn’t hurry because mostly women live in the camp and are no threat to them. During the attack, one of them told me, “You can tell anyone that we did this, we’re not scared9

The UN’s report10 on Sexual violence in conflict note that “sexual violence is almost universally underreported” and this is due to a number of reasons namely “the risks faced by survivors, witnesses, humanitarian workers and journalists who come forward, including the risk of reprisal.” On February 5, 2013 a woman was tried and sentenced after reporting that she raped by security forces. Not spared also was the journalist who interviewed her. This ordeal suffered by the victim and by the journalist exposes a strategy to target and silence the reporting and exposure of sexual violence. Another story is that of Razmo11 that the Human Rights watch researchers, whose daughter was raped and die before reaching the hospital

[…] 17-year-old daughter, who had been raped at the Sarkuusta Camp, died as they were trying to take her to a hospital several kilometers away. With no mobile emergency medical services available and with no money to hire a vehicle or even

Medical services availability is hampered by the departure of international medical NGO Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) back in 201312 due to insecurity highlighting the complexity of the prevailing situation in Somalia. Such service could prevent rape victims from contracting HIV or other sexually transmitted disease as it happened to 28-years-old Asha13

[…] I was raped; I fled and took a minibus back home. … I went to a [local] hospital first and then after a week I got more ill and went to the hospital on the Burundi base (AMISOM), but didn’t get treatment… I went to NGO service provider at the end of Ramadan a month later so it was too late for [preventative medical treatment]. I had gone to the other hospitals and been treated for a chest infection. When I went to the two hospitals I didn’t mention that I was raped because I didn’t know anything about HIV and sexually transmitted infections.

The United Nations High Commission for Refugee (UNHCR) told Right Watch researchers that, “services for sexual violence are available” across the capital Mogadishu but victims says they are not aware of such services. The two decades of conflict do not help either as existing judicial system is weak where it does exits. Compounding the quest for justice by the victims is the cultural taboo that makes it even torturous to report rape to fear for reprisals considering that among the perpetrators, some happens to security officers. This would need training for security officers on issues of human rights to strategies of assisting victim to initiate prosecution where there favourable grounds. Not all is lost as reports from Somalia police reports indicate that “about 100 rape cases were opened in Mogadishu between January and November 201214.” But beneath this, the Mogadishu courts rarely hands down rape prosecutions, but in July 2013, a court “convicted a neighbour for raping a 15-year-old girl with disabilities in a camp in Hodan and sentenced him to 10 years’ imprisonment15.” This indicates that with help and time rape perpetrators can face justice but much will to be done for rape to stop being a ‘normal’ occurrence in Somali.

Sexual Violence and Protracted Conflict

Its twenty four years now since Somalia descended into anarchy and there has limited progress on the political front towards a stable Somalia. UN reports16 on sexual violence talks of the correlation between “spike in the number” sexual violence recorded cases and “intensification of military operations against Al-Shabaab” in the suburbs of Mogadishu. The victims caught in this context have been subjected to “repeated and systematic sexual violence” from “members of organised armed groups and Somalia security forces.” Complicating the victims plight is the “inability to identify perpetrators” when it comes to which armed or security group they belong due to “fear for retaliation.” Reprieve for the victims would be a functioning and credible judicial system, but that is none-existence in Somalia.

The Penal Code, under which sexual violence ought to be prosecuted, does criminalize rape. However rape within the context of penal code is considered as “a crime against morals rather than against the person.” This is an additional layer on top of the dehumanization, stigmatisation and notion that most women don’t even trust the judicial system, as it has done little if any to punish the perpetrators. UN observes that there situations when cases are “settled through traditional mechanisms” where the victims are compelled “to marry their perpetrator.” While the wheel of justice have been slow and sluggish, as of November 2013, the “military court had opened 13 cases of sexual violence against members of the Somali security forces.” Of the cases, one resulted in death sentence, nine still pending and the other three in acquittal.

Methodology

Desktop Research review from various reports on rape cases in Somalia

Human Rights Watch: Steps to Tackling Sexual Violence in Somali

The Human Rights Watch in their 2014 report proposes a five-point road map as a way of tackling sexual violence in Somalia. Key among them is “minimizing risk factor” that intensifies women’s vulnerability especially those living in camps like “joint patrols of competent and trained” security offices coupled with “community with safety coordinators” and thirdly campaigns against “existing attitudes of men and women about their roles and status.” These measures would work if approached from a short to medium and long term approach and through a collaborative approach.

Second is the need for accessibility to emergency health services to deal with “acute and long-term physical, psychological and social consequences17” of sexual violence. Due to broken down system due to conflict few of the victims of rape have been able to access post-rape care. This could be done by ensuring that “health service provide necessary medical support18” to women more so “medical supplies to treat post-rape care.” The Federal Government of Somalia will need to walk the talk beyond just pledging that it will tackle sexual violence. With the security officer being on the spot for sexual violence, then the government has a role to play beyond just boosting the capacity of the judicial services to prosecute. The police are very instrumental in containing rape but that cannot be possible if some of the officers are the perpetrators.

NOTES

1Human-Rights-Watch. (2014). “Here, Rape is Normal” A Five-Point Plan to Curtail Sexual Violence in Somalia. Washington: Human Rights Watch

2Human-Rights-Watch, 2014. P:1, “Here, Rape is Normal” A Five-Point Plan to Curtail Sexual Violence in Somalia. United States of America: Human Rights Watch

3 According to United Nations, there are 1.1 million people internally displaced persons in Somalia with 369,000 found within Mogadishu

4 Human-Rights-Watch, 2014. P:1. Summary: “Here, Rape is Normal” A Five-Point Plan to Curtail Sexual Violence in Somalia. Washington: Human Rights Watch

5 OCHA. (2013, August 16). UN humanitarian wing warns of pervasive sexual violence in Somalia. Retrieved February 19 , 2014, from United Nations News Centre: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp/html/story.asp?NewsID=45641&Cr=sexual+violence&Cr1=#.UwRbFe7frMw

6 Ibid

7 United-Nations, 2013, P. 14. Somalia; UN General Assembly Security Council, Report of the Secretary-General on Sexual violence in conflict. New York: United Nations

8 Human-Rights-Watch, 2014. P:18. Improve Presention Strategies: “Here, Rape is Normal” A Five-Point Plan to Curtail Sexual Violence in Somalia. Washington: Human Rights Watch

9 Ibid

10United-Nations, 2013, P.4UN General Assembly Security Council, Report of the Secretary-General on Sexual violence in conflict. New York: United Nations

11 Ibid

12 Ibid

13 Ibid

14 Ibid

15 Ibid

16 United-Nations, 2013, PP. 14-15. Somalia; UN General Assembly Security Council, Report of the Secretary-General on Sexual violence in conflict. New York: United Nations

17 Ibid

18 Human-Rights-Watch, 2014. P:1. Summary: “Here, Rape is Normal” A Five-Point Plan to Curtail Sexual Violence in Somalia. Washington: Human Rights Watch

 

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This article was published on 8th March: International Women´s Day, in Global Education Magazine.

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