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Research suggests link between foreign military bases and sexual violence in Djibouti

NEW YORK, 27 September 2017

As the United Nations meets to review its Global Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking in Persons, research and investigative journalism in Djibouti indicates that the foreign military bases may be contributing to sexual violence in that country, including possible human trafficking and forced prostitution.

The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) has conducted research into possible connections between sexual violence and foreign military bases in Djibouti. This report, Remote warfare and sexual violence in Djibouti, builds upon the work of two investigative journalists from the Netherlands, Sanne Terlingen and Hannah Kooy. This report is not exhaustive—much further investigation is imperative. The aim of this report is to give more exposure to the situation in Djibouti to help activists, journalists, lawyers, international and civil society organisations, and other governments to take this research further and end the harms indicated here.

Remote warfare in Djibouti

Djibouti, a small country in East Africa, is home to the military bases of some of the most powerful countries in the world, including the United States, China, France, Japan, Saudi Arabia, and Italy. Russia, Spain, Germany, and the United Kingdom also have troops operating out of Djibouti. Most of these forces participate in antipiracy initiatives off the cost of Somalia. Some are also engaged in training and capacity building with East African military forces. The US military also runs special forces and drone strike operations out of its base, Camp Lemonnier—the only officially recognised US military base on the continent.

The US has launched its recent drone strikes in Yemen from Camp Lemonnier, including the strike in January 2017 that resulted in many civilian casualties and the death of an American soldier. China opened its first foreign military base in the world in Djibouti. Under construction since 2016, the base officially opened on 1 August 2017.

“While more research and transparency is necessary regarding the operations of foreign military personnel in Djibouti, we can already see indications that human rights violations including sexual violence, are exacerbated by the militarisation of Djibouti,” says Ms. Ray Acheson, lead researcher for the report and director of WILPF’s disarmament programme. “The launching of drone strikes and other military operations from Djibouti have increased neighbouring violence and contributed to massive refugee and migrant flows. Coupled with the country’s poor record on human rights and trafficking in persons, we are concerned about the well-being of the local population, especially those vulnerable to sexual violence.”

Sexual violence in Djibouti

Djibouti is on the US State Department’s watch list for trafficking in persons due to the high risks of trafficking and lack of effective prevention, protection, or prosecution policies.

Foreign soldiers, including those of the United States and France, have been found engaged in illegal sexual activities with women and girls, though so far only one case has resulted in prosecution.

On 27 and 28 September, the UN General Assembly is convening a high-level meeting to assess achievements, gaps, and challenges related to human trafficking, including in the implementation of relevant legal instruments such as the Global Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking in Persons. WILPF seeks to draw the UN’s attention to the case of Djibouti, highlighting the links between sexual violence and foreign military bases or operations in other situations such as Bosnia or Japan.

“Accountability and justice are imperative,” says WILPF Secretary General Madeleine Rees. “We have seen time and again throughout the world that wherever foreign militaries set up shop, sexual violence becomes part of the local landscape. This is unacceptable. Responsible parties must ensure that there is prevention, accountability for perpetrators, and support and redress provided for the abused.”

For more information please contact:

Nina Maria Mørk Hansen, WILPF Communications Manager, tel: +41 22 919 70 80 / email: nina.hansen[at]wilpf.org

Ray Acheson, WILPF Disarmament Programme Director, tel: +1 212 682 1265 / email: ray[at]reachingcriticalwill.org