27th November 2012 Nairobi, Kenya

Somalia: Breaking The Silence On Sexual Violence

Earlier this year, the British Foreign Secretary William Hague MP, announced a new initiative to prevent sexual violence against women. It aims to strengthen international efforts and coordination to prevent and respond to sexual violence, to erode the existing culture of impunity, to increase the number of perpetrators brought to justice and to support states to build their own capacity to deal with this appalling crime. It is, in effect, a call to action and it will form a key part of the UK’s Presidency of the G8 in 2013.

Tackling sexual violence in conflict is central to conflict prevention and peace-building. The Foreign Secretary himself has said that ‘where there is no justice, the seeds of future grievance and conflict are sown’; and, as a result, stability and development are held back. It is for this reason that the UK wants to rally international action on preventing sexual violence and drive this issue up the global agenda. Despite the significant strides made in the past few decades in tackling impunity for international crimes and human rights violations, the obstacles to addressing sexual violence remains significant. Put simply, more needs to be done.

Nowhere does such an initiative matter more than in Somalia. After decades of violence, and despite the recent political progress and the security gains that we are witnessing, Somalia is facing another – largely untold – challenge: the alarming increase in the rape and sexual abuse of women and girls.

There are many stories of Al Shabaab fighters seizing women and girls, forcing them into marriage, subjecting many to sexual slavery. Yet it is also worth noting that these claims are not solely confined to Al Shabaab – there are allegations of similar crimes being perpetrated by armed groups, militia, even national and foreign armed forces. Yet few of these allegations are ever brought to court; even fewer of the perpetrators ever brought to justice.  Consequently, the survivors continue to suffer in silence: sexual violence has been ‘de-prioritised’; and as a result, women’s security – and that of the households and communities they build, support and protect – seen as less important.  We must shatter this culture of impunity.

Thousands of Somali women have been subject to sexual violence; many of them in camps, and many of them children. It is clear more – much more – needs to be done. Access, however, remains one of the biggest  constraints; it is often difficult for aid agencies and NGOs to access those women who most need assistance. But as Al Shabaab is pushed back in more areas, we have an opportunity to support and build on interventions aimed at preventing sexual violence and assisting the survivors.

Other requirements are also clear – we need to support efforts to build stronger law enforcement and legal support systems so that those women and children that have suffered these appalling crimes can seek justice; we need better information and correct targeting of resources; and we need stronger and more outspoken leadership from Somalia’s leaders – political, civic and religious – and the international community.

I am often told that Somalia has been carried on the backs of women for the past twenty years. Every Somali woman I have met in the past two years is testament to this claim; and everything I have seen clearly shows the role that women must play in Somalia’s future recovery and stability. The continued assault and abuse of women and girls needs to end; without this, Somalia’s recovery – a recovery that every Somali I meet in the street passionately wants – cannot really begin, let alone endure.

As the Foreign & Commonwealth Office marks 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence, it’s time to break the silence.

3 comments on “Somalia: Breaking The Silence On Sexual Violence

  1. Matt, this is an excellent initiative in most timely.

    Having studied hundreds of case files of Somali, Ethiopian and Eritrean women, who had been initially refused asylum and faced removal from the UK. As a result of detailed evidence gathering, incountry research, and input from medical specialists we wereable to convince British Courts and immigration authorities to review these cases (frequently resorting to judicial review to suspend removal and examination of fresh evidence).

    My point here is that, HMG potentially has vast quanities of potential evidence including statements submitted in gender based asylum claims, and in the determinations and country guidance promulgated by the immigration Tribunals and appellate authorities. Which if sensibly mined, may identify recurring actors and timelines, and geographically coded, may identify networks of state and non state perpetrators in ongoing or post conflict zones as diverse as Burma and Somalia.

    In the Somali context, the protection of larger vulnerable groups of women and children such as IDPs and those seeking temporary refuge especially in Northern Kenya, may be a useful focus for this initiative.

    Best wishes for 2013.

  2. Matt, could not agree more with your comments having worked with Somali police officers recently and as one of the FCO PSVI team hope to make a real difference in this area given the right opportunities……

  3. I am very pleased by the new U.K initiative but unfortunately sexual violence in conflict has became “almost integral part of the Somali civil conflict”:I Am good observer of social mores and let me say this”war against women” has brought even some changes in the dress of Somali women and the way they behave in public.My critic goes to the international community that for almost two decades has forgotten about Somalia and its people citizens.In this period new elites/warlords/wahabi-salafist linked to Ethiopia has conquered the Somali land and its people.For them and their Militia including Al-shabaab “rape ” has been made one of the military weapons of the Somali civil war. Th Somali so-called civil society/ Human rights groups and journalist have been made to believe that Rape is not a big problem and cannot be brought up why it brings bad light on the Somalis.From 1991 rape is widespread and common in Somalia.I believe women N.G Os,Human Rights groups must be empowered to prevent and report this criminal acts against Somali .women. Wait and see.

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About Matt Baugh

Matt is married to Caroline, a GP from South London specialising in pre-hospital care and tropical medicine. They have 3 small children. Matt has been working on Somalia since May…

Matt is married to Caroline, a GP from South London
specialising in pre-hospital care and tropical medicine. They have 3
small children. Matt has been working on Somalia since May 2010, when he was appointed the UK’s Senior Representative and Head of the UK’s
Somalia Office. On 2 February 2012 he was accredited as the first
British Ambassador to Somalia for 21 years. Since taking up his Somalia
appointment, he has been able to travel to Mogadishu, Hargeisa and
Garowe, and has been deeply touched by the warmth of the welcome he has received, but also the scale of the challenges that Somali people face
every day.
Matt is a career civil servant and is currently on secondment to the
Foreign Office from the UK Department for International Development. Now 37, he has spent much of his career to date dealing with conflict,
security and humanitarian issues. Since 1999 he has worked in Iraq,
Sudan, Afghanistan and the Balkans, as well as a number of major relief
operations and protracted emergencies. He also helped to set up and lead
the UK’s Post Conflict Reconstruction Unit, now the UK Stabilisation
Unit. Matt is a graduate of the UK Joint Services Command and Staff
College’s Higher Command and Staff Course (2010) and was previously
Principal Private Secretary to the Secretary of State for International
Development (2008-9).
Away from work, Matt is an avid England rugby fan (although he
refuses to admit his own playing days are long over). He is also a keen
mountaineer and skier and, together with Caroline, was part of a team
that raced to the Magnetic North Pole in 2005. These days he is more
likely to be found teaching his children how to swim and build
sandcastles.

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