Djibouti is the American front in the War on Terror, and a hub for drone attacks on Al-Qaeda in Yemen and Al-Shabaab in Somalia. It is registered in the books as the only permanent U.S. military base in Africa. Also the French, Spanish, Italians, Germans and Japanese have troops stationed in Djibouti. A 2013 Chatham House Report describes the country as an ‘international maritime and military laboratory’. A trend that has deepened since the beginning of this year when China and Saudi-Arabia were also granted permission to build military bases in Djibouti.
The combination of great numbers of (mainly male) foreign militaries, migration flows, refugees, poverty and unemployment, make Djibouti a powder keg for sexual violence and exploitation. Moreover, experts have often pointed to the relation between military bases and the development of large-scale sex industries. Think of the brothels and nightclubs which sprouted in Rest and Recreation locations like the Philippines and Thailand. Think of all the aid organizations which have settled there now to help (under-aged) girls escape from the sex industry.
“A repeat of Bosnia”
“Trafficking is huge in Djibouti,” says Madeleine Rees, secretary-general of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) and former head of the Women’s Rights and Gender Unit of OHCHR, the human rights organization of the United Nations, in response to OneWorld’s findings.
The perfect free market storm for sexual exploitation that was Bosnia reinvents itself in Djibouti
In the late 90’s Rees helped to blow the whistle on the involvement of UN peace keeping soldiers and contractors in the sexual exploitation and trafficking of women in post-war Bosnia. The cover-up of this sex scandal, which was outed by UN peacekeeper Kathryn Bolkovac in cooperation with Rees, was made into a movie in 2010 titled The Whistleblower.
“The perfect free market storm for sexual exploitation that was Bosnia reinvents itself (in Djibouti),” according to Rees. In Bosnia, human rights NGOs ultimately took up the challenge of exposing the excesses. Then the government engaged and ultimately the users were exposed and the issue was addressed.
“The horrors that are manifesting in Djibouti need the same exposure,” Rees proclaims. “It is bad enough that foreign countries move in and militarize entire societies, it is worse when they allow crimes to be committed with impunity.”