Monday, May 13, 2013
An upsurge of gang rapes has hit the breakaway region of Somaliland -
a normally peaceful enclave considered by many to be a sanctuary from
Somalia's decades of violence.
Knife-wielding young men follow
women along the dusty streets of Hargeisa, the capital of the region,
dragging them inside buildings to rape and rob them. Children are among
At least 84 women have been raped since the beginning of this year, according to rights activists and medical officials.
"This year is more terrifying than last year when we were barely
receiving two or three in each month. This year we are seeing a new
victim for every day," said a nurse at a hospital in Hargeisa. She
insisted on anonymity because she is not authorized to release the
"It's rampant and victims are being attacked at homes, streets or anywhere now," she said.
northern region of Somaliland declared independence from the rest of
Somalia in 1960, but it has not won international recognition as an
independent state. Having escaped decades of conflict in Somalia,
Somaliland employs its own security and police forces, justice system
and currency. It is seen by some neighboring countries as a bulwark
against terrorism. It also has a reputation for successfully maintaining
law and order for its population of 3.5 million.
The outbreak of gang rapes in Somaliland began early this year and has surprised local residents who blame gangs of young men.
by the spate of attacks, police have arrested dozens of suspects, but
the rapes continue on Hargeisa's streets and in back roads.
of the victims were beaten while others suffered stabbings by the gangs.
This could dent the women's freedom in Somaliland where they can drive
and exercise many freedoms. Many women do not wear the veil in public.
But now some religious leaders suggest that women remain closer to their homes to avoid the rapes.
is in fact a horrible outbreak, raped and bleeding children are being
brought into hospitals every day," said Nimo Hussein Qowdhan,
Somaliland's deputy health minister. "It's becoming out of control. We
must concentrate on fighting it."
Two young children were recent victims of the gang-rape attacks, said officials.
a disturbing development, even children are being raped by criminals,"
said Fathia Hussein Ahmed, chairwoman of Somaliland's national human
rights commission. "According to a report we have made, children are the
She said rapes continue to haunt victims, as many
women are shunned by some communities after being raped by gangs. Some
are divorced by their husbands because of the rapes.
"We are creating awareness among local communities to illustrate the negative impact of rape," she said.
sexual attacks have brought the long-taboo subject into street
conversations and have provoked calls for a new approach toward rapists,
instead of the traditional clan-related legal solutions. Clan elders
often let off rapists with softer punishments. In Somaliland, it is
common for the clans to make their own rulings to evade harsher
sentences from the government judiciary.
"We warn that the
traditional clan justice system (should) avoid solving these cases,
instead, courts must apply the ruling to such cases," said a statement
from a consortium of human rights groups in Somaliland.
rest of Somalia where women avoid reporting crimes to law enforcement
agencies, women in Somaliland are increasingly reporting their cases to
the hospitals and police. Hospitals are creating counseling for victims
of sexual attacks. Activists say this may also be driving the increase
in reported rapes, as women are aware of services and more likely to
seek help or report rape.
However, police and rape victims
struggle to identify the culprits who are believed to be unlinked,
making it hard for investigators to contain the violence through
"You never know who's to blame," said Sadiya Hassan, a
resident in Hargeisa, the capital of the breakaway region by phone. "The
attacks forced us to avoid walking while dark or through back roads."
is not easy to pinpoint exactly what triggered (the rapes) but the cost
of marriage for young people in Somaliland is too high and contacts
between the opposite sex before marriage is also frowned upon and the
fact that many youths in the diaspora returned to the country may also
have contributed," said Mohamed Abdillahi, a university professor in