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Saturday, November 12, 2011

Somalia Faces the Future: Human Rights in a Fragmented Society


he departure of the last troops of the United Nations' Somalia operation in March 1995 marks a critical juncture for Somalia, and for international peacekeeping. In researching this report, Human Rights Watch set out to discover what would be left behind when the U.N. withdrew, what the prospects would be for the future, and what recommendations should be made to Somalis and the international community based on what we learned. The resulting recommendations are directed at Somali leaders at all levels of society (including those in the Somali diaspora), at various governments in the region, and at the wider international community, in particular the major European powers and the U.S. They concern the protection and promotion of human rights in Somalia, but also larger issues of international peacekeeping, peace enforcement and humanitarian intervention.

In this report, Human Rights Watch calls upon Somalia's de facto authorities to take responsibility for the armed groups acting on their authority, to impose discipline on these forces and hold them accountable for their actions, and to bring human rights considerations into their discussions with other authorities, not least the elimination of practices that discriminate by reason of clan affiliations. Within this broad framework, Human Rights Watch is also calling for an end to the indiscriminate use of force by parties to ongoing conflict in Somalia, to extrajudicial or judicial executions, and to amputations, hostage-taking and forced displacement. Human Rights Watch recommends to the United Nations the incorporation of a human rights component into all peacekeeping operations, while calling upon the international community to make the long-in-force, but never enforced, arms embargo on Somalia a reality until representative government has been reestablished there.

This report considers some of the lessons learned—and those wrongly drawn—from the U.N. operation in Somalia that has now come to an end. First authorized by the Security Council in April 1992, UNOSOM (the United Nations Operation in Somalia) had taken assertive action to support aid deliveries only in December 1992, when backed by 24,000 U.S. troops and 13,000 others under U.S. command in the United Nations International Task Force (UNITAF). In May 1993 UNOSOM and UNITAF were replaced with a program with a broader mandate called UNOSOM II, although those U.S. forces that remained continued to function under a separate U.S. command.

Today the international community risks misreading the Somalia experience as a blunt warning against all engagement in the crises that generate complex emergencies, from war-driven famine to genocide. That the intervention was costly in peacekeepers' lives and produced only limited results is often cited as an argument against engagement. At the same time, many observers fail to note the importance of the U.N.'s overwhelming emphasis on brokering deals between powerful military leaders, to the detriment of those in Somali society seeking reconstruction and reconciliation (and the U.N.'s own programs to this end). Indeed some critics of the operation have argued that it was because the U.N. sought to go beyond simple wooing of the warleaders that clashes with the U.N. took place and the peacekeeping force fell short of its objectives to leave Somalia with some kind of government in place. These critiques should not go unchallenged. (Although these leaders are commonly termed "warlords," this report uses the neutral term "warleader," as their function within each subclan's collective leadership is to lead it in war.)

We conclude, in contrast, that a principal problem of the Somalia operation was that it was pursued firstly as an exercise in conflict resolution between powerful individuals, without addressing the policies each pursued which led to Somalia's continuing devastation. The U.N. dealt with the warleaders as if with national leaders, but without holding these claimants to authority and legitimacy accountable for their actions against any consistent standard. Nor did this approach take fully into account what could be called the constituencies of the warleaders, the relations between distinct parts of society, and the efforts to build bridges of political participation between them—a focus of this report. Stopping the fighting was clearly a crucial goal for the U.N. mission, but the way this was pursued often ran counter to efforts to promote a return to civil society in which fundamental human rights had protection and respect.

In Somalia the focus on a few personalities meant the U.N. (and United States) negotiators treated Somali warleaders first as colleagues, then as outlaws, and finally, after the withdrawal of U.S. and European troops by mid-March 1994, again as the sole principals in the brokerage of power. These swings in the treatment of one or the other of the warleaders opened the U.N. to charges of partisanship. The U.N. and U.S. negotiators seemed arbitrarily to pick and choose between warleaders for commendation and criticism, without any regard for their respective human rights record (or other objective criteria). Open conflict between U.N. forces and a warleader's militia reinforced this perception—in part because the only immutable principle in the U.N.'s approach to a brokered peace appeared to be that its own forces not be subject to attack. In addressing the crisis largely as a matter of arranging cease-fires and alliances with warleaders who had made no commitment to observe international standards, the U.N. mission undercut its own authority and lost sight of its humanitarian mission. Negotiations based on anything but full information and principles may appear—and become—dangerously arbitrary, bringing the integrity of an international operation into question.

Limited, timely and informed actions by the international community can, with economy of effort, counter policies and actions that expose a population to starvation and death. They have the potential to be an effective foil to genocide and other crimes against humanity that also pose dangers to international security and peace. A consistent foundation on the international standards of human rights and humanitarian law, moreover, is the best guarantee against charges of partisanship. That international action to halt crimes against humanity must be in no way "partisan" to anything but humanity should be self-evident: but unfortunately this is not yet fully accepted by the peacekeeping establishment. UNOSOM peacekeepers told Human Rights Watch that even the release of objective information on human rights observance would put neutrality in question; the premise being that anything that disrupts a status quo is a sign of partisanship. A real lesson of the Somalia intervention is that the U.N. peacekeeping and peace enforcement establishment must make human rights integral to its response to such emergencies. The U.N. should ensure that support for human rights monitoring and protection and public reporting becomes a norm in peacekeeping as it has gradually become an accepted part of other aspects of international affairs. To disseminate information on human rights becomes "political" only when to do so is extraordinary—only when information about breaches of humanitarian norms is routinely suppressed or released on a selective basis.

