The United Nations human rights chief today called on the Somali Government to re-open the case of a Somali journalist and the alleged rape victim he interviewed, after they were sentenced to one year in prison, stressing that the sentencing is a serious blow to the fight against sexual violence in the country.
"Sexual abuse in the camps for displaced people in Somalia is a real issue, and any effort to expose, denounce and deter these crimes should be supported," said the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay. "It is deeply disturbing that a woman alleging rape can be penalized for reporting such a crime, and a journalist jailed for investigating it."
Last month, Somali authorities arrested the woman - who claimed she was raped in September by armed men in government uniforms while living in a camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) - and the journalist who interviewed her, as well as the person who introduced them. Two other individuals have also been charged in connection with the case.
The journalist, Abdiaziz Abdinur Ibrahim, was charged for offending the honour of a State institution and for filing a false report in spite of never having published his interview, while the alleged victim was charged for offending the honour of a State institution.
"I raised this case 10 days ago directly with the Government of Somalia," Ms. Pillay said. "I am now calling on the Government to urgently re-open this case and launch a full inquiry to clearly establish what happened and, if any allegations of abuses against the victim and the journalist are confirmed, to hold those responsible accountable."
Ms. Pillay underlined that the incident also puts at risk freedom of expression in a country where independent journalists have been regularly targeted and killed. "Sexual violence is a perfectly valid subject for any journalist to investigate. No journalist should be arrested and sentenced by a court to one year in jail for doing his work."
She also condemned the statements made by some public authorities, including Police Commissioner General Sharif Shekuna Maye at a press conference last month, which exposed the alleged victim to public stigmatization, and undermined her right to presumption of innocence.
"I am very concerned about the impact the penalization of the woman alleging rape could have in the fight against impunity in sexual violence cases, especially given the reports of increasing sexual violence in Somalia," the High Commissioner said. "And I am particularly shocked by the exposure of the victim of the alleged rape to public stigmatization," she added.
Yesterday, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed his disappointment over the sentencing and urged the Government to ensure that all allegations of sexual violence are investigated fully and perpetrators are brought to justice. The UN Political Office in Somalia (UNPOS) as well as the Secretary-General's Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Zainab Hawa Bangura, had also spoken out in recent weeks about the case, calling for alleged crimes to be investigated and for a fair judicial process to be ensured.