09:09, January 11 53 0 theguardian.com

2018-01-11 09:09:05
Women's rights and gender equality  'A great milestone': Somaliland adopts legislation outlawing rape

Somaliland has introduced a bill outlawing rape, the first piece of legislation to address gender-based violence in the self-declared state.

Under the Somaliland rape and other related offences bill, all forms of sexual offence would be criminalised, including rape, gang rape, sexual assault, trafficking and child marriage. Rapists who infect their victims with HIV would receive life sentences.

Nafisa Yusuf, executive director of the Nagaad Network of 45 women’s organisations in Somaliland, said: “This is a great milestone achieved by Somaliland women.”

The network said the legislation is particularly significant given the rise of gender-based violence in recent years. Drought in the Horn of Africa in 2017 displaced tens of thousands of people in Somaliland and throughout the wider region, leaving women and young mothers especially vulnerable to assault.

The bill has been agreed in the lower house of parliament, but still needs approval from the upper house. It is hoped the bill will be signed by the president on 1 March.

“We are encouraging them [upper house] to approve it as well,” said Yusuf. “There is a very challenging and long way to go.”

Despite the achievement of getting a bill into parliament, Guleid Ahmed Jama, chairperson of Human Rights Centre Somaliland, pointed out that the new law does not specifically cover domestic violence or female genital mutilation.

She said: “The shortcoming of the bill is that it does not make lack of consent the key determinant of rape. The victim has to prove ‘use of force, intimidation or threat.’”

Ayan Mahamoud, resident representative of Somaliland to the UK and the Commonwealth, said more needed to be done to help survivors. “The more support we can give them in terms of medical, in terms of protection, the more they will be encouraged to seek justice.

“It is the protection that really matters. Protection and support to give victims the confidence that they can rely on the system.”

Concerns have also been raised about the country’s ability to implement the law. Mark T Jones, an adviser on African affairs, said: “There is of course the issue of appropriate training for police and the judiciary, this is a big ask in a cash strapped nation.”

It is unclear how or when police in Somaliland will be trained to enforce the new bill.

Faiza Mohamed, director of Equality Now’s Africa office, said: “It remains to be seen whether the law will be enforced or customary rule, which tolerates rape of women and is hence unacceptable, will prevail.

“We urge the new administration to ensure girls and women are protected from rape.”

Rape around the world

According to the World Health Organization, one in three women globally will experience some form of physical or sexual violence in their lifetime.

Yet some countries still allow perpetrators to escape justice.

Analysis of rape laws in 82 jurisdictions by Equality Now found that in 10 countries – including India, Nigeria, Oman and Singapore – husbands are legally allowed to rape their wives.

At least eight countries – Greece, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Russia, Serbia, Thailand and Tunisia – have laws exempting rapists from punishment if they marry the survivor.

Belgium and Croatia, meanwhile, are among a dozen states that allow exemptions if the perpetrator and victim reach a settlement.

Countries including the Philippines, Serbia, Thailand, Turkey, Romania and Singapore offer exemptions if the survivor forgives the perpetrator.