Human Rights Watch (HRW) just published a document whose consideration is seemingly critical to Somalia’s road to peace. “’Here, Rape is Normal’: A Five-Point Plan to Curtail Sexual Violence in Somalia.” addresses a glaring concern which has risen out of the statelessness and insecurity in Mogadishu: mass violence and rape against women and girls.
Sexual violence is not unique to Somalia. An aspect of most complex emergencies these days, widespread sexual violence must be addressed by state and humanitarian actors alike. 1700 cases of rape in 2012 alone illuminates the difficulty of humanitarian management of this disturbing plight. The way in which the state handles these incidences says a lot about their legitimacy and the likelihood for recovery for individuals and society at large. This is obviously an enormous hurdle to the democratization process in Somalia. It places a sizable strain on human capital in addition to the fact that normatively, it creates an air of fear, distrust in the state or any semblance of formal institutions and is a horrifying reality from a basic human rights lens.
The government’s mismanagement of rape cases has been demonstrated through the prosecution of several women who tried to report rape. HRW researcher on Somalia, Laetitia Bader attributes this reaction to the Somali government’s desire to protect its global image and sovereignty. Additionally, Bader says the plans to relocate displaced persons to better managed UNHCR camps in Mogadishu is stalled due to the government’s inability to provide basic human security for citizens from al Shabab militants and other regional threats.
The HRW document seems fairly thorough and offers very practical short term remedies such as decreasing social and physical isolation of women and girls in camps in Mogadishu as well as more long term, systemic changes. Advocating for increased government attention to police behavior and spreading awareness about psycho-social health resources available to women and girls who have suffered a rape during the conflict seem to be central to the document’s ideology. Drawing on horrific firsthand accounts and victim generated suggestions for addressing the rape crisis, it seems that the deliberate attention being paid to an issue typically surrounded by shame and treated as a social taboo could help to bring increased accessibility to the programs put in place to help women and girls cope with these atrocities. While the situation is complex and extremely difficult to manage given basic human security vulnerability within IDP and refugee camps, it is hopeful that practical solutions, such as advocacy for increased fencing around IDP settlements, will actually deal with the problem rather than shuffling victims under the rug and putting off healing and reintegration to the peace building process.