Fowzia Musse

Editors’ note

The wars in Bosnia and Rwanda drew the world’s attention to the use of rape and sexual violence in war. But systematic rape during wartime is nothing new. From the ancient Romans to the Vietnam war; sexual violation of women and girls has been a means to conquer the enemy.1 What is new in the case of Bosnia and Rwanda is that the United Nations Security Council established an international war crimes tribunal and included rape as one of the crimes against humanity that the tribunals are empowered to prosecute.2 On 23 February 2001 three Bosnian Serbs were given jail sentences of up to 28 years for the rape of Muslim women – a watershed for women around the world.3

Journalists’ exposure of what was happening to Bosnian women, combined with detailed reports by human rights organisations and others,4 ensured that the rape of thousands of women and girls in the Bosnia and Rwanda wars was acknowledged and will, in part at least, be addressed.

In contrast, the world is ignorant of the wartime rape of thousands of Somali women and girls between 1991 and 1994,5 which a decade later was still going on in some parts of the country. Atrocities carried out by individuals and militia groups against women and girls in Somalia between 1991 and 1992 were unprecedented in Somali history. Traditionally, in Somali pastoral society feuding and conflict were bounded by codes and social conventions.6 Along with the elderly and the sick, women and children were immune from attack. That is not to say that women were never targeted but if they were harmed there were rules about retribution and compensation. In the inter-clan warfare from 1991 onwards these traditional laws have played little part, and women as well as children and other non-fighters were attacked by warring factions with impunity.

Among the worst of the atrocities were the ‘rape camps’, particularly in Mogadishu in the early 1990s. Militiamen abducted many women, imprisoning them in villas where they were subjected to repeated rape and other forms of sexual abuse.7 Although all women and girls were vulnerable, rapists tended to target female members of opposing factions, or those with weak clan affiliations and therefore little clan protection. The most violated women were those from minority groups, and especially the coastal populations of Mogadishu, Merca, Brava and Kismayo. (See Amina Sayid’s testimony, Chapter 2) These groups were generally unarmed and offered little retaliation since they were not part of the clan lineage system.

Many of these women and their families were among the thousands of Somalis who fled the country between 1991 and 1993, some by boat for Yemen and Kenya, and some overland to the Kenyan borderWomen and children made up about 80 per cent of the estimated 300,000 who had sought refuge in Kenya by October 1993.They had fled to Kenya to escape the Somali civil war but, as Fowzia Musse describes in this chapter; many found themselves facing sexual violence. In the words of one refugee quoted in The Nightmare Continues (African Rights, September 1993) We ran away from the lion, but we have only found a hyena.’

By the end of 1993 reports from the UNHCR8 and international human rights organisations9 were documenting the shocking scale of sexual violence occurring inside Kenya’s refugee camps. Fowzia Musse was the Somali social researcher recruited by the UNHCR in early 1993 to investigate rape and other forms of sexual violence inside the camps and to recommend ways to respond. In this chapter Fowzia presents information from her work with refugee rape survivors. She summarises the main findings of her investigation for the UNHCR, which she describes as ‘the tip of the iceberg’, and examines concepts of sexual assault in Somali society and how society traditionally deals with rape. She describes how women who had been raped responded, what preventive measures they and other women tried, and the UNHCR’s interventions which she was instrumental in establishing and coordinating as Project Coordinator of the Women Victims ofViolence project from 1993 to 1995. Reflecting on how best to assist refugee survivors of sexual assaults as well as to prevent further attacks, Fowzia presents the thinking behind the UNHCR’s response, part of which focused on helping women reconstruct their social and economic networks and status in society.