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For Immediate Release

Somali Appeals Court’s Decision Does Little to Reassure Victims of Sexual Violence

Cambridge, MA - 03/07/2013

A Somali appeals court’s decision this week to overturn the conviction of a woman who claimed she was gang-raped by security forces is a welcome development, PHR said today. A regional court last month had sentenced the woman to a year in prison, contending that she had fabricated the rape charge and damaged state security.

But the court’s decision not to also overturn the conviction of the Somali reporter who interviewed her sends a troubling message to other journalists that any efforts to publicize government abuses may land them in jail. The appeals court said the journalist, Abdiaziz Abdinur Ibrahim, 25, must serve six months in prison, even though he never published an account of the woman’s rape allegations, because his interview of the woman had violated journalistic ethics and Somali law. The regional court had imposed a one-year sentence.

“The appeals court’s decision shows that human rights and due process in Somalia are still subject to arbitrary judicial whim,” said Susannah Sirkin, PHR’s director of international policy and partnerships. “Somalia will continue to face great difficulties in forming a stable, peaceful country until it can guarantee all its citizens the fair and impartial application of justice and until journalists are permitted to report candidly about allegations of government abuses.”

The 27-year-old woman at the center of the case told officials she had been raped last August at a camp for displaced persons in Mogadishu by five government soldiers. The regional court that convicted her last month accepted the prosecution’s argument that a physical examination of the woman showed that she had not been raped.

PHR and other human rights organizations strongly protested that decision, declaring that the method used to examine the woman was an archaic, irrelevant, and meaningless practice of no value in a rape evaluation.

“Somalia’s government should be actively investigating rape allegations involving its security forces and focusing on bringing the perpetrators to justice,” Sirkin said. “Instead, the court’s actions in this sorry affair are likely to discourage women from sharing their stories of sexual violence and journalists from reporting them, thus enabling rapists to continue to operate with impunity.”

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is an independent organization that uses medicine and science to stop mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. We are supported by the expertise and passion of health professionals and concerned citizens alike.

Since 1986, PHR has conducted investigations in more than 40 countries around the world, including Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Sudan, the United States, the former Yugoslavia, and Zimbabwe.

  • 1986 — Led investigations of torture in Chile gaining freedom for heroic doctors there
  • 1988 — First to document the Iraqi use of chemical weapons on Kurds providing               evidence for prosecution of war criminals
  • 1996 — Exhumed mass graves in the Balkans and Rwanda to provide evidence for               International Criminal Tribunals
  • 1997 — Shared the Nobel Peace Prize for the International Campaign to Ban Landmines
  • 2003 — Warned US Policymakers on health and human rights conditions prior to and               during the invasion of Iraq
  • 2004 — Documented genocide and sexual violence in Darfur in support of international               prosecutions
  • 2010 — Investigated the epidemic of violence spread by Burma’s military junta
  • 2011 — Championed the principle of noninterference with medical services in times of               armed conflict and civil unrest during the Arab Spring
  • 2012 — Trained doctors, lawyers, police, and judges in the Democratic Republic of the               Congo, Kenya, and Syria on the proper collection of evidence in sexual               violence cases
  • 2013 — Won first prize in the Tech Challenge for Atrocity Prevention with MediCapt, our               mobile app that documents evidence of torture and sexual violence

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