Sexual violence remains one of the most pressing problems faced by the IDPs who live in insecure areas controlled by armed militias in the Somali capital. The rainy season has already started and those forcefully evicted by the government are once again suffering from the cold weather.
In 2012, the Somali government released a statement ordering internally displaced persons living inside Mogadishu to move out of the city. At the time, the majority of IDPs were living in government-owned buildings which have not been maintained since the collapse of the government and the breakout of civil war in 1991. A minority voluntarily left the area while many fell victim to forceful eviction. All were not provided with alternative housing even though the government promised resettlement plans; that promise still remains unfulfilled.
Apart from that, in most cases the evictees are not provided with official written notice and enough time to vacate the area and as a result their properties are destroyed. The government forces sometimes use bulldozers and other heavy equipment to demolish houses and the shops of the people. The ministry of interior has drafted an IDP eviction policy which has been approved at the ministerial level but not ratified by the parliament. This policy has never been observed whenever eviction takes place.
As a result, IDP women in Mogadishu have become increasingly vulnerable to sexual violence since the recent unplanned and forced evictions which mostly target women and children who represent the majority of IDPs. I’ve helped document 35 cases during February and March for the Somali Women Development Centre (SWDC) as opposed to an average of 3-7 cases per month before.
The evictees are currently without shelter and are seeking temporary shelter in the outskirts of the city in makeshift tents and as a result, they are extremely vulnerable to all types of violence as large families are now living in open lands or in congested houses due to lack of resources to live separately. Sexual violence remains one of the most pressing problems faced by the IDPs who live in insecure areas controlled by armed militias. The rainy season has already started and the evictees are once again suffering from the cold weather, children and aged the most vulnerable at this time.
Among the cases I documented, there were 14 cases of young girls aged between 6 and 16 years. One of them is an 8-year-old who was raped by her uncle who was supporting her in the absence of her parents. The perpetrator is now detained in the central prison; however, the family of the survivor is facing threats from other family members who are close to the perpetrator.
The majority of the survivors do not report their cases to police stations as they don’t have confidence in the mechanisms used by the police officers. For example, survivors were complaining about the lack of female police officers at police stations and their discomfort in discussing the incident with a male investigator. Due to this, many prefer to report their cases to legal aid providers instead. The culture of silence practiced in some areas of the country is still a major obstacle for women and girls. As a result of this, survivors are not comfortable reporting their cases due to fear from stigma. In Somalia if a girl is raped or experiences any other form of violence she faces both stigmatization and discrimination from her own family and from the neighborhood as well. As a consequence of this fear, several victims remain silent and developed STDs which are discovered only later.
Also, the law enforcement and justice institutions have not taken serious action to prevent sexual violence, claiming that they don’t have the technical and financial capacity to tackle this issue. However, according to legal aid providers in Somalia, there is massive corruption within the justice system which sidelines cases of sexual gender based violence. Among the negative practices in the system includes focusing only on civil cases (land disputes) for financial interest rather than criminal cases which include rape cases. The disregard of the criminal cases is attributed to two reasons: - i) survivors have no money to pay in order for their case to be prosecuted ii) lawyers defending their cases are always from legal aid provider organizations who usually do not charge survivors.
THE POSITIVE STORY
The recently appointed Attorney-General Mr Ahmed Ali Dahir has shown some positive attitude towards preventing GBV as he attended several workshops and forums organized by SWDC. Dahir has also had various meetings with the civil society and discussed with them the best ways of tackling this merciless violence against women at the grassroots level. Early this year, he appointed four female prosecutors for his office which marks the first time in Somali history of appointing females to this position. He vowed that he would try his best to use his power to ensure perpetrators of such violence are taken to court.
On the other hand, the Somali government has yet to form the stipulated national human rights commission; however, there is a parliamentary committee on human rights which should be empowered to investigate such issues. A sexual offences bill has been recently drafted although it has not been yet been ratified by the parliament
Whenever the prevalence of this sexual violence is raised by the civil societies at national level the government always argues that their first priority is security. Now the holy month of Ramadan is already here and the militant group has already warned that they will carry out attacks, explosions and assassinations.
SWDC has been providing post-rape emergency assistance including basic contraceptive pills and pep kits to the affected victims. The survivors were also provided with psychosocial counseling and legal aid representation. Among the 35 cases reported and documented, nine were taken to court and are now in process.
TO ALL OF US
The campaign against sexual gender based violence should be joint and all concerned parties including civil society, women MPs, women-led organizations and other community-based organizations should play their respective roles in combating the impunity. The government should be a big part of this campaign and should come up with strong preventive strategies/approaches against this violence. Humanitarian agencies should also play their role in responding to the crises as a result of the unplanned evictions.
* Abdifatah Hasan Ali is Somalia Country Coordinator for Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa (SIHA).
* THE VIEWS OF THE ABOVE ARTICLE ARE THOSE OF THE AUTHOR/S AND DO NOT NECESSARILY REFLECT THE VIEWS OF THE PAMBAZUKA NEWS EDITORIAL TEAM
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