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In Somaliland, new law to end impunity for sexual offenders

19 April 2018
“This is a milestone in the quest of Somali women and girls for a life free from violence," says Mr. Nikolai Botev, UNFPA Somalia representative. © UNFPA Somalia

 The upper chamber of the parliament in Somaliland recently adopted a new law that will put an end to the very painful practise whereby rapists could marry their victims to avoid being shamed or sentenced for their acts. 

The Sexual Offences Bill which will now go for final endorsement by President Musa Bihi Abdi, is the first in Somaliland’s history to criminalize a list of sexual incidents, such as rape, gang rape, sexual assaultand forced marriage which according to the current penal code, are not considered crimes.

The passage of the bill is said to provide a basis for stronger advocacy and community mobilization against sexual violence and provides an enabling environment for survivors of sexual violence to seek redress and justice.

 “This is a milestone in the quest of Somali women and girls for a life free from violence. Once the new law is effectively in place, it will and gives them an opportunity to affirm their rights to be protected from sexual-related violence,” says Mr. Nikolai Botev, UNFPA’s representative in Somalia.  “Women and girls now have the opportunity to seek redress and justice against perpetrators.”

The new law does not cover harmful practices such as FGM, but human rights advocates say it's a major first step towards more legislative refroms. © UNFPA Somalia

 

Shortcomings

 

But, while the passage of the law will demonstrate the commitment of the Government of Somaliland to the protection of women and girls, it still falls short of covering harmful practices such as Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and domestic violence. Human rights advocates doubt that inserting these issues into the current bill is possible with a conservative parliament.

 “We prefer to solve one issue at the time,” Ms. Nafisa Yusuf, Executive Director of Nagaad Network, a women's rights umbrella organization based in Hargeisa, Somaliland, told UNFPA. “The network is planning to pushing for an FGM bill and the draft family law, Ms. Yusuf added. “In our last meeting today with chief secretariat of the Parliament, we have agreed to conclude a new Memorandum of Understanding on those two legislative items”.

The bill now goes to the president of Somaliland for final endorsment. © UNFPA Somalia

 

Implementation of the law could be challenging

 

Still, questions arise as to whether the government of Somaliland has adequate resources for the implementation of the law. Ms. Yusuf has reiterated that contents of the bill are new not only to the law enforcement authorities and judiciary, but also the people at large. Raising raise public awareness nationwide is key to gaining acceptance, and calls for extensive training sessions to law enforcement authorities, judges, the media and traditional leaders. “We know from experience that the bill may never be implemented successfully in the absence of full capacity development of law enforcement and judiciary personnel.”

UNFPA supported the new law

UNFPA has been advocating for the new law and working with lawmakers towards approving it. It will continue its advocacy for a more comprehensive bill that will ban FGM and punish domestic violence perpetrators.

According to Mr. Botev, high level advocacy and community mobilization have started in Somaliland and the rest of the region to advance action against all forms of GBV, with some results already.