16 April 2021
(Read before the 68th Ordinary Session of the Commission on 14 April 2021)
Honorable Chairperson, Commissioners, the Secretary of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and distinguished participants,
Honorable Commissioner on Rights of Women -Madam Zainabo Sylvie Kayitesi
The Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa (SIHA), a regional and feminist network of civil society organizations comprising of one hundred and thirty members, working on women and girls’ rights would hereby like to highlight the complex human rights situation in the Greater Horn of Africa (GHoA), which is marred by insecurity, rampant sexual and gender-based violence, and overt and increased militarization, which all contribute to a surge in the victimization of women and girls.
We are deeply concerned by the chronic occurrences of civil conflict, tribal and ethnic tensions and armed conflict that continue to threaten the daily conditions of women in the Horn of Africa. The situation of women and girls in the Horn of Africa continues to be characterized by systematic violence, including the enabling and normalizing of patterns of sexual violence against women and girls across the region. This picture has been grim for a very long time. Unfortunately, the absence of effective legal and justice frameworks and massive militarization has translated into increased impunity.
In South Sudan, escalating intercommunal clashes continue to expose communities to more harm and risk which is a great impediment to an already-fragile setting where peace is much needed. With this unrest, violence against women and girls continues to be a pattern, while militarization and impunity in addition to extreme poverty continue to be drivers of SGBV in the country.
In Sudan, militarization and an increased occurrence of sexual violence against women and girls has been reported, especially in the region of Darfur. Reports of a rising number of fatalities continue to rock the country and the region. SIHA’s advocacy consistently emphasizes the importance of demobilization of armed militia, ending factionalization at local and regional levels, and holding the perpetrators of VAWG accountable. The Sudan Transitional movement is still rejecting the ratification of and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (Maputo Protocol) while gender-discriminatory laws and policies remain in effect.
Ethiopia is currently experiencing a full-blown civil war in the Tigray region which has caused an influx of refugees into Sudan where they are mistreated and exposed to violence. Reports of violence have also been shared from other regions in Ethiopia, like the massacre in the Benishangul-Gumuz state, where a high prevalence of sexual violence has been recorded.
In the Somali region, we are witnessing a rollback on women’s rights. The government in Somaliland has a step back on the signing the Sexual Offences Bill. Similarly in Somalia, SIHA through its members has witnessed a trend of women being kidnapped and an increase in gendered killings. Last year, we saw the Sexual Offences Bill drastically changed, becoming the Intercourse Bill which gives immunity to male perpetrators, largely related to religious militancy. Like Sudan, Somalia has not signed or ratified the Maputo Protocol or CEDAW.
SIHA condemns all forms of violence against women and girls. SIHA’s mandate in the region is to break the silence on all forms of violence against women and girls and to empower young people and women to realize their rights. SIHA is strengthening the capacity of local Civil Society Organizations in the Greater Horn of Africa to build regional solidarity for advocacy and protection against sexual violence.
With this in mind, and inline Protocol to The African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, SIHA urgently calls upon the African Commission to implore the governments of the four previously-mentioned countries to:
- Ensure – especially in Somalia, South Sudan, and Sudan – women’s access to justice and equal protection before the law, including the establishment of accountability measures for sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), comprehensive reform of discriminatory laws, particularly in the area of family law, with all appropriate measures clearly spelled out in Article 8 (a – f) of the Protocol;
- Compile urgent appeals to address the gravity of the situation in the conflict regions within Ethiopia, particularly SGBV crimes against women and girls who have been displaced by the conflicts according to Article 4.2 (a – k) of the Protocol;
- Embrace legislative, administrative, social and economic measures to ensure the prevention, punishment and eradication of all forms of violence against women in the Horn of Africa according to Article 4.2 (b) of the Protocol;
- Penalize the perpetrators of violence against women and girls, and implement programmes for the rehabilitation of women and girls who have survived sexual and gender-based violence according to Article 4.2 (e) of the Protocol, particularly in Somalia, South Sudan, and Sudan;
- Again particularly in Somalia, South Sudan, and Sudan, put in place effective mechanisms to support survivors of sexual violence through basic services such as health services, legal and judicial support, emotional and psychosocial support as well as vocational training to achieve economic empowerment according to Article 5(c) of the Protocol.
- Ratify and sign The Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on Rights of Women in Africa (Maputo Protocol) and the Convention no the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) – specifically for the governments of Somalia and Sudan.
Statement prepared by SIHA Network and read before the Commission by Martha Tukahirwa (Amended)