Sexuality in Somaliland

Sexuality in Somaliland

By Lauren Andrews

The self-declared state of Somaliland enforces Sharia law, making homosexuality a criminal offence and thus forcing those belonging to the LGBT+ community to conceal their sexuality for fear of imprisonment or even death in extreme cases. Even though Somaliland is independent of Somalia and has been since 1991, it continues to apply the Somali Penal Code which enforces the imprisonment of those who engage in carnal intercourse with a person of the same sex (Legislative Decree No.5/1962, Article 409). This piece of legislation allows the imprisonment of those engaging in homosexual activity for 3 months up to 3 years and is accompanied by Article 410 which allows additional measures such as police surveillance on those who have been identified and charged as a form of security measure. Homosexuality is defined as an offence against modesty and sexual honour; not only is it considered a crime itself but is also considered an aggravating factor to crimes of sexual violence alongside being transgender according to Article 400 of the Penal Code.

The data in the ILGA (International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Intersex Association) State-Sponsored Homophobia Report highlights and compares the criminalisation of consensual same-sex relationships between adults on an international scale. Not only does this map highlight that persecution of homosexuality in the Horn of Africa is grossly disproportionate to the rest of the world, but it also highlights that the death penalty is in play in some regions of Somaliland and that there are legal barriers to both freedom of speech and organisations supporting sexual orientation. The fight against the discrimination of people based on their sexual orientation is one that is yet to be won in Somaliland. Despite there being no specific censorship laws governing the discussion of homosexuality, the prohibition of the promotion of ideas and concepts deemed immoral creates a hurdle to open discussions of the struggles of homosexual persons.

In Somaliland there remains such a thing as ‘rehabilitation centres’ for sexuality, designed to ‘reform’ children, teenagers, and adolescents, despite the fact that it has been over 30 years since the World Health Organization officially declassified homosexuality as a mental disorder. Those who have fallen victim to these centres are believed to have acted against the values of the State through engaging in homosexual acts. Recent testimonies highlight that many have been detained against their will and kept in harsh conditions where sexual and other abuse is commonplace. The administration of herbal drugs, harmala, to detainees for alleged spiritual cleansing causes hallucinations, vomiting and often exceeds safe dosage, is another unethical practice being undertaken in these centres. The methods at play in these camps are a direct violation of the rights to freedom from torture, bodily autonomy, and the right to life and liberty.

Despite the widespread condemnation and scientific evidence that conversion therapy in relation to sexuality does not work, this cruel torture remains ongoing without legal sanctions in Somaliland. The United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) has commented that state-sponsored conversion therapies requiring LGBT+ persons to be treated as psychiatric patients requiring ‘cure’ or ‘treatment’ are a violation of their right to sexual and reproductive health as well as their psychological integrity. It has also been noted that states have an obligation to combat discrimination in aid of human rights and that this must extend to sexual orientation and gender identity in order to ensure the right to equality, freedom from discrimination and from persecution.

The consequences of the criminalisation of homosexuality are not limited to the acts of persecution and imprisonment of homosexuals but also ensure the absence of anti-discrimination laws and policies for the protection of LGBT+ persons. The law offers no protection for those belonging to the LGBT+ community in employment, the provision of goods and services, nor does it outlaw indirect discrimination such as hate speech against such persons. Not only do such omissions infringe on the right to freedom from discrimination, but they also infringe on the rights to privacy and family life. The criminalisation of homosexuality, in turn, means that same-sex partnerships and marriages are not recognised by the State in Somaliland. The refusal to recognise same-sex couples creates additional barriers to equality, preventing LGBT+ persons from legally adopting children or for being offered IVF or commercial surrogacy. Additionally, the criminalisation of homosexuality and absence of recognition for same-sex couples means that there remains much ambiguity regarding important topics such as military service and blood donation for homosexuals which, based on the struggles of the LGBT+ community elsewhere in the world, has been highlighted as an important issue. Furthermore, the right to change legal gender is also a topic considered socially taboo and that is not officially recognised nor outlawed by the state; this is due to a complete lack of recognition of gender identity struggles.

The fight to flee this persecution is an almost impossible one, with only a mere few countries recognising the Somaliland passport as valid, such as Ethiopia and Kenya, and with incredibly high standards regarding the granting of visas to Somalis. For those looking to flee Somaliland for the hope of acceptance elsewhere, the high rates of persecution of homosexuals in its neighbouring territories, as shown in the ILGA Report, presents yet another hurdle to overcome. The persecution of homosexuals in Somaliland, as in many other nations, is a serious violation of human rights and a driving factor for conflict and displacement in the region. As we have seen in survivor testimonies, the persecution of homosexuals is not simply a legal issue but is also a social/cultural issue as it is actively being enforced unofficially within social circles such as families and local communities. Education is the key tool to creating change; by educating society on equality, sexuality, and relationships, the informed society will pave the way for change on a national scale and further throughout the wider Horn of Africa.

In summary, the fight to end the persecution of LGBT+ community in Somaliland still has an incredibly long journey ahead. Not only is there no legislation in place for the protection of the members of this vulnerable community, but there remains prejudicial legislation that has allowed for this persecution; indeed the laws in place actively support this prejudice. The continued existence of ‘rehabilitation centres’ for alleged conversion therapy allows for abuse and active discrimination to occur without legal sanctions. This great wrong is not limited to the territory of Somaliland and is a prominent issue that presents itself throughout the Horn of Africa and requires immediate action for the sake of protecting people’s livelihoods and fundamental human rights.