More than two decades of conflict, inadequate health services and discrimination have left people with disabilities in Somalia at risk of forced marriage, violence, rape and repeated forced evictions, said Amnesty International in a new briefing.
The briefing, Somalia: Prioritise Protection for People with Disabilities, reveals how lack of protection, underpinned by discrimination by families, the public and the state, renders people with disabilities vulnerable to further attack and exploitation.
Amnesty International is calling on the Somali Federal Government to act decisively to ensure the rights of people with disabilities are protected in law and in practice.
The briefing builds on previous research by Amnesty International, which documented widespread human rights abuses including rape and sexual violence. It reveals how the lack of respect for the human rights of people with disabilities exposes them to further human rights abuses.
People with disabilities are calling on the Somali Federal Government to accept they are active members of civil society, ensure their rights are recognized and realized and ensure they have access to assistance and services to prevent further abuses.
Forced marriage, rape and violence
During a recent fact-finding mission to Mogadishu in February 2015, Amnesty International’s researchers spoke to dozens of people, mostly with physical disabilities, who spoke of the abuses inflicted on them including rape and beatings. Women and girls with disabilities said they are forced into marriage to older and/or abusive men in their families’ bid to rid themselves of the perceived burden of having disabled children.
Hannan became disabled when she was a baby. She described how her family forced her into marriage:
“I was 13 years old. My family decided to give me to this man, I refused and ran away. My family sent strong men after me. They caught me, tied my arms and legs and threw me in a room with the man. He beat me since the beginning. His family would say that I was disabled, that I shouldn’t complain. He beats me, slaps, kicks and throttles me…When I escape and go home, my aunt says that I am disabled and returns me back.”
Amnesty International spoke to several women who were attacked specifically because they were disabled and seen as easy targets.
Amran was raped because her attacker knew about her physical disability:
“I woke up in the night, and found that someone had already entered my buul [shelter]. The attacker put a knife to my neck, and told me to keep silent. He told me he would kill me if I shouted. I was crying as I knew I couldn’t do anything. He knew everything [about my disability], so he raped me repeatedly because he knew I was disabled and couldn’t defend myself.”
Amnesty International is calling on the Somali Federal Government to take concrete steps to tackle the continued abuses of people with disabilities, including through the development of a national legal and policy framework and ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Bottom of the pile –internally displaced and disabled
The threat of evictions hangs over all internally displaced people in Mogadishu and other parts of Somalia. In addition, those living with disabilities are forced to live in specific areas within makeshift camps and settlements while some decide to live in separate settlements to support each other. Their problems are compounded compared with those of other internally displaced people –suffering intimidation, theft of food aid by civilians and armed groups and neglect of their specific needs by service providers. They are also at an increased risk of exploitation and violence during forced evictions.
Safiya and her family were attacked and forcibly evicted from their home in 2014. She described the incident to Amnesty International:
“At first they threatened us. They said ‘if you do not remove everything this night, you will see.’ They went away but then came again that night. Four men came with their faces covered. They wanted to rape my daughters. My husband shouted and tried to defend them, so they shot and killed him…My daughter was crying, they had taken her and raped her…Early the next morning they came back and destroyed our buuls [shelters].”
A group of disabled women have been forced to move to the Afgooye corridor where insecurity is rife and access to Mogadishu is difficult. They have been forcibly evicted multiple times in the last few years.
Leyla does not have full use of her hands. She said:
“The businessmen wanted to build houses there [Hodan district, Mogadishu]. Five of them came with guns while one started measuring the land. They told me ‘even if you take your house by your mouth, just move. ’They told me ‘you are disabled, we don’t want to see you near us, just move.’”
Safety in numbers
Groups of people with disabilities have organized themselves for protection in numbers; others have mobilized to demonstrate for their rights.
Instead of being seen as a burden by their families and communities, many people living with disabilities who spoke to Amnesty International wanted to be recognized as agents of change.
Hussein, a disabled person in Mogadishu, said:
“Most Somalis think that disabled people can’t do our own things, that we can’t do anything for ourselves. We feel disappointed. We are able to do things but nobody gives us the opportunity. Nobody fights for our rights…We want you to pass our grievances to the world, to try and help us.”