Who Is Responsible for Ending Sexual Violence in Somalia?
Faiza was reported to have been attacked by a Puntland state navy soldier who wanted to rape her while she was in Bosaso town but she struggled hard to defend herself from her attacker. On realizing that he can’t succeed in his mission, the soldier who was named as Abdikadir Warsame shot her at the private part leading her to sustain serious injury. She was later moved to Mogadishu for treatment but unfortunately, doctors said that she requires a specialized medical attention that is beyond their level.
Unfortunately, Faiza is not alone. Although some of Somalia’s semi-autonomous regions have made recent attempts to push through anti-rape legislation, a general culture of impunity allows many violators to go unpunished — and tales of rape abound.
Rape in camps for Internally Displaced People (IDP)
In Somalia, more than two decades of civil war and famine have forced many people to flee their homes and live in IDP camps. Women and girls who live in camps outside the main cities are the most vulnerable to sexual assault. They do not have any protection and most rape cases occur in the middle of the night or when they are collecting firewood in remote areas. At the same time, due to the breakdown of the criminal justice system, victims often do not have access to the legal assistance necessary to seek justice.
Fiican, a 45-year-old single mother and Buulo Ba’alay IDP camp resident, was raped in front of her children. She described the event in an interview with GV, stating:
It was a midnight when an armed man with Puntland police uniform cracked my home, took me out by force and raped me. Not only did he rape, he tortured me and left me with severe wound on my body that still cause lot of pain up to now.
The night of Fiican’s assault, men from Puntland Police went to the Bula Bacley IDP camp in the central city of Galkayo. The men broke into tents, taking Fiican and another mother by force. Both women were raped. Unfortunately, the victims have yet to receive justice for the violations they suffered. The assailants were arrested but have neither been charged in court nor sentenced for their crimes.
According to the Puntland Human Right Defenders, 80 rape cases were reported in Somalia’s semi-autonomous region of Puntland in 2017. The real number of rapes is thought to be much higher because many victims do not speak out due to fear of stigmatization, a lack of trust in the criminal justice system and a lack of prepared health facilities.
Aside from the issues of justice, another obstacle for survivors of sexual assault is the lack of health infrastructure, modern tools, and equipment that are required in this sector. The health system also lacks the qualified personnel to handle rape-related cases.
Local culture can also be an obstacle to justice because of a regional custom which obligates victims to marry their assailants or accept “camels or livestock” as compensation for their assault:
Rape is pervasive and often goes unpunished in much of Somalia, where decades of conflict have fueled a culture of violence and weakened institutions meant to uphold the law. Traditionally, rape victims are forced to accept compensation – often in the form of camels or livestock – and marry their assailants in a centuries-old practice designed to end war between rival clans.
Small steps in the right direction — but is it enough?
On 9 Sept 2017, the semi-autonomous region of Puntland made headlines when it opened the first forensic lab to handle rape cases in the city of Garowe.
The year before, in September 2016, Puntland also became the first administrative region in Somalia to pass an anti-rape law.The House of Parliament voiced resounding support with 42 out of 45 members voting in favor of the bill which was later officially made into law.
On 6 January 2018, the Parliament of self-declared state Somaliland followed Puntland’s lead and also proposed a new anti-rape bill. However, there is still a long way to go before it is passed by the Guurti (House of Elders) and is signed into law.
Although the rape issue has attracted attention from the Somali government as well as the international community in the past years, sexual violence against women and children remains rampant and the number of assault cases continues to grow.