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Human Rights Watch Asks Somalia to Protect Women

FILE - A Somali woman, who was sentenced to a year in jail after she told a reporter she was raped by security forces, holds her baby at the court house in Mogadishu, March 3, 2013.
In recent years, Somali women and girls living in makeshift camps in and around Mogadishu have experienced a wave of sexual violence. Local and international rights organizations have blamed both government soldiers and militia groups. In a report released Thursday, Human Rights Watch called on the Somali government to adopt reforms to deal with widespread sexual violence against women.

Sexual violence against women has become an increasing problem and a concern for human rights organizations over the last couple of years, as armed men continue to commit rapes and walk free.

On Thursday, New York-based Human Rights Watch published a report titled Here, Rape is Normal, detailing women and girls’ constant fear of rape and the authorities response to the abuses.

The report also suggested ways the Somali government could reduce and fight the gender-based violence against women.

A researcher for Human Rights Watch’s women program, Samer Muscati, said rape victims were victimized both by the rapists and the local authorities.

“Women and girls living in the internally displaced camps are abused in their makeshift shelters, as they walk to the market, attend to their fields, or fetch firewood. The horrific reality for many rape survivors -- they are victimized twice, first by the sexual assault itself, and then by the government failure to provide justice, or medical and social support,” said Muscati.

Last year, security forces arrested some women who reported sexual abuse to the authorities. Government officials accused the women of giving false information.

Laetitia Bader, a Human Rights Watch researcher, said the government should prosecute the perpetrators of sexual violence instead of discrediting the rape victims who spoke out and sought justice.

"I think the messaging, ... especially from the international community, needs to ... make sure the police are investigating every claims that come forward. It’s not the role of the government to discredit claims,” said Bader.

According to the United Nations, some 800 cases of sexual and gender-based violence were reported in Mogadishu alone between January and June of last year. Rights group said many cases of rape went unreported because women feared being stigmatized and targeted for reprisals.

Human Rights Watch calls on the government to provide health and social services, promote gender equality in Somali society, and deploy sufficient competent and trained security officers to the IDP (internally displaced persons’) camps.