Somaliland: Unearthing Evidence of War Crimes


CJA client Aziz Deria at Badkha 2 gravesite with relatives of missing persons in the 1984 massacre.

With CJA’s sponsorship, the Peruvian Forensic Anthropology Team and the government of the Republic of Somaliland have opened an international forensic training program in Hargeisa, Somaliland. The project runs from September 24 through October 21, 2012. Participants in this historic effort will share their experience with the rest of the world throughout that time. Their posts will inform and reflect on the search for the missing and disappeared, giving readers a window into the process of fact-finding and forensic investigation of human rights violations in Somaliland that will allow access to truth and justice for the families of the victims.

Forensic Anthropology and Human Rights

Organized collection of forensic evidence of human rights violations is an important step toward discovering the truth, achieving justice, and ensuring that such crimes are not repeated. Incontrovertible physical evidence of such abuses is important both for the judicial process and for the survivors, as it provides the world with an objective account and acknowledgement of the abuses suffered.

The Peruvian Forensic Anthropology Team in Somaliland

Encouraged by a second historic peaceful election and transfer of power in Somaliland in 2010, CJA invited partner Jose Pablo Baraybar, Director of the Peruvian Forensic Anthropology Team (EPAF) and Recipient of the 2011 Judith Lee Stronach Human Rights Award, to travel with us to Somaliland in July 2011. In collaboration with CJA, victims’ families, and local government officials, including Somaliland’s War Crimes Investigation Committee (WCIC), Mr. Baraybar began a preliminary assessment of the mass grave sites to determine the possibilities of providing relief to the families and preserving evidence for any future transitional justice efforts.

Arabsiyo Execution Site Optimal

The field school will assist in training the staff of the WCIC to conduct forensic investigations of human rights violations, as well as providing foreign graduate students with meaningful fieldwork experience. The curriculum includes a module on international human rights and humanitarian law as it applies to the recent history of violence in Somalia and Somaliland, as well as field training in the examination, recovery, and analysis of mass graves.

In addition to their coursework, the students are posting to a CJA-hosted online blog. Their posts inform and reflect on the search for the missing and disappeared that allows access to truth and justice for the families of the victims, giving readers a window into the process of fact-finding and forensic investigation of human rights violations in Somaliland.

CJA client Aziz Deria underscores the project’s importance:

I believe both my late father Mohamed Iid and my younger brother Mustafa are among those remains in Malko Durduro and thus, for me, this initiative in Somaliland is personal.

EPAF has previously trained local investigators in Peru, Nepal, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Read more about EPAF.

Mass Graves: Unearthing Evidence of Barre-era War Crimes

In 1997, heavy rains and flooding exposed evidence of mass graves in and around Somaliland’s capital city of Hargeisa. [1] The bones were found in the vicinity of the former headquarters of the 26th division of the Somali National Army and the notorious execution site known as Malko Durduro.

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) independent expert on Somalia, Mona Rishwami, formally requested an independent forensic examination of the sites. [2] On April 11, 1997 Physicians for Human Rights, under the auspices of UNHCHR, conducted an on-site forensic assessment of the mass graves. The forensic team examined over 100 known and alleged mass gravesites. Two sites were identified definitively as mass graves: the Malko Durduro Elementary School site and the Badhka site. At both locations the team found skeletal remains of victims apparently bound together by ropes or cloth ligatures.

In response to cries for redress, the Somaliland government established a War Crimes Investigation Commission (WCIC) to investigate human rights abuses committed by the Barre regime and to support the prosecution of alleged war criminals. For these purposes, the WCIC began to identify victims and witnesses; collect testimony and other evidence; and locate, mark, register, and preserve the sites of mass graves.

In 2001 a report by a UN Special Rapporteur for Somalia indicated that many former military personnel suspected of war crimes and human rights violations had found safe haven in Canada, the United Kingdom, and the United States. To date, only one such perpetrator, General Mohamed Ali Samantar, has been held accountable for his role in the abuses of that regime.