The Puntland Parliament on August 2016 passed a law criminalising all sexual offences in the Puntland State of Somalia. The parliamentary session, which passed the Sexual Offence Bill into an officially endorsed law was attended by 45 parliament members, out of which 42 were in favour of the law, two abstained and only one voted against.
Ministry of Justice, Religious Affairs and Rehabilitation (MOJRAR) prepared the Puntland Sexual Offences Bill with technical and financial support from UNFPA and UNDP, according to UNFPA gender analyst in Puntland, Bahsan Said.
“The passage of the bill is a great victory and breakthrough for human rights and women’s rights as it is the first ever of its kind approved in Somalia,” stated Said, adding: “GBV, including rape, sexual assault, physical assault, forced marriage, denial of resources, opportunities or services, psychological and emotional abuse, is prevalent in Somalia.”
The new law criminalises various sexual offences, including, gang rape, sexual exploitation and abuse, sexual harassment, sexual offences involving the Internet and indecent exposure of genital organs in public places. The new sexual offence law also broadens the definition of consent, which is now designed to redress the balance in favour of survivors without prejudicing the perpetrators’ right to a fair trial to help juries reach just and fair decisions.
Since 2014, UNFPA and UNDP Somalia have been supporting the advocacy process towards the passage of the law in partnership with the Ministry of Justice, Religious Affairs and Rehabilitation (MOJRAR), engaging in sensitive and intensive discussions with religious leaders, parliamentarians, experts as well as community members.
Before the new law, the legal frameworks that existed in Somalia and Puntland were the criminal procedures code and the penal code that were passed over 50 years ago, in 1962 and 1964, respectively. Both the criminal procedures code and penal code were considered outdated and incomplete, as the frameworks did not clearly specify and adequately reflect the various types of GBV as crime.
“The new law accepts survivour’s statements and police reports as admissible evidence to the court of law. It is now mandatory that police and prosecutors handling survivours provide referral to free medical, psychosocial and legal support as well as provide protection of witnesses and survivours,” explained Said.
Human rights activists, women groups and communities, have celebrated the enactment of the sexual offences bill, as topics evolving around sexual violence are considered sensitive and often taboo. The enactment of the bill also comes at the right time, as the law and the earlier endorsed Clinical Management of Rape (CMR) protocol create an enabling legal environment for not only the implementation of the new law, but also for ensuring the availability and implementation of CMR services for GBV survivors, as well as the rolling out of a GBV forensic lab-screening project in Garowe, Puntland State of Somalia.
“With all these initiatives, the government of Puntland will has the capacity to provide comprehensive quality services to the survivours of GBV,” explained Said.
For more information please contact UNFPA Somalia Communications Specialist Pilirani Semu-Banda on e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org