The United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Pramila Patten, expresses deep concern that the Somali Federal Parliament is advancing a ‘Sexual Intercourse Related Crimes Bill’ that breaches international and regional standards for criminal legislation relating to rape and other forms of sexual violence. Special Representative Patten calls on the Somali Federal Government to promptly withdraw the ‘Sexual Intercourse Related Crimes Bill’ and instead to proceed, without further delay, with the re-introduction, examination and adoption of the comprehensive and survivor-centered draft ‘Sexual Offences Bill’ of 2018.
Special Representative Patten recalls how in 2013 the Ministry of Women and Human Rights Development had initiated the drafting of the ‘Sexual Offences Bill’. Following 5 years of considerable efforts, resources and wide consultations with a range of stakeholders – brave Somali women and civil society actors, UN entities, including the Office of Special Representative Patten, and members of the international community -, in 2018 a federal Sexual Offences Bill was endorsed unanimously by the Somali Council of Ministers and sent to Parliament. Special Representative Patten deplores that in 2019, in a process that may have deviated from established law and legislative procedures, the Sexual Offences Bill was returned to Cabinet by the Speaker of the House of the People requesting Cabinet to make several substantive amendments. Although, in response, 15 Members of the House of the People brought a motion requesting the return of the Cabinet-approved Sexual Offences Bill to Parliament for first reading, the motion was not considered. Special Representative Patten expresses concern as to how, after such considerable delays and procedural irregularities, an alternative piece of legislation entitled the ‘Sexual Intercourse Related Crimes Bill’ was instead put forward by the Somali Federal Parliament.
“The alternative legislation contains substantive and procedural provisions which grossly contravene international human rights law and standards to which Somalia is a party, and which would represent a major setback in the fight against sexual violence in Somalia and across the globe”, noted Special Representative Patten. This includes inter alia many flawed definitions of offences, a lack of clearly defined terms, absence of numerous substantive offences, weak procedural provisions, and inadequate protection of victims, witnesses and the accused. The alternative legislation contains a range of very disturbing provisions, such as the one which allows for marriage of minors at the maturation of an individual’s reproductive organs, independently of the age of the child, in contravention of the Convention on the Rights of the Child to which Somalia is a party. It also establishes criminal penalties for forced marriage only if a woman is “strongly” forced into the marriage without the knowledge and consent of her family. In addition, it lacks numerous substantive sexual offences and modes of liability that would hold perpetrators accountable for sexual violence whether as a grave domestic, transnational, or serious international crime, thus depriving victims of protection and legal recourse. In addition, the alternative legislation has not been consulted with any of those impacted by sexual violence crimes in Somalia.
In 2013, the Federal Government of Somalia signed with the United Nations a Joint Communiqué where the Government of Somalia pledged to strengthen its laws on sexual violence. In the Secretary-General’s 2020 annual report on conflict-related sexual violence to the Security Council, both the Somali national army and police are listed, among others, for being credibly suspected of committing or being responsible for patterns of rape and other forms of sexual violence in armed conflict in Somalia. “The new draft ‘Sexual Intercourse Related Crimes Bill’ falls far short of Somalia’s international obligations and commitments under the Joint Communiqué”, Special Representative Patten stressed. “If adopted, it would not only represent a major setback for victims of sexual violence in Somalia but would also delay the delisting of any of Somalia’s armed forces from the Secretary-General’s annual report to the Security Council. I join the call of tireless Somali actors, the UN and members of the international community to request the Government to withdraw forthwith and permanently the ‘Sexual Intercourse Related Crimes Bill’ from consideration and instead act upon the ‘Sexual Offences Bill’ of 2018 immediately.”
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