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|Somaliland, Shadows Of the Past as Human Rights Deteriorate|
A discussion paper by "African Rights"
24 May 2003
This is a summary of African Rightsí latest discussion paper, which sets out a range of concerns in the aftermath of the April 2003 Presidential Elections. It brings to light a series of human rights abuses, including beatings and illegal detentions, a ban on protests, unfair dismissals and a curb on freedom of movement. This paper is intended to raise awareness of these incidents and of the potential that they will lead to a more widespread problem. It offers a reminder of Somalilandís precarious state: its people have had to climb a steep and rocky path to peace and security, and any step backwards could therefore be disastrous.
A Threat to Somalilandís Achievements
Somaliland has arisen as a viable and broadly peaceful state from the ashes left by the brutal regime of the former President of Somalia, Mohamed Said Barre. The decision to secede from Somalia, made twelve years ago in May 1991, has proven popular and successful. This new nation - albeit unrecognised as such internationally - held local council elections in December 2001 and this year held presidential elections. In both cases the voting was widely deemed free and peaceful. Somalilanders have good reason to be proud of these achievements and the international community has every reason to support them in their endeavours. But equally important at this precise moment in its political development, and less understood, is the reality that Somaliland is now more vulnerable than it has been for many years. African Rights is concerned that since the presidential elections on 14 April there has been an increased risk of violence and a significant rise in human rights violations.
Somaliland began its independent existence with a weak hand in historical, regional and economic terms, and it has now been dealt a political wild card, with an astonishingly narrow margin of votes between the two leading presidential candidates. There is an understandable reluctance to broadcast the potential for recent events to spark serious reversals. For many who care about the future of Somaliland, and hope that its gains in terms of peace and security will win it recognition as an independent state, silence might appear to be the best policy. But the shadow of Somalilandís conflict-ridden past hangs over the issues and personalities at the centre of current political tensions. In this context, silence, coupled with the prevailing lack of international attention, is unlikely to promote the necessary resolve to stem a decline in the human rights situation, which has, unfortunately, begun.
Although keen voters filled the ballot boxes with their presidential choices on 14 April, their initial sense of participation and democracy has been undermined by errors in the vote counting. After a tense wait, the National Electoral Commission (NEC) made a preliminary announcement, on 19 April, that UDUB, the party of the then incumbent President Dahir Rayaale Kahin, had won by 80 votes. Suspicion that the result had been politically engineered with the help of the Guurti - the Council of Elders - arose when some of its representatives visited the NEC immediately before the announcement.
Then, from conflicting positions, both UDUB and KULMIYE, its main contender, presented arguments and figures, which showed that the NEC had got its sums wrong, throwing the NEC into disarray and sapping its credibility. However, the NEC refused to review its figures and suggested that complaints be submitted to the Supreme Court. This was duly done, but amid concerns from the opposition that they would not receive a fair hearing (since the chairman and six judges were appointed by President Rayaale and Minister of the Interior). Ismail Adan Osman had already expressed confidence that the Supreme Court would confirm the victory of his own party, UDUB. The Court delivered its verdict in favour of UDUB on 11 May, but its judgement has confused the picture further for many in Somaliland, by presenting a whole new set of figures and failing to provide any convincing legal argument to justify its decision.
The elections have not delivered the anticipated new start for Somaliland, and a period of turbulence defined by a loss of confidence in Somalilandís young institutions has ensued. Longstanding concerns about the lack of expertise and independence within the judiciary intensified when the future of the nation was placed at the door of the Supreme Court. The NEC, which had achieved much despite a minimal budget and huge challenges, visibly buckled under its many pressures at the final hurdle. The conduct of Somalilandís most established institution, the Guurti, has been called into question with many believing that it decided to place its weight behind UDUB. And, according to interviews carried out by African Rights, security forces and the government-controlled media have sought to constrain or purge known opposition voters. Moreover, the government suspended the right to demonstrate soon after the declaration of the election result and those who took to the streets, including women and children, were swiftly and brutally punished, as this report documents.
Most of the measures observed so far have been directed against supporters of KULMIYE for the obvious reason that it constitutes the strongest political challenge to the government and to UDUB. African Rights has carried out interviews with many individuals who are anxious or angry about their treatment and regard the government as responsible. These include a group of elders who were surrounded by armed soldiers while eating in a restaurant in Gabiley, journalists at Radio Hargeisa who have been subjected to censorship and, in one case, a physical attack in the course of his work, soldiers dismissed after admitting their support for KULMIYE and students arrested and detained without charge. Among the most disturbing reports came from peaceful protesters, most of them women.
Violence against Women and Children in Hargeisa, 20 April
On the morning of Sunday 20 April, the day after the preliminary election results were announced, a group of about 50 KULMIYE supporters, including women, girls and a boy of 14, decided to walk to the offices of the NEC as a measure of protest. Almost immediately they were spotted by two truckloads of armed policemen, accompanied by about 20 policemen on foot, at the junction with the main road, who shot into the air to frighten and disperse the crowd. A number of the women were wearing headscarves with the KULMIYE colours of yellow and green, and some carrying its flags and wearing its T-shirts.
Fathiya Jama, resident in London, was on a visit to Hargeisa where she volunteered as an election officer on polling day. When African Rights interviewed her on 24 April, she had a huge bruise on the right shoulder and on the right calf.
Kinsi Adleef had set out with Fathiya and the others. A mother of six and four months pregnant, she found it difficult to run far when the shots rang out.
The bruises she suffered on her right arm, on the back and on the lip, were evident at the time.
Several other women and young girls interviewed by African Rights, were also subjected to verbal abuse and beatings in the trucks and like Kinsi and Fathiya they were taken to the police station. While their names were being registered, another truckload of KULMIYE supporters arrived. A young man of about 19, who had been severely beaten, was one of the passengers. Fathiya tried to protect him as best as she could.
The young girls, about 25, and the 8 boys, were then locked up in different rooms while the two women, Fathiya and Kinsi, were kept together in a separate section. Fathiya found herself in a distressing situation when it became apparent that Kinsi had become very ill.
Kinsi spent the night at the main hospital in Hargeisa. Angry about her treatment and in great pain, and mindful of the obstacles, she expressed her determination to lodge a complaint against the police.