Joint Civil Society Statement: SGBV increasing while lawmakers let the SOB and SOA gather dust on the shelves

In Somalia, the Sexual Offenses Bill (SOB), a law aimed to reduce rape and gender-based violence, was passed by the Council of Ministers and sent to the Federal Parliament in 2018, but after two years, it was repealed. The House debated a new bill in 2020 that attempted to replace the original Sexual Offenses Bill. The newly drafted Bill (Sexual Intercourse and Related Crimes Bill) allows for child and forced marriage, among other violations of women’s rights. In August 2018, Somaliland’s President Muse Bihi signed the Rape and Sexual Offences Act (SOA) into law amidst criticism from the country’s religious leaders. Almost immediately after signing the 2018 law, the president bowed to criticism from the country’s religious leaders, who claimed the new legislation violated Islamic law, and allowed them to revise it. He sent it back to the House of Representatives, which passed the revised version in 2020. The revised bill is now in the process of being passed by the upper house and signed into law by the president.

Long-standing efforts by women’s rights activists and civil society organizations to push Somalia and Somaliland to pass laws protecting women and girls and end impunity for gender-based violence have oftentimes been met with a similar backlash, particularly from religious groups. As a result, survivors of sexual violence are now in legal limbo.

A report from the Secretary-General to the Security Council (S/2022/272) published March 2022, revealed that in 2021 the United Nations had confirmed 357 cases of sexual violence against girls. In an unpublished report by Somali Women Development Centre (SWDC), a local NGO working with survivors of sexual violence and long-time partner of SIHA, reported 657 incidents of SGBV in 2021, of these 53 were forced marriage, 474 were rape, and 130 were sexual assault in 2021, compared with 756 incidents of SGBV in 2022, of which, 30 were forced marriage, 549 were rape, and 177 were sexual assault. Most of these cases were found to be perpetrated by clan militias or Al-Shabaab; however, the Somali Police Force or National Army were implicated as well.

In Somaliland, the National Human Rights Commission reported 580 rape cases in 2022, of which 66% involved girls under the age of 18, and just 28% of the total cases were handled by a statutory court. This statistic shows a 308% rise in rape incidences compared to the rate in 2021.

As a result of years and years of impunity for perpetrators of SGBV across the Somali region, SIHA staff and partner organizations have noticed an increase in the rate of SGBV that ends in femicide as well as an increasing rate of the perpetrators being armed men in uniform. The issue with the increased rate of perpetrators committing these acts of violence in uniform, is that it increases the fear survivors, and their families have over the consequences for coming forward. While it is possible that the uniforms are fake in some cases, it is very difficult for a survivor to know this, and thus whether the uniform is fake or not, it holds the same weight. Survivors and their families have no way of knowing what connections the perpetrators may have within the law enforcement and judicial system. This trend is particularly disturbing, as obstacles to justice for survivors of SGBV were already numerous and difficult to surmount prior to this recent trend. Many of the obstacles to justice that survivors face come from within the law enforcement and judicial institutions of the region. These include fees and bribes to move a case and/or investigation forward, gendered bias within the statutory and customary law courts, and the fact that courts often prioritize peace in the community over justice for individuals who have been targeted with SGBV. In a recent case, a 12-year-old girl was raped by her Madrassa teacher. She was rushed to the hospital directly after the rape due to an extreme amount of blood loss. At the hospital she received some initial medical treatment, and the hospital staff confirmed her injuries were consistent with rape. The family has tried to pursue justice formally; however, the court dismissed the case, mandating a seven-day investigation. As the testimonies and the medical evidence in the report from the hospital have already been presented to the court, there is little to be gained from one week of investigation. Sadly, it is possible that the court requested this seven-day investigation as an indirect tactic to preserve community peace by pressuring the families to ‘resolve’ the case among themselves. Some believe that these resolutions sacrifice justice for one survivor in exchange for preventing endless cycles of blood feuds between clans, however this is precisely the mentality that perpetuates impunity in Somali culture and legal and justice systems. This impunity has enabled the drastically increasing rates of SGBV throughout the Somali region and created the environment of constant fear that women and girls live in today. Reaching a ‘resolution’ outside the court is quite common, and in cases like this where the survivor’s family is poor and the court has already shown that they are unlikely to win, the vulnerability to their being pressured into accepting money in exchange for their silence becomes increased. In reaction to the court’s dismissal, one of the survivor’s parents said, “I don’t think we will get justice from the court I will await justice from Allah.”

