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August 30, 2013

Amnesty: Sexual Violence Endemic in Somalia

by Joe DeCapua

Amnesty International said two decades of conflict have allowed sexual violence to become endemic in Somalia. The human rights group says most victims don’t report the attacks to authorities, fearing stigma.


Amnesty says rape and sexual violence are a constant threat in Somalia, especially for displaced women and girls. Senior Crisis Adviser Donatella Rovera said researchers spoke with dozens of victims, one as young as 13, in Mogadishu and in camps for the displaced.

“Obviously, the humanitarian conditions are terrible and the lack of security is very prevalent. And this is a particular problem for women and girls because they are very much exposed to rape and sexual violence,” she said.

The United Nations reported in 2012 there were at least 1700 cases of rape in Somali settlements for internally displaced people . At least 70 percent of the attacks, it said, were carried out by armed men wearing government uniforms.

“Perpetrators are very rarely brought to justice. Victims of these attacks are then stigmatized within Somali society. So the combination of the fear of the stigmatization and the lack of confidence that reporting their case would lead to any justice means that in the majority of cases the victims don’t even report the cases to the police,” said Rovera.

She said that police “do not have the capacity nor the political will” to provide the protection needed to prevent such attacks – or to bring those responsible to justice.

Many of the women who were attacked live in make-shift shelters, with just a piece of plastic for a door. There’s no protection from rapists, who usually attack in the night. She told the story of one woman, who has four children and was abandoned by her husband.

“She told me that she was asleep in her little shelter when a man came in. He had a knife. It was night. She kept quiet because he threatened to kill her. The children were sleeping next to her. He raped her and then he went away. And she told me that she had not told anybody because she was afraid that if she spoke to the neighbors about what had happened to her they would just laugh at her or say bad things about her.”

Amnesty International’s senior crisis adviser said a lot “can and must be done” to solve the problem. She admitted it’s very difficult because the government controls only part of the country. Many other areas are controlled by armed groups and militias, such as al Shabab.

“But certainly where government forces are present, it is crucial that they take concrete measures to first of all to ensure security – and notably, if we talk about the IDP camps, the camps for displaced people, where most of the rapes and sexual violence occur. And secondly, more needs to be done to follow up on those cases, which are reported,” she said.

Rovera said, “The inability and unwillingness of Somali authorities to investigate these crimes – and bring the attackers to justice – leaves survivors of sexual violence even more isolated.” She added, it also contributes to a “climate of impunity in which attackers know they can get away with these crimes.”