President says rapists “should be fought … just like al-Shabab” rebels amid concern over conduct of security forces.
|After months of denial, Somalia‘s government has for the first time acknowledged that its security forces were involved in rape cases that drew an international outcry by human rights groups.
Army commanders often denied accusations that soldiers were involved in a spate of rapes, attributing the crimes to al-Shabab fighters who allegedly wore army uniforms to smear the reputation of the military.
“Those few among the security forces who rape and rob our citizens must be fought and be defeated just like Shabab,” President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud said while speaking to military cadets at a training camp in the capital, Mogadishu, on Monday.
“Criminals who commit rape ought to be opposed just like [al]-Shabab,” Mohamud said in a statement issued by his office.
He also affirmed that his government would “fight those who rape as he’d fight al-Shabab”, referring to the rebel group fighting his government and the African Union forces in Somalia.
Decline in rapes
Somalia has begun military tribunals in which soldiers have been punished and the number of rapes have declined since then, residents say.
“The president’s commitment to tackle abuses,including rape, by security forces, is an important first step but needs to be followed by concrete action, including proper vetting of police and military,” Leslie Lefkow, deputy Africa director at Human Rights Watch, said.
“And the government needs to appropriately investigate, suspend and prosecute members of its forces who commit crimes, in line with international standards.”
The most prominent rape case was one in which an alleged victim accused government soldiers but was herself put on trial and sentenced to one year in prison for insulting the state institution.
A reporter who interviewed her was also arrested and jailed one year for offending national institutions.
Human rights groups denounced the convictions.
An appeals court acquitted and released the woman and the Supreme Court later overturned the verdict against the reporter.
source: Al Jazeera and agencies
Newly-appointed president and PM say they will address the cases of rape in the capital, but within confines of the law.
Leaders of the five-month-old government in Somalia have said that authorities will do more to protect victims of rape in the Horn of African nation.
|Sunday’s comments by the newly-appointed prime minister and president, come after foreign donors and human rights groups criticised the arrests of a woman allegedly gang-raped by soldiers and the journalist who conducted an interview with her about the sexual abuse.Speaking to Al Jazeera from London, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, the president, said though his government “is the only government that has proven” it is dedicated to improving the lives of women in the nation, he will not directly interfere in the ongoing court case.
The trial of an unidentified 27-year-old woman, her husband, and the freelance journalist on charges of insulting a government body, making false accusations, and seeking to profit from the allegations, has sparked international concerns over sexual violence and press freedom in the country.
“I don’t have the right to interfere in the judicary system … My interference into the judiciary system, will never help the rule of law in Somalia”, Mohamud told Al Jazeera.
Human rights groups say the trial is politically motivated, designed to cover up rampant sexual abuse of women by Somali security forces.
The United Nations and the US, who recently acknowledged Mogadishu’s new government, have also voiced concerns about the treatment of rape victims.
Abdi Farah Shirdon Saaid, prime minister, promised to reform Somali armed forces and the judiciary once the trial has concluded, acknowledging “deep-seated problems” with both institutions.
“We recognise the concerns of our international partners and we are only too aware of the enormous challenges our nation faces,” Saaid said in a statement.
Zainab Hawa Bangura, UN special representative of the secretary-general on sexual violence in conflict, on Saturday called for the Somali government to deal with the country’s rape problems, saying the UN had evidence around 1,700 women were raped between January and November last year in camps for internally displaced people around Mogadishu.
Saaid, a former businessman who is married to an influential Somali peace activist, said the government has launched public campaigns designed to bring down instances of rape. However, he concedes more can be done.
“I have since urged the government in the strongest terms to be much more responsive on this question, to take proactive measures, prosecute any such crimes and provide all appropriate care to the victims,” he said.
Journalism organisations and human rights groups say arresting a journalist and putting him on trial for interviewing a rape victim is an attack on media freedoms and free speech.
Somalia is one of the world’s most dangerous places for journalists, with killings of reporters reaching and all-time high in 2012 when 18 media workers were killed, according to the National Union of Somali Journalists.
But Saaid stressed the government’s support for press freedom, saying “journalists perform a critical role and we want them to be able to work without fear or favour”.
Saaid said the government will soon form a new and independent task force on human rights which will investigate attacks against women and violence against journalists.
Al Jazeera and agencies