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Press Release: Research Suggests Link Between Foreign Military Bases and Sexual Violence in Djibouti

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.

Download the report: Remote Warfare and Sexual Violence in Djibouti

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.”

Download the report: Remote warfare and sexual violence in Djibouti

For more information please contact: Nina Maria Mørk Hansen, WILPF Communications Manager, tel: +41 22 919 70 80, email: nina.hansen@wilpf.org



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Melissa Torres


Prior to being elected Vice-President, Melissa Torres was the WILPF US International Board Member from 2015 to 2018. Melissa joined WILPF in 2011 when she was selected as a Delegate to the Commission on the Status of Women as part of the WILPF US’ Practicum in Advocacy Programme at the United Nations, which she later led. She holds a PhD in Social Work and is a professor and Global Health Scholar at Baylor College of Medicine and research lead at BCM Anti-Human Trafficking Program. Of Mexican descent and a native of the US/Mexico border, Melissa is mostly concerned with the protection of displaced Latinxs in the Americas. Her work includes training, research, and service provision with the American Red Cross, the National Human Trafficking Training and Technical Assistance Centre, and refugee resettlement programs in the U.S. Some of her goals as Vice-President are to highlight intersectionality and increase diversity by fostering inclusive spaces for mentorship and leadership. She also contributes to WILPF’s emerging work on the topic of displacement and migration.

Jamila Afghani


Jamila Afghani is the President of WILPF Afghanistan which she started in 2015. She is also an active member and founder of several organisations including the Noor Educational and Capacity Development Organisation (NECDO). Elected in 2018 as South Asia Regional Representative to WILPF’s International Board, WILPF benefits from Jamila’s work experience in education, migration, gender, including gender-based violence and democratic governance in post-conflict and transitional countries.

Sylvie Jacqueline Ndongmo


Sylvie Jacqueline NDONGMO is a human rights and peace leader with over 27 years experience including ten within WILPF. She has a multi-disciplinary background with a track record of multiple socio-economic development projects implemented to improve policies, practices and peace-oriented actions. Sylvie is the founder of WILPF Cameroon and was the Section’s president until 2022. She co-coordinated the African Working Group before her election as Africa Representative to WILPF’s International Board in 2018. A teacher by profession and an African Union Trainer in peace support operations, Sylvie has extensive experience advocating for the political and social rights of women in Africa and worldwide.

WILPF Afghanistan

In response to the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban and its targeted attacks on civil society members, WILPF Afghanistan issued several statements calling on the international community to stand in solidarity with Afghan people and ensure that their rights be upheld, including access to aid. The Section also published 100 Untold Stories of War and Peace, a compilation of true stories that highlight the effects of war and militarisation on the region. 

IPB Congress Barcelona

WILPF Germany (+Young WILPF network), WILPF Spain and MENA Regional Representative

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WILPF uses feminist analysis to argue that militarisation is a counter-productive and ill-conceived response to establishing security in the world. The more society becomes militarised, the more violence and injustice are likely to grow locally and worldwide.

Sixteen states are believed to have supplied weapons to Afghanistan from 2001 to 2020 with the US supplying 74 % of weapons, followed by Russia. Much of this equipment was left behind by the US military and is being used to inflate Taliban’s arsenal. WILPF is calling for better oversight on arms movement, for compensating affected Afghan people and for an end to all militarised systems.

Militarised masculinity

Mobilising men and boys around feminist peace has been one way of deconstructing and redefining masculinities. WILPF shares a feminist analysis on the links between militarism, masculinities, peace and security. We explore opportunities for strengthening activists’ action to build equal partnerships among women and men for gender equality.

WILPF has been working on challenging the prevailing notion of masculinity based on men’s physical and social superiority to, and dominance of, women in Afghanistan. It recognizes that these notions are not representative of all Afghan men, contrary to the publicly prevailing notion.

Feminist peace​

In WILPF’s view, any process towards establishing peace that has not been partly designed by women remains deficient. Beyond bringing perspectives that encapsulate the views of half of the society and unlike the men only designed processes, women’s true and meaningful participation allows the situation to improve.

In Afghanistan, WILPF has been demanding that women occupy the front seats at the negotiating tables. The experience of the past 20 has shown that women’s presence produces more sustainable solutions when they are empowered and enabled to play a role.

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