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For Immediate Release

Somalia’s President Should Void Court Sentences Based on Bad Evidence and Biased Attitudes

Cambridge, MA - 02/18/2013

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) today called on the president of Somalia to reverse the convictions of two people: a 27-year-old mother of five who alleges that she was gang-raped by soldiers, and a journalist who has reported on sexual violence in camps for internally displaced Somalis.

The mother who reported being raped last August at a camp in Mogadishu was then examined by a midwife and a doctor, who used the archaic and widely discredited “two finger” test to assert that the woman had not been raped. A regional court convicted the woman last month of fabricating a case that they claim damaged state security and sentenced her to a year in prison.

The journalist, Abdiaziz Abdinur Ibrahim, was also sentenced to a year in prison for fabricating a false claim and falsely accusing a government body of committing a crime in connection with the rape allegation.

In a letter sent today to Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, two PHR medical advisors with extensive expertise in the forensic documentation of violence—Dr. Coleen Kivlahan and Dr. Vincent Iacopino—state that “the woman’s conviction is profoundly troubling and could undermine your government’s effort to combat sexual and gender-based violence in Somalia.” They note that the “two finger” test is an “archaic, irrelevant and meaningless practice” that has no value in diagnosing rape and can in itself constitute a form of sexual assault.

“These convictions are a gross miscarriage of justice that, unless overturned, will have a chilling effect on the reporting of sexual assault in Somalia,” Dr. Kivlahan said. “It takes great courage for vulnerable women who have been violated to make accusations of rape—especially against armed soldiers or persons in positions of authority. To then be victimized again by medical and legal systems that use unscientific ‘evidence’ to deny the validity of their claims, and that punish them for daring to speak out against such injustices, is an outrageous conclusion if allowed to stand.”

The letter strongly urges President Mohamud not only to void the use of such discredited “evidence” but also, along with other senior Somali officials, “to take this opportunity to educate the medical and judicial communities and the general public about the proper support and treatment for those who report sexual assault in Somalia and around the world.”

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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