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Violence against women: UN expert concludes visit to Somalia

NAIROBI/GENEVA (16 December 2011) – In conclusion of her official visit to Somalia from 9-16 December 2011, the Special Rapporteur of the United Nations Human Rights Council on violence against women, its causes and consequences, Ms. Rashida Manjoo, delivered the following preliminary findings:

“During my mission, I first travelled to Nairobi, Kenya, where I met with UN and international agencies working on the ground. I then travelled to Garowe in Puntland and to Mogadishu, where I had the opportunity to interact with government authorities, AMISOM and representatives of civil society. I also visited camps for internally displaced people and police stations, and talked with individual victims of gender-based violence. 

“At the outset, I would like to express my appreciation for the cooperation extended to me by the Transitional Federal Government and the Puntland Government. I am grateful to all my interlocutors, including State officials, representatives of civil society organisations, representatives of United Nations agencies, and individual victims of violence that shared their personal experiences with me, in a context that is challenging on numerous levels.

“This mission was underpinned by the recognition of the historical, sociological and environmental context within which Somalis continue to live today, both inside and outside the country. This context includes the deep wounds of the 20-year old internal conflict, extreme poverty and under-development, food insecurity which has been further exacerbated by the drought, and massive internal displacement of the population, amongst others. This has resulted in a situation which will require repairing the ruptures in the social fabric, guaranteeing the security of the population and most importantly institutional, political and economic reforms, based on the values of peace, security, reconciliation and social and political cohesion. However, such values should not preclude addressing past and on-going violations of human rights in general and women’s human rights in particular.

“My mandate has consistently adopted a holistic approach to violence against women and girls by recognizing the different manifestations of such violence, including its causes and consequences. This approach includes addressing violence perpetrated against the individual in the private sphere of the family; violence in the community; violence perpetrated or condoned by the State; and violence in the transnational sphere, including violence against refugee and internally displaced women. Such manifestations of violence against women need to be understood in the context of inequality and discrimination, which can be both a cause and consequence of the violence faced by women in their daily lives.

“While I support the Government’s tentative efforts to address the issues of violence against women, which include a draft Law against Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) by the Puntland authorities, the creation of a Task Force on Gender-Based Violence by the Transitional Federal Government and the appointment of women as Ministers and Members of Parliament (including through quota policies for women in the public sphere), I note that there still exists many challenges for the full and effective participation of women in the political process. The country is now at a crossroad and there is a unique opportunity to come together as regards political and constitutional reforms, there is increased assistance and support from the international community, and also there exists a road map which has the potential to lead towards a secure and stable society, if endorsed and respected by all stakeholders.

“My discussions with officials indicate the Government’s commitment to fulfill its international human rights obligations generally, including women’s rights. I was pleased to see that the Government accepted all of the 155 recommendations resulting from the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process and I urge the international community and UN agencies to assist Somalia in the follow-up and implementation of these recommendations. I also encourage the Government to sign and ratify, amongst others, the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), as soon as possible.

“However, I would like to stress that violence against women is a manifestation of inequality and discrimination which cannot be addressed in isolation of the historical and current context. Furthermore, it has to be recognized as a form of discrimination and subordination at both the individual and structural levels which results from a complex interplay of individual, family, community and social factors. While I have heard anecdotal evidence of sexual violence, especially affecting internally displaced women; FGM and forced and early marriages, I note a lack of substantive reporting of violence against women and girls. Also, the absence of proper statistics and data, by the authorities, international agencies and civil society was confirmed in my discussions with all stakeholders. The absence of accountability mechanisms and specialized services for women and girl victims of various forms of violence, also contributes to such invisibility and silencing. I am convinced that beyond the abovementioned phenomena, there also exists the problem of domestic violence, unfortunately the most pervasive form of violence against women, of which no country or society is immune from. This invisibility of violence in the private sphere has been further exacerbated by the internal conflict, the displacement of populations and non-functioning State authorities. In the absence of accountability mechanisms, impunity for acts of violence against women and girls is the norm. Furthermore, the use of traditional dispute forums to resolve issues of violence against women results in little or no justice for such victims.

“I have also heard about the fragmentation of programs and policies of UN agencies, donors and other humanitarian stakeholders in Somalia. While substantial resources have been allocated to support humanitarian needs and to strengthen authorities, the lives of ordinary Somalis have generally not improved and thousands remain extremely vulnerable. I urge the UN community, donors and other stakeholders to develop more coherent and consistent approaches so that international assistance can address, more directly, the needs of the people. I also stress that there must be a balance between immediate humanitarian needs and the promotion and protection of women’s human rights. This will require more creative efforts to capacitate civil society in general, which is willing to undertake a strong role in the current transitional process; and the empowerment women in particular.

“Finally, let me stress that the current manifestations of violence against women and girls is a violation of the human rights and fundamental freedoms of women.

The internal conflict that has been affecting the country for the past 20 years cannot justify the lack of attention to such violence. Somalia has the opportunity at this crucial time to promote human rights for all, and importantly, to place the issue of violence against women on the national agenda. I call on all stakeholders to take on the responsibility to make this a reality.

My findings will be discussed in a comprehensive way in the report I will present to the United Nations Human Rights Council in June 2012.

Ms. Rashida Manjoo (South Africa) was appointed Special Rapporteur on Violence against women, its causes and consequences in June 2009 by the UN Human Rights Council, for an initial period of three year. As Special Rapporteur, she is independent from any government or organization and serves in her individual capacity. Ms. Manjoo is also a Professor in the Department of Public Law at the University of Cape Town.

For additional information on the mandate of the Special Rapporteur, please visit: http://www2.ohchr.org/english/issues/women/rapporteur/index.htm

For further details on the mission, please write to: vaw@ohchr.org

OHCHR Country Page – Somalia: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/AfricaRegion/Pages/SOIndex.aspx