Addressing impunity in Somalia

In its submission to the Universal Periodic Review in 2011, the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia described a breakdown of rule-of-law institutions because of the conflict which has now stretched across two decades.

In the past few months, the security situation has improved as the insurgent group, Al Shabaab, has withdrawn from the capital Mogadishu and other key centres. The international community has rallied in response, most recently pledging support at a conference of world leaders in London for the transition to an inclusive and democratic government.

The London conference affirmed that respect for human rights should be at the heart of the peace process and called on the Somali authorities to take measures to uphold human rights and end the culture of impunity.

The UN Human Rights office (OHCHR) has been working for some time assisting with the rebuilding of the justice system in Somalia, through human rights training programs, support for access to justice, the assessment of conditions of detention and by bringing key players together to address the systemic challenges.

The Human Rights Section in the UN Political Office for Somalia (UNPOS) chairs the Justice and Corrections Technical Working Group which held its inaugural meeting in February 2012 in Mogadishu. The Working Group, convened through UNPOS, meets regularly to contribute to the implementation of the National Security and Stabilization Plan for Somalia. Its key priorities include promoting access to justice and accountability, support for an independent judiciary, and the humane treatment and rehabilitation of detainees.

Mohamed Mohamed Afrah, Chair of the Somali Bar Association, addressing the meeting, which was attended by senior judicial and administration officials, including the Deputy Chief Justice and the Attorney-General, said that after twenty years of conflict, the country’s rule of law institutions have been weakened, but “competent legal professionals and a system of laws continue to exist,” he said.

In collaboration with local universities, UN human rights officers have also trained Somali legal experts who will in turn take on the task of educating judges in Mogadishu, Puntland and Somaliland.

The training programme covered a comprehensive range of subjects including: arrest and pre-trial detention; prohibition against torture; the duty of humane treatment for detainees and prisoners; the right to a fair trial and right to appeal; rights relating to marriage, divorce and succession from an Islamic legal and human rights perspective; the right to equality and non discrimination; protection and redress for victims of crime and human rights violations; justice systems based on customary law and human rights; harmful traditional practices; and the role of national human rights institutions.

It included substantive input from a specialist in Sharia law who offered a perspective on human rights obligations and Islamic law. In its UPR submission the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia identified “the harmonization between Sharia law, Somali customary law and modern law” as a key challenge.

UN Human Rights officers have also focused on training corrections personnel in Somaliland. The human rights training from OHCHR introduced corrections officers to the human rights principles which apply to the treatment of detainees and their practical application. They discussed the State’s responsibility to provide adequate food, drinking water and clothing, and that living conditions must meet minimum standards. The training programme also drew attention to ‘at risk’ detainees, especially women and juveniles.

UN human rights staff are now participating in an assessment of detention conditions in the Central Prison of the Somali capital, Mogadishu, which the UN has access to for the first time in many years.

13 April 2012

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