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Investigate human rights violations and impunity in Somalia

By Ndung’u Wainaina
Friday, May 11, 2007

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Transitional Federal Government of Somalia in collaboration with Ethiopia forces continues to violate international human rights and humanitarian law with impunity. Military operations that are carried out inside Somalia are characterized by undisciplined and unaccountable widespread abuses directed against civilians. The procrastination of African Union in deployment of peacekeepers as agreed is costing more lives. It is like AU members are no longer able to keep their promise of deploying their troops in Somalia. The peace that has so far been achieved in Somalia is extremely fragile and delicate. Thousands of Somalis are displaced and living in deplorable conditions in camps without basic human rights. Borders with neigbouring countries are closed such that access to surplus of food, medical care, water and such other basic amenities is very difficult.

In order to reach sustainable peace in Somalia, negotiations for political settlement have to involve all protagonists in the conflict as the first step in agreeing and designing the Somalia’s future political framework. The conflict resolution process needs to be intimately linked with the reconstruction process and in both processes the participation of civil society must be ensured. Apart from the conflict resolution process in the political realm, ensuring economic, social and cultural rights is an essential precondition for a sustainable peace. The international community should provide political and financial support for such an integrated conflict resolution process. Somalis in diaspora are such a critical player in the Somalia conflict that they ca no longer be ignored. The United Nations Security Council should step in and assist African Union in ensuring the halt of the military operations and to bring perpetrators of human rights abuses to justice.

Somalia conflict which is turning into a regional crisis has reached level of attention for International Criminal Court (ICC) with permanent responsibility for investigating and prosecuting war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. It is prudent that the ICC Chief Prosecutor initiate an independent investigation and prosecution of those responsible for systematic massacres in Somalia which constitute crimes against humanity. The recent bombing of Mogadishu neighbourhoods by Ethiopia and Transitional Federal Government was cold-blood massacre of unarmed innocent population.

There is no reason why Chief Prosecutor of The Hague based International Criminal Court cannot invoke powers granted by the Rome Statue to International Criminal Court to pursue perpetrators of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes by opening independent investigations into the horrifying events that have unfolded in Somalia in recent past. It appears that there are strong indicators that crimes against humanity have been committed in Somalia which have reached a threshold that warrant attention and intervention of the ICC to deter further commission of the crimes in that war torn country. The ICC Chief Prosecutor is endowed with the authority to investigate these tragic events and to determine individual responsibility. Alternatively, the Security Council could create an independent Commission of Inquiry with the resources to establish individual and command responsibility for the massacres and human rights violations that have been on going for long in Somalia. It is another strategic intervention that would deter sponsors of the conflict from continuing with their heinous acts. The ICC intervention in Ituri region in Democratic Republic of Congo had a very positive impact.

The human rights violations in Somalia require urgent attention considering the recent occurrence and reports emerging that Ethiopia, Transitional Federal Government of Somalia and insurgents might have committed crimes against humanity. It is evidently clear that Somalia lacks credible judicial capacity and political will [TFG suffer local political legitimacy deficit] to investigate and bring to justice cases of human rights violations and crimes against humanity.

While political dialogue is encouraged across the board, it is equally significant that countries directly involved in the peace process in Somalia particularly Contact Group and European Union cooperate with Chief Prosecutor to explore and facilitate possible reference of the Somalia conflict and human rights situation to ICC. It is time those bearing highest responsibility and their accomplices face charges of committing crime against humanity against Somalia population. Opening investigation and upon collecting sufficient evidence for possible prosecution of perpetrators of commission of war crimes and crimes against humanity offer an vital opportune window and avenue of dismantling the entire infrastructure at the core of Somalia conflict which emit from clan rivalry, struggle for political power and control of state resources. Such an act will expose atrocities committed, those responsible and play significant role in deterring further commission of atrocities.

It is no guess that severe violations of international humanitarian and human rights law have occurred throughout the Somalia conflict. The violations are direct attacks on civilian populations and form a cycle of impunity that has instigated reprisal killings and the repetition of atrocities. Interesting, the Somalia conflict is not just about a clan or a warring faction attacking another rather there are many countries who are actors in the conflict which complicate the accountability of the atrocities committed. That is why independent investigations of ICC are crucial in establishing those responsible for violations of human rights law. Moreover, women and girls have perhaps faced some of the most severe and systematic human rights violations which need to be documented and the necessary remedy instituted.

If the international community is set to help Somalia to move toward a durable peace, it must facilitate in breaking the cycle of impunity by instituting accountability for abuses of humanitarian and human rights law. The political dialogue and leaders are facing a serious challenge of seeking to rebuild the Somalia nation and restoring the rule of law in context of stinking impunity. There is no doubt of fatigue in trying to resolve Somalia conflict. Experiences in other transitional governments demonstrate that newly established administration is required to address the severe and systematic violations of humanitarian and human rights law perpetrated during the conflict. It is a political choice and condition of stopping future armed conflict, closing other forms of violence, creating avenues of mitigating grievances and establishing legitimacy of the government locally and internationally.

* The author is a Programme Officer, NCEC and Director, International Center for Policy and Conflict. P.O.Box 11996-00400 Nairobi. Email: [email protected]

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