Five men have been sentenced to prison terms ranging from five to ten years, for gang raping a 16-year-old girl in Puntland, Somalia. The court ruling is being seen as significant in enforcing Somalis first ever Sexual Offences Law, which was launched on November 29, 2016.
The five men have also been sentenced lashes and ordered to compensate the survivour. A video of the gang rape, which took place in December 2016, was recently posted on social media causing an outrage among many.
The Sexual Offences Law criminalises all sexual crimes including gang rape, sexual exploitation and abuse, sexual harassment, sexual offences involving the Internet and indecent exposure of genital organs in public places. The 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.
Authorities in Puntland and civil society organisations recently stepped up efforts to advocate for the enforcement of the law following a number of new rape cases reported in the region, including the one where the teenage girl was gang raped.
On January 25, 2017, Puntland Government officials and civil society members led by Talawadaag Women Movement, the UNFPA-supported GBV one stop centre; Maatokaal, medical doctors and members of the GBV case management team organized a high level forum calling on law enforcement agencies to intensify implementation of the Sexual Offences Law.
The Vice President of Puntland, Mr. Abdihakim Haji Amey, the Chairman of the Human Rights Commission Mohamed Yusuf and the Director General Ministry of Justice, Religious Affairs and Rehabilitation Mohamed Ali attended the forum.
“Puntland is committed to availing justice with regard to current GBV cases. The Minister of Women Development and Minister of Justice and Attorney General had been in Goldogob District negotiating with families of the perpetrators to peacefully hand them over for prosecution,” said the Vice President.
Director General in the Ministry of Justice Mr. Mohamed Ali stated that the Xeer system would not applied to settle the gang rape case. The Xeer system is a polycentric legal system of Somalia where clan elders serve as judges and help mediate cases using precedents,
“The Sexual Offenses Law will be the basis of the court ruling. Those who oppose the application of the law will be also punished as indicated in the provisions of the same law,” said Mr. Ali.
The Chairman of the Human Rights Commission Mr. Mohamed Yusuf stressed the need of law enforcement agencies to take GBV issues more seriously to ensure that perpetrators of sexual violence are held accountable.
Most of the key speakers during the forum highlighted the problems of the Xeer system as being unfair on GBV survivours and called on traditional leaders not to intervene in settling rape cases.
Maatokaal GBV one stop centre staff and medical doctors spoke passionately about the effects of GBV on survivors, including pregnancy complications and HIV transmission as well as trauma and psychosocial effects. They also stressed the importance of availing rape survivours to health experts within 72 hours for HIV and pregnancy prevention.
“Very frequently, I treat GBV survivors who have attempted to commit suicide due to the high stigma attached to GBV and related pregnancy complications,” said Dr. Habiba Ismail, a gynaecologist in Puntland.
Representing the media Mr. Burhaan Dahir spoke about the important role that the media has in GBV prevention and breaking the silence around the issue. He suggested that the media should independently report GBV cases without waiting for the justice system to conclude the case.
“The media must create the necessary attention and awareness on GBV cases for the public to be encouraged take action,” said Mr. Dahir.
According to UNFPA programme officer for gender, youth and HIV/AIDS Ms. Bahsan Said, the campaign to end sexual violence in Puntland requires the relevant justice and security agencies to take both preventive and remedial actions to bring sexual violence to an end.
“It is also imperative for the public to openly express their concerns and outcry to break the silence surrounding GBV cases. Silence and acceptance of violence by the society are what propagates sexual violence,” said Ms. Said.
Since 2014, UNFPA and UNDP Somalia have been supporting the advocacy process towards the passage of the law with financial support from the Swedish Embassy to Somalia. The Ministry of Justice, Religious Affairs and Rehabilitation (MOJRAR) has been engaging in sensitive and intensive discussions with religious leaders, parliamentarians, experts and community members for the passage and implementation of the Sexual Offences Law.
For more information please contact UNFPA Somalia Communications Specialist Pilirani Semu-Banda on e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org