Somaliland: 2014 HRC Annual Report Damns Government Human Rights Accountability


Somalilandsun – Today, 9th December 2014, Human Rights Centre issued Annual Report on Human Rights Situation in Somaliland. The launch, held at Maansoor Hotel, was attended by human rights activists, government officials, civil society leaders, UN agencies and international organizations. Below is the summary of the report.
Somaliland is unrecognized African state located in Horn of Africa. On 18th May 1991 Somaliland declared independence from Somali Republic. Somaliland and Somalia united in July 1960. The union came after Somaliland gained independence from UK in June 1960 and voluntarily joined with Italian Somalia. Military government which came in power in coup by the year of 1969 was ousted by rebel groups in 1991. Somaliland announced separation in that same year after years of war between the military rule and Somali National Movement (SNM).
Somaliland started reconciliation conferences that has resulted the formation of presidential system of governance where clan and democracy are intermingled to sustain peace. Clan plays pivotal role in Somaliland’s socioeconomic and political environment. State institutions were built from the scratch and government services were commenced slowly. The private sector initiated business and Diaspora remits money that expands economic sectors.
Peace and security are prioritized over human rights in Somaliland. As Human Rights Watch report in 2009 is titled “Hostages of Peace”, Somaliland is over obsessed with peace in a manner that compromises fundamental freedoms and rights. As unrecognized country, other states treat Somaliland as part of Somalia, a nation sparked by anarchy and chaos. Hence Somaliland’s peace is perceived by the international community as positive progress. Therefore, Somaliland’s political status creates confusion that negatively impacts on human rights. Additionally, there are no embassies in Somaliland for foreign nations, and prominent international advocacy organizations have no presence in Somaliland. Somaliland is forgotten nation left for its own.
In hope of transforming the clan system into democracy, Somalilanders in landslide voted in approval for constitution in 2001. The constitution establishes multiparty system and guarantees fundamental rights and freedoms. Nevertheless, clan domination and election postponement challenge the aspiration of Somalilanders.
Somalilanders enjoy democracy that provides considerable rights and freedoms. The political status of Somaliland and its location make Somaliland’s success good example for the rest of Horn of African countries. Somaliland is compared with its neighbours who are either in anarchy or in dictatorship rule. Such comparison misleads the fact on the ground. The international community is focused on Somalia (famously called South-Central Somalia).This leaves the Somalilanders in huge danger. The absence of strong international pressure grants to the government of Somaliland to act in impunity.
The global war on terror which Somaliland government is partner also complicates the situation in Somaliland. The security agendas and strategies overshadow human rights abuses in Somaliland. The civil society in Somaliland implements only donor driven projects making them very inactive and ineffective in performing their primary responsibilities. The weakness of the civil society strengthens the government which exercises its powers with no or little accountability.
The law enforcement agencies are not reformed to comply with the constitution of Somaliland. The military culture inherited from Siyad Barre regime still dominates the behaviour of the law enforcement agencies. People are arrested for failure of payment of debt. Convicts remain in custody until civil liabilities are paid.
HRC has found that Somaliland Police use torture to extract information. Beating is widely used method of torture. Confession is also received on coercion, inducement and promise. HRC interviewees told that police investigators demand payment from the victims and accused persons. This complicates the attainment of justice for poor and vulnerable people who are in many times forced by the Police to reach settlement with the perpetrator.
The police stations are used as detention centres in most of the regions particularly Hargeisa, the capital and the most populous city. Hence instead of remanding suspects to prison, they are remanded to the Police stations which are not structured to hold suspects more than 48 hours. The Police stations which are overcrowded, lack all the necessary facilities and its conditions are harsh and inhumane. The inmates rely on their families, if any, on food, water, health and all of their needs. Those without family that supports are held in custody without food. There are no sanitation, clean water supplies and medical support in the Police stations.
Somaliland Police enjoy total impunity. There is no judiciary that could challenge the actions of the Police.
Highly feared police unit called Rapid Reaction Unit (RRU) is paramilitary police unit trained by the government of United Kingdom to combat terrorism. UK government trains and provides financial and technical support to RRU. The Unit does not have publicized written mandate. It works in secretive manner. The Unit violates Somaliland laws when conducting its operations. It uses excessive force against civilians. RRU has distinct black uniform separate from the Police and its members wear masks.
The Unit has been used for political purposes in many occasions. RRU confronted with peaceful protestors in Hargeisa on 13th April 2014 and 28th December 2013. RRU terrorizes the people and violates the basic rights of the people. Because the Police in general enjoy impunity, the actions of RRU are not investigated.
Somaliland is situated in Horn of Africa next to the troubled neighbouring country of Somalia where radical militants are fighting against African troops authorized by the UN Security Council. In disguise of the so called global war on terror, Somaliland treats differently the people arrested or accused of terrorism. Due process of law is not followed.
Somaliland does not have law for counter terrorism. But in this year, the Council of Ministers passed a bill of Law on Combating and Preventing Terrorism. The draft bill submitted to the House of Representatives violates the constitution and the international human rights law.
Although the constitution guarantees equal participation, the political system of Somaliland is dominated by men. Women face obstacles presented by the clan domination of the society. Women do not enjoy their political, social, economic and cultural rights equally with men and are victims of increasing gender based violence including rape, domestic violence and female gender mutilation. The state failed to protect women from the customary law which treats women as inferior. Even at the judiciary, clan elders’ interventions hinder justice for women. Absence of family law in Somaliland subjects women under male dominated culture and system. Women are also underrepresented at workplaces.
The judiciary branch of Somaliland consists of the courts and the office of the attorney general. The constitution states that the judiciary is independent from the executive and the parliament. But in practice such independence does not exist. The executive branch has huge influence in the judiciary.
Judges are selected on the basis of clan backing. Hence clans have influence in the judiciary. This gives the majority and strong clans a power to undermine the independence of the judiciary and marginalize the minority and weaker clans. Furthermore, the judiciary lacks accountability and transparency.
The constitution guarantees freedom of expression and independence of media. There are about 11 independent newspapers in Hargeisa, and three independent TV stations. Additionally, there are numerous websites and blogs. In the other hand, there are government owned media. Somaliland citizens enjoy freedom to express their opinion.
However, the activities of Somaliland journalists are impeded by detention, trial, harassment, beating and denial of access to information. 23 journalists were arrested in this year. Four newspapers, Haatuf, Hubaal, The Independent and Somaliland Times are suspended in Somaliland since December 2013. On 25th June 2014 Hargeisa Regional Court sentenced Yusuf Abdi Gabobe, chairman of Haatuf Media Group, and Ahmed Ali Ege, Editor-in-chief of Haatuf, newspaper to three years and four years of imprisonment, respectively. They were also fined to fifty million Somaliland Shillings. The defendants were not given chance to defend themselves. The court only heard the prosecution office. The journalists were later released after the president pardoned.
Vulnerable people including minority clans, children, IDPs, refugees and people with disability are disfranchised in Somaliland. People living with HIV/AIDS are discriminated and stigmatized.
Read the full HRC Report 2014 for Somaliland