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Justice eludes rape victims in Somalia’s Puntland – campaigners

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NAIROBI/BOSSASO, (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Women and girls in Somalia’s semi-autonomous region of Puntland who accuse police, army and marines of raping them are not receiving justice, campaigners said on Tuesday.

Activists from the Galkayo Education Center for Peace and Development (GECPD) said no one has been charged in three cases of rape which have been reported to the police since December, in which security forces are suspected of involvement.

“We have seen an increase in cases of sexual violence that is sadly being perpetrated by persons suspected to be members of the police force,” said Hawa Aden Mohamed, director of GECPD, which is helping the women and girls involved in the cases.

“A law was passed on sexual offences, but it remains on paper, and is not being enforced. Police and investigators are not very aware of it, and even judges continue to ignore it.”

A senior police official in Puntland denied the allegations.

“Puntland is against rape. Any soldier who rapes is jailed and tough measures are taken against him,” said Osman Hassan Awke, Puntland’s deputy police commissioner.

“We are investigating the rape cases in Galkayo and any civilian or soldier found to be guilty of rape will face severe punishment,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Rape is pervasive and often goes unpunished in much of Somalia where rape victims are traditionally forced to accept compensation and marry their assailants in a centuries-old practice designed to end war between rival clans.

GECPD said it had documented victims’ testimonies and helped them to file complaints, as well as providing counselling.

In December, a 16-year-old girl with mental disabilities was gang-raped by four men suspected to be from the Puntland Maritime Police Forces in the coastal town of Garacad, it said.

The suspects were arrested but later set free after swearing on the Quran to deny the charges, while the victim was told she needed four witnesses in order to press charges, GECPD said.

The same month, a 29-year-old woman living in a camp for displaced communities in north Galkayo reported to the police that she was raped at gunpoint by a man wearing a military uniform, but no action was taken, GECPD said.

In the third case, four women were abducted from a settlement in Galkayo in January by eight armed men – some of whom they identified as local policemen – and two were raped, the campaign group said.

One man was arrested, then later released, it said.

Somalia’s northern Puntland region passed a landmark law in 2016 criminalising sex crimes such as gang rape but campaigners say police in the conservative region are either unaware of it or do not see violence against women as a serious crime.

Police training is needed to ensure investigations and bring perpetrators to book, they said.

“Rapes are often not reported,” said Brendan Wynne from New York-based Donor Direct Action, which supports rights groups.

“When they are, the criminal justice system is often not able to deal effectively with the case either because of logistic issues such as gathering forensic evidence or feeding a suspect in custody, or because of a lack of knowledge.”

(Reporting by Nita Bhalla @nitabhalla and Abdiqani Hassan, Editing by Katy Migiro.)

Briefing Room

Somalia’s Puntland region asks UAE to stay as Gulf split deepens

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BOSASO, Somalia (Reuters) – Somalia’s semi-autonomous Puntland region urged the United Arab Emirates not to close its security operations in the country after a dispute with the central government, saying the Gulf power was a key ally in the fight against Islamist militants.

The dispute goes to the heart of an increasingly troubled relationship between Gulf states – divided by their own disputes – and fractured Somalia, whose coastline sits close to key shipping routes and across the water from Yemen.

Analysts have said the complex standoff risks exacerbating an already explosive security situation on both sides of the Gulf of Aden, where militant groups launch regular attacks.

The central Somali government said on Wednesday it was taking over a military training program run by the UAE.

Days later the UAE announced it was pulling out, accusing Mogadishu of seizing millions of dollars from a plane, money it said was meant to pay soldiers.

“We ask our UAE friends, not only to stay, but to redouble their efforts in helping Somalia stand on its feet,” said the office of the president of Puntland, a territory that sits on the tip of the Horn of Africa looking out over the Gulf of Aden.

Ending UAE support, “will only help our enemy, particularly Al Shabaab and ISIS (Islamic State),” it added late on Monday.

SUSPICION, RESENTMENT

The UAE is one of a number of Gulf powers that have opened bases along the coast of the Horn of Africa and promised investment and donations as they compete for influence in the insecure but strategically important region.

That competition has been exacerbated by a diplomatic rift between Qatar and a bloc including the UAE. In turn, those splits have worsened divisions in Somalia.

Puntland, which has said it wants independence, has sought to woo the UAE which runs an anti-piracy training center there and is developing the main port. The central government in Mogadishu last year criticized Puntland for taking sides in the Gulf dispute. Qatar’s ally Turkey is one of Somalia’s biggest investors.

One Somali government official said last week Mogadishu had decided to take over the UAE operation because the Gulf state’s contract to run it had expired. Another official said the government was investigating the money taken from the plane.

The competition among Gulf states in Somalia has fueled accusations of foreign interference and resentment in many corners of Somali society.

The loss of the UAE program could have a destabilizing effect, said one security analyst, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“The value of the UAE trained forces was two-fold – they were relatively well trained but, most importantly, they were paid on time,” unlike other parts of the security forces, the analyst told Reuters.

Somalia has been mired in conflict since 1991.

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Briefing Room

Puntland Police on Alert as Somalia Terror Threat Moves North

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For years, Somalia’s northern Puntland state has been more stable than the country’s volatile south, but that picture may be changing. Police in Puntland remain on alert amid a string of attacks over the past year by Al-Shabab and another group of fighters who have joined the Islamic State terror group. For VOA, Jason Patinkin reports from Puntland city of Bossaso.

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Puntland

As climate change parches Somalia, frequent drought comes with conflict over fertile land

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PBS — Desert sand is slowly taking over Somalia. Just six years after the last major drought emergency, the rains have failed again — a devastating trend in a country where around 80 percent of people make their living on the land. Special correspondent Jane Ferguson and videographer Alessandro Pavone report on how climate change is threatening a way of life that has sustained Somalia for millennia.

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