UN envoys appalled by increase in sexual violence in Somalia

The UN secretary-general’s special representative for children and armed conflict, Virginia Gamba, and the special representative on sexual violence in conflict, Pramila Patten, said Thursday that they were appalled by the alarming increase in the scale and severity of sexual violence in Somalia.

In 2020, 400 civilians, primarily girls, were victims of rape and other forms of sexual violence perpetrated by all parties to the conflict in Somalia. This represents a staggering increase of almost 80 percent compared with 2019, said the two UN envoys in a joint press release.

In the first quarter of 2021, over 100 cases of sexual violence against girls were verified by the United Nations. Often, perpetrators exploited the vulnerability of displaced girls, targeting them when they left camps to perform domestic chores, they said.

Sexual violence was closely linked with the prevailing insecurity in Somalia, marked by political tensions in the run-up to national elections, intercommunal clashes related to land-based disputes, and a surge in Al-Shabaab’s activities, which intensified during the climate of uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, they said.

“The heightened levels of conflict-related sexual violence in Somalia demand urgent attention and action. We urge all parties to the conflict in Somalia to immediately cease these violations and comply with their obligations and responsibilities under international humanitarian and human rights law, as well as their commitments with the United Nations pursuant to relevant Security Council resolutions,” said the two special representatives.

Gamba and Patten were alarmed by the significant increase in the number of cases of sexual violence attributed to Al-Shabaab, which continues to use sexual violence and forced marriage as tactics of domination in areas under their de facto control, forcing many families to flee their land.

The two officials also noted with concern the high number of violations perpetrated by clan militia, which has almost tripled over the past year, and are linked to a proliferation of small arms and light weapons. In the vast majority of cases, the perpetrators remain unidentified, which perpetuates the vicious cycle of impunity and impedes access to redress and reparations for survivors.

They also expressed serious concern that over 15 percent of all cases of sexual violence verified were attributed to the government security forces.

They urged the federal government of Somalia to take concrete measures to end and prevent the recurrence of sexual violence against women and children, while expediting the implementation of protection commitments, including at the federal member state level.

They called on Somali lawmakers to strengthen its legislative framework to better protect the rights of women and children, highlighting that sexual violence thrives in environments where legislation is weak and allow perpetrators to walk free, and survivors receive little or no support.

“The Somali authorities must send a strong and clear signal of hope to survivors and deterrence to perpetrators and potential perpetrators. They should fast-track the endorsement and enactment of the 2017 Child Rights Bill as well as the re-introduction and enactment of the 2018 Sexual Offences Bill to ensure that its legislation to address all forms of sexual violence is comprehensive and in line with Somalia’s international and regional human rights commitments,” said the two envoys.

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