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

For Immediate Release

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 a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to prevent mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.

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Kevin Short

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