Another crucial deterrent to justice is that survivors who are married run the risk of being tried for adultery – or abducted by Al-Shabab and executed for adultery – if they fail to win their case. On the other hand, survivors who are not married, run the risk of customary courts ruling that if the perpetrator marries the survivor, his punishment shall be waived, leaving survivors with the choice of putting one incidence of trauma behind them and living without justice, or attempting to achieve justice, knowing that if they lose, they are likely to be condemned to a life of repeated trauma, trapped in a marriage with their attacker.

There is also the fear of stigma and rejection by loved ones. In a heart-wrenching case, a husband abandoned his wife and children after she was gang-raped, because he blamed her. To make matters worse, she later died of the injuries she sustained during the attack leaving six children parentless. In another recent case, a young girl, who is married to a significantly older man, was raped by two men, while a third recorded the attack. This footage was later circulated on social media, and Al-Shabab used the footage to find the girl, who they abducted and have condemned to death by stoning for the crime of adultery. In both of these cases, the women who were attacked were re-victimized afterward, illustrating just how prevalent reprisals are. Sadly, these recent cases are just two out of a much larger pattern of a gendered war on the bodies of women and girls.


We call upon the government of Somalia to:

  • Engage in extensive strengthening of its rule of law institutions, ensuring that all levels of the legal and law enforcement institutions are given gender-informed, survivor-centered sensitization training.
  • Ratify and domesticate the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (Maputo Protocol) without reservations.
  • Enact the Sexual Offence Bill (SOB) that has been long promoted by women’s rights activists/organizations and civil society in Somalia.
  • End impunity for agents of the security apparatuses and hold militarized perpetrators and others accountable for the crimes of sexual violence.
  • Subject the perpetrators of sexual violence to statutory court rulings and discourage customary courts from handling cases of sexual violence.
  • Increase security in IDP camps, ensuring that this includes thorough survivor-centric and gender-informed training for all officers, and that a portion of the law enforcement staff are women, especially ensuring that when survivors wish to report they can choose to file that report with a female member of the law enforcement staff.

We call upon the government of Somaliland to:

  • Implement the 2018 Sexual Offences Act (SOA) and ensure that criminal court investigations and rulings are conducted in full accordance with the Act.
  • Develop and enact Family Law to protect women and girls.
  • The central government should allocate resources from the annual budget for women’s empowerment, elimination of harmful practices, and increasing legal rights and judicial process awareness.
  • Consult with women and girls during the formulation of policies and drafting and enactment of laws.
  • Customary courts should not be allowed to handle or interfere with SGBV cases, including rape and domestic violence; and punishment should be imposed on traditional elders who try to solve such cases through traditional courts or resolution agreements.
  • Appoint female judges and increase female officers in police stations, prosecution offices and law enforcement agencies, and ensure they are given survivor-centered sensitization training. Include women in the Judiciary Commission which has the mandate to appoint judges and other senior judicial officers.

We call upon the international community to pressure the Somali government to honor its many commitments to safeguard the rights of women and girls as equal citizens, which includes holding perpetrators of sexual violence accountable.


  1. Banadir Community Development Organization
  2.  Disabled Women Advocacy and Human Rights Organization
  3. Ifrah Foundation
  4. NAGAAD Network
  5. New Ways Organization
  6. Puntland Women Lawyers Association
  7. Puntland Women Umbrella Peace and Stability
  8. Somali Women Rights Advancement and Protection
  9. Somalia Association Young Envoy
  10. Somalia Women and Child Care Association
  11. Somalia Women Development Center
  12. Somalia Women Development Organization
  13. Somali Women Lawyers Association
  14. Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa
  15. Voice of Somaliland Minority Women Organization (VOSOMWO)
  16. Youth Empowerment Solutions
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