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At Press Conference in Nairobi, Rashida Manjoo Discusses Violence Against Women
UN Rapporteur on Rights of Women from UN website
On Friday morning in Nairobi, the Special Rapporteur of the United Nations Human Rights Council on violence against women, Ms. Rashida Manjoo, announced her preliminary findings following the conclusion of her official visit to Somalia from December 9th to 16th. Somalia Report was present.

“During my mission, I traveled to Garowe in Puntland and to Mogadishu, where I had the opportunity to interact with government authorities, AMISOM and representatives of civil society. I also visited camps for internally displaced people and police stations, and talked with individual victims of gender-based violence,” said Ms Rashida. “At the outset, I would like to express my appreciation for the cooperation extended to me by the Transitional Federal Government and the Puntland Government. I am grateful to all my interlocutors, including state officials, representatives of civil society organizations, representatives of United Nations agencies, and individual victims of violence that shared their personal experiences with me, in a context that is challenging on numerous levels.”

Ms. Manjoo emphasized that her visit was necessary to recognize the challenges that Somalis face including a 20-year internal conflict, extreme poverty and under-development, food insecurity which has been further exacerbated by the drought, and massive internal displacement of the population. This situation requires repairing the ruptures in the social fabric, guaranteeing the security of the population and most importantly institutional, political and economic reforms, based on the values of peace, security, reconciliation and social and political cohesion.

“My mandate has consistently adopted a holistic approach to violence against women and girls by recognizing the different manifestations of such violence, including its causes and consequences,” Ms Manjoo stated. She emphasized that the UN’s policies should address violence perpetrated against the individual in the private sphere of the family, violence in the community, violence perpetrated or condoned by the state, as well as violence in the transnational sphere, which includes violence against refugees and internally displaced women.

The Special Rapporteur stated that there are many challenges to full and effective participation of women in the political process. This concern remains despite her support for the Government’s tentative efforts to address the issues of violence against women. Those measure include a draft Law against Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) by the Puntland government, the creation of a Task Force on Gender-Based Violence by the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and the appointment of women as Ministers and Members of Parliament (including quota policies for women in the public sphere).

“My discussions with officials indicate the Government’s commitment to fulfill its international human rights obligations generally, including women’s rights. I was pleased to see that the Government accepted all of the 155 recommendations resulting from the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process and I urge the international community and UN agencies to assist Somalia in the follow-up and implementation of these recommendations,” Ms Manjoo said. “I also encourage the government to sign and ratify, amongst others, the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and to ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), as soon as possible.”

Ms. Manjoo said that while she heard anecdotal evidence of sexual violence, especially affecting internally displaced women, as well of FGM, forced and early marriages, she noted a lack of substantive reporting of violence against women and girls. Ms. Manjoo said that the lack of reporting, including proper statistics and data by the authorities, international agencies and civil society, was confirmed in her discussions with all stakeholders.

The absence of accountability mechanisms and specialized services for women and girl victims of various forms of violence, also contributes to such invisibility and silencing. “I am convinced that beyond the above mentioned phenomena, there also exists the problem of domestic violence, unfortunately the most pervasive form of violence against women, of which no country or society is immune from,” she noted. She continued that this invisibility of violence in the private sphere is exacerbated in Somalia by civil war, the displacement of populations and the absence of functional state authority. In the absence of accountability mechanisms, impunity for acts of violence against women and girls is the norm. Furthermore, the use of traditional dispute forums to resolve issues of violence against women results in little or no justice for such victims.

“I have also heard about the fragmentation of programs and policies of UN agencies, donors and other humanitarian stakeholders in Somalia. While substantial resources have been allocated to support humanitarian needs and to strengthen authorities, the lives of ordinary Somalis have generally not improved and thousands remain extremely vulnerable,” Ms. Manjoo said.

She urged the UN community, donors and other stakeholders to develop more coherent and consistent approaches so that international assistance can more directly address the needs of the people. She also urged that there must be a balance between immediate humanitarian needs and the promotion and protection of women’s human rights, which will require creative efforts to empower civil society generally, and the empowerment of women in particular.

She stressed that the current manifestations of violence against women and girls is a violation of the human rights and fundamental freedoms of women, saying that the civil war which has afflicted Somalia for the past 20 plus years cannot justify ignoring violence. “Somalia has the opportunity at this crucial time to promote human rights for all, and importantly, to place the issue of violence against women on the national agenda. I call on all stakeholders to take on the responsibility to make this a reality,” she stated. She pledged that her findings would be included in a report that she will present to the United Nations Human Rights Council in June 2012.

Ms. Rashida Manjoo (South Africa) was appointed Special Rapporteur on Violence against women, its causes and consequences, in June 2009 by the UN Human Rights Council, for an initial period of three years. As Special Rapporteur, she is independent from any government or organization and serves in her individual capacity. Ms. Manjoo is also a Professor in the Department of Public Law at the University of Cape Town.