A month ago, a court in Mogadishu, Somalia handed down a one-year-long imprisonment sentence to a Somali journalist, and a woman he had interviewed. Her chief claim was that she had been raped by members of the Somali security forces, and his interview was an exposition of that claim.
The case, right from its inception as it appears, has had many procedural irregularities the likes of which include lengthy pre-trial detention without any charge being made out, along with a series of gaps in the access to legal assistance even during the process of interrogation, besides vesting reliance on Sharia law for sentencing but not for charging the suspects.
It has also come to light at the behest of monitoring groups that the trial judge had rejected hearing the evidence of three witnesses who has to testify in defence of the journalist. The trial in sum, was also an attack on the freedom of the press in the country, in that there was absolutely no regard for the right of a journalist.
Sexual violence in Somalia is not new – especially among those that are internally displaced, and housed in camps. Oftentimes, the crimes are underreported – the stigmatisation, the lack of justice and sensitivity among the members of the security sector are major causes that impede every initiative one may wish to pursue, to speak out. After a period of difficult and protracted instability, Somalia has a long journey ahead of it towards rebuilding its existence.
The country necessarily needs to have significant attention towards human rights, and also needs to endorse the upholding of human rights, built on the edifice or respect for the rights of all people without discrimination. It appears that the government of Somalia has begun to take steps in this direction. With a human rights task force established to investigate human rights abuses in the last 12 months and the Somali Prime Minister, Abdi Farah Shirdon publically asserting the Somali government's commitment to upholding human rights and freedom of expression, the government's support for press freedom and his commitment to security sector reform, it looks like there is a positive trend in the country’s trajectory.
Nevertheless, a first step that needs to be taken is to ensure that all allegations of sexual violence – irrespective of whom they are levelled against – are investigated fully, are subjected to trial and the perpetrators are brought to justice. As the country makes its way towards democracy, it is also necessary to preserve democratic freedoms such as the freedom of expression.