Justice & Sexual Violence in Somalia

On the 5th February 2013, Lul Ali Isman, who was allegedly raped by the government security forces and journalist, Abdiaziz Abdinur Ibrahim who conducted an interview with the rape survivor were convicted and sentenced to a year in jail. The Somali woman was accused of insulting a government body and making false claims. The freelance journalist was similarly charged with insulting a government body despite the story never being published. Abdiaziz is to serve his sentence with immediate effect however Mrs Isman, an IDP and married mother with an infant child has had her sentence deferred until she is no longer nursing. The two were arrested initially in mid January 2013 in the aftermath of reports on international media sites on the incidents of rape in IDP camps in Mogadishu. The rape survivor was released after two days of interrogation without a lawyer present, but only after which she had retracted her statement.

In spite of this, her husband doggedly maintained that she had been raped. The trial itself saw witnesses prevented from taking the stand, although of note, the District Commissioner of Hodan, and the camp leader from the victim’s residence both spoke and testified that the victim had been raped. Justice and Sexual Violence in the Somali Capital: Following national and international outcry about the disturbingly high levels of SGBV in the capital, on 26th November 2012, the Somali president Mr. Hassan Sheikh Mohamud announced that the death penalty would be applied to anyone found guilty of committing rape. Following this, on the 16th January 2013, Abdi Isman Ali Magan was convicted of rape and sentenced to death by firing squad and was executed the same day. Although SIHA network cannot condone the use of corporal punishment, the conviction of Abdi Isman Ali Magan is a welcome step forward, however this singular example of a conviction is not demonstrative of broader efforts to tackle the issue and pursue all perpetrators of SGBV. Continued reference to this individual instance detracts from the greater inadequacies within the judicial and security apparatus and the lack of perpetrators being brought to justice. It is furthermore of note that the conviction of Isman and Abdiaziz comes only a day after Asha Haji Elmi, an MP and the wife of the Prime Minister engaged in a meeting with civil society, business leaders and other politicians to discuss SGBV in the city.

That Mrs Elmi declared the meeting “the day of the fight against rape” highlights the contradictions and disparity between the government’s public statements and practical actions. Impact: The recent convictions serve only to cultivate greater impunity for perpetrate of rape and moreover it attempts to place the government beyond criticism or accountability for such sexual violence. The courts have been deployed not only to pursue, discredit and silence those who speak out against human rights abuses, and their use has served to provide a veneer of legitimacy to the process. Nonetheless the interrogation of suspects prior to trial without legal representation alongside the prevention of evidence being brought forth by the defence demonstrates that due process has been circumvented and the outcome contrived and politically motivated. A serious concern is that the convictions will deter future survivors of SGBV from seeking support or redress out of fear of similar persecution and public humiliation – doubly traumatizing the victim. It similarly sends a crude warning to human rights activists, journalists and NGOs about reporting on such a grave human rights abuse and ostensibly reinforces the impunity of all of those who perpetrate rape, state actors or otherwise. Furthermore, the woman at the heart of this trial has been victimized multiple times, not least for the trauma of rape to begin with, but through interrogations and being put on public trial.

In a country where sexual violence is still a taboo subject tied into shame and stigma for the survivor, this public persecution goes beyond any reasonable treatment of a rape survivor. Her treatment from her arrest to conviction has denied her the presumption of innocence that should accompany the statutory process and has seen spurious unsubstantiated claims against her by the government in pursuit of their own political agenda. She may not have to serve her sentence until her infant is no longer being nursed, nonetheless the trauma and damage has already been inflicted.

Recommendations:

SIHA calls

  • For the Somali government to overturn the convictions of both Lul Ali Isman and Abdiaziz Abdinur Ibrahim and to release Abdiaziz with immediate effect.
  • For the international community, and in particular, major financial donors to the Somali government to assert pressure onto the Somali government to overturn the convictions but to demand greater measures to be applied to both protect and provide redress to survivors of SGBV.
  • For the Somali government to provide a public apology and suitable reparations to Mrs. Isman in lieu of the abject failure to protect her rights and dignity as a rape survivor.
  • For the Somali government comply with the stipulations of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and with the International Convention on Human Rights to which it is a signatory and thus allow both freedom of the press and protection and redress for victims of SGBV.
  • That an independent investigation is conducted into sexual violence in Mogadishu which interrogates the role of all armed actors inclusive of government personnel and that concrete steps are taken to protect and reduce sexual violence and to provide accessible and functional tools for justice.

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