The information below is based on the Report of the Secretary-General to the Security Council (S/2018/250) issued on 16 April 2018. Protracted conflict in Somalia continues to expose women and girls to a heightened risk of sexual violence, in particular those who are internally displaced or returnees located in areas controlled by Al-Shabaab, and members of minority clans. That risk is exacerbated by entrenched gender inequality, weak social cohesion and limited access to justice. Of the three justice systems of Somalia, namely, statutory law, sharia and a system of customary practices known as xeer, most cases of sexual violence continue to be handled according to xeer, which focuses on the clan rather than the survivor. That often results in double victimization for survivors, who may be forced to marry their assailant, while imposing no sanctions to deter future crimes, apart from a nominal fine paid to the victim’s male relatives. In response, the Government has developed a policy on traditional dispute resolution, which aims at addressing practices that discriminate against women and encouraging the bringing of cases of sexual violence before the courts. In 2017, the United Nations erified cases of conflict-related sexual violence perpetrated against 329 girls and 1 boy, attributed to unknown armed actors (125), Al-Shabaab (75), Southwest State forces (26), Jubbaland forces (28), unidentified clan militia (19), Galmudug forces (5), Puntland forces (3), Ahl al-Sunna wal-Jama‘a (1), Somali Police Force (1), Ethiopian Liyu Police (10) and the Somali National Army (37). Three members of the national armed forces who raped an 11-year-old boy have since been arrested.

The following patterns have emerged regarding conflict-related sexual violence: it disproportionately affects displaced women and girls from marginalized groups; most perpetrators are described as men in military uniform; most cases involve rape or gang rape, with forced marriage continuing to be perpetrated by Al-Shabaab; the perpetrators are rarely investigated; and survivors generally do not receive assistance to support their recovery. The United Nations received reports of women and girls being trafficked by Al-Shabaab from the coastal regions of Kenya to Somalia, where they were forced into sexual slavery, having been deceived by false promises of work abroad. Some of those women were reportedly held as sex slaves, while others were forced to become the “wives” of insurgents. Many of the forced “wives” and their children are deeply traumatized, yet reluctant to seek assistance for fear of persecution. Public recrimination by the authorities has exacerbated the stigma faced by current and former wives of Al-Shabaab and their children. On 9 May, police in Baidoa, Southwest State, registered the wives of Al-Shabaab militants and asked them to leave the camp where they lived. On 10 May, the District Police Commissioner confirmed that a group of wives of Al-Shabaab had been summoned by the police and told to either persuade their husbands to surrender or to leave the area. On 29 July, the Security Minister of Jubbaland, on national television, threatened to expel “Al-Shabaab wives and children” from Governmentcontrolled towns, describing them as “enemies of the State” for allegedly providing intelligence to the insurgency. The United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia, in partnership with the International Organization for Migration, supported the Government in providing rehabilitation for women formerly associated with Al-Shabaab. The pilot project involved the provision of accommodation, food, health care and security for 19 women and their dependants, as well as reintegration support, including vocational training and business start-up grants. Upon completion of the pilot, the safe house for women closed due to lack of funds.

There are three rehabilitation centresfor men who have disengaged from Al-Shabaab, but no comparable facilities for women. Some positive developments during the reporting period included the following: efforts by the Government to accelerate implementation of the national action planon ending sexual violence; in August, the Chief of Defence Forces of the Somali National Army issued a command order including the prohibition of sexual violence and affirming a policy of zero tolerance of such crimes; and, in September, Somalia established its first forensic laboratory, which is critical to effective prosecution, given t hat many rape cases are dropped or referred to traditional justice mechanisms due to lack of evidence. The Government has expanded legal aid, established mobile courts, and invested in building prosecutorial capacity. The national police have established a Woman and Child Protection Unit, and the Office of the Attorney-General has developed a policy on the prosecution of sexual offences, which incorporates a survivor-centred approach. Recommendation I reiterate my calls for the Government to enact the sexual offences bill, which will classify sexual violence as a crime against the victim rather than a “crime against morality”, and to strengthen reporting mechanisms to enable prosecutions. I encourage the Government to implement its national action plan to combat sexual violence, through training, accountability and oversight of the security sector.

I urge the authorities to ensure that women and children separated from Al-Shabaab receive support as victims, rather than being collectively treated as threats..