Leaders of the five-month-old government in Somalia have said that authorities will do more to protect victims of rape in the Horn of African nation.
Sunday’s comments by the newly appointed prime minister and president, come after foreign donors and human rights groups criticised the arrests of a woman allegedly gang-raped by soldiers and the journalist who conducted an interview with her about the sexual abuse.
Speaking to Al Jazeera from London, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, the president, said though his government “is the only government that has proven” it is dedicated to improving the lives of women in the nation, he will not directly interfere in the ongoing court case.
The trial of an unidentified 27-year-old woman, her husband, and the freelance journalist on charges of insulting a government body, making false accusations, and seeking to profit from the allegations, has sparked international concerns over sexual violence and press freedom in the country.
“I don’t have the right to interfere in the judicary system … My interference into the judiciary system, will never help the rule of law in Somalia”, Mohamud told Al Jazeera.
Human rights groups say the trial is politically motivated, designed to cover up rampant sexual abuse of women by Somali security forces.
The journalist’s trial, which was to take place on Sunday, has been postponed to Tuesday.
The United Nations and the US, who recently acknowledged Mogadishu’s new government, have also voiced concerns about the treatment of rape victims.
Abdi Farah Shirdon Saaid, prime minister, promised to reform Somali armed forces and the judiciary once the trial has concluded, acknowledging “deep-seated problems” with both institutions.
“We recognise the concerns of our international partners and we are only too aware of the enormous challenges our nation faces,” Saaid said in a statement.
Zainab Hawa Bangura, UN special representative of the secretary-general on sexual violence in conflict, on Saturday called for the Somali government to deal with the country’s rape problems, saying the UN had evidence around 1,700 women were raped between January and November last year in camps for internally displaced people around Mogadishu.
Saaid, a former businessman who is married to an influential Somali peace activist, said the government has launched public campaigns designed to bring down instances of rape. However, he concedes more can be done.
“I have since urged the government in the strongest terms to be much more responsive on this question, to take proactive measures, prosecute any such crimes and provide all appropriate care to the victims,” he said.
Journalism organisations and human rights groups say arresting a journalist and putting him on trial for interviewing a rape victim is an attack on media freedoms and free speech.
Somalia is one of the world’s most dangerous places for journalists, with killings of reporters reaching and all-time high in 2012 when 18 media workers were killed, according to the National Union of Somali Journalists.
But Saaid stressed the government’s support for press freedom, saying “journalists perform a critical role and we want them to be able to work without fear or favour”.
Saaid said the government will soon form a new and independent task force on human rights which will investigate attacks against women and violence against journalists.