The Somalia experience should also lead the international community to improve its capacity to act opportunely to avert catastrophe before it reaches the level of the Somalia crisis, and to build flexibility into its responses to humanitarian challenges as they arise. United Nations Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali's efforts to foster the U.N.'s current focus on crisis prevention is an appropriate and critical part of this development.

Human Rights Watch has believed from the inception of the Somalia crisis that the U.N.'s humanitarian role there must have as a central aim the restoration of conditions in which human rights are respected and can have lasting protection. Human rights abuses on an enormous scale were, after all, the principal cause of the famine which triggered the intervention. A part of the role of the intervention force was to protect relief convoys; the U.N. was also to assist in political and economic reconstruction in order to remove the need for future assistance, while allowing hundreds of thousands of Somali refugees to return home. To that end, the U.N. should have helped restore guarantees of Somalis' basic human rights so that they could fully participate in rebuilding their society. The U.N. did not, however, consider human rights monitoring or protection to be among its mission priorities in Somalia.

The U.N.'s withdrawal opens the way for the international community either to help Somalia rebuild civil society, or to thwart progress to this end. The situation is one of opportunity and of threat. The military leaders of Mogadishu, whose rivalry had been the U.N.'s focus, confounded predictions of post-U.N. chaos by initially cooperating through a joint "Peace Committee" in the administration of the capital's harbor and airport. Other traditional authorities and representatives of Somalia's population continue to engage in inter- and intra-clan consultations with a view to reconciliation. There has been no clear signal that Somalia will rapidly return to the state of calamity of 1991-1992 that led to an international rescue mission. On the other hand, the reemergence of fragile local authorities, the reaching out of clan-based authorities to other clans, and the revival of commerce and other aspects of civil society are extraordinarily vulnerable to disruption. The disruptive capacity of a warleader who sees little personal advantage in a society at peace remains high.

The greatest threat to Somalia's reconstruction may be posed by external intervention that disrupts the uneasy balance between rival military leaders and competing social groups. Although the traditional authorities that stand behind the military chiefs now appear prepared to end the conflict of the past five years, a commitment from a foreign government to support one party to the conflict could change this irrevocably. With the withdrawal so recent, the potential for regional and international powers to manipulate Somali affairs remains high. Prospects of one or more states deciding to do so, through arms supplies or mere finance, may rise if the United Nations was indeed to turn away from concerns with Somalia in the aftermath of the U.N.'s troop withdrawal. A disturbing sign that competing powers are already poised to fight over Somalia's potentially rich pickings emerged from interviews by our researcher in January, February and March: international fruit companies are now hiring militiamen and heavily armed "technicals" from the warleaders to fight on their behalf over Somalia's still-limited banana exports.

There have been many analyses of the United Nations' response to the crisis in Somalia since the collapse of central government there in 1991. Clashes between international and Somali forces, attacks on aid workers, and the politics of the U.N. effort itself have dominated this reporting. So too have critiques that the U.N. arrived too late, stayed too long, and spent too much. This report is different in that it takes as its point of departure the human rights situation of the ordinary Somali in Somali society. It centers on the relation of Somalis to de facto authorities—the clan councils, traditional sultans, ugases, sheikhs, and imans, and of course the warleaders—while examining the larger picture of human rights abuse and protection. It considers the potential for the traditional and modern authority structures now emerging in the country to halt abuses and provide protection, and ways the international community can best encourage this. The U.N. is a part of this picture, but only a part.

Somalia's de facto authorities, their armed agents (militias, police and others), and the characteristic ways in which they abuse or protect the human rights of Somalis are the principal subjects of this report. A common theme is that human rights observance, like the emerging pattern of authority itself, is largely differentiated along clan and subclan lines. This in turn reflects dramatic population movements by many of Somalia's clan-based communities in the course of the past five years, and the continued antagonism among some of them. The forcible takeover of territory by rival population groups, and their consolidation of control over resources and transportation routes, was accomplished through indiscriminate killings, selective assassination and executions, and the use of rape as weapons of terror and intimidation, as we demonstrate here. The resulting patterns of exclusion and forced displacement by reason of subclan affiliation form the backdrop to recent moves toward inter- and intra-clan reconciliation. But discrimination by reason of one's clan identity is still a constant in the treatment accorded to different population groups by the competing authorities of modern Somalia.

In examining the human rights situation in Somalia, Human Rights Watch has considered both the applicable standards of humanitarian law (the laws of war) and standards of human rights law which can provide a useful measure of human rights observance even in situations of fragmented de facto authority. The actions of the organized armed groups of Somalia's competing authorities have included breaches of these norms, ranging from hostage- taking, rape, summary execution and the selective assassination of civilians, to the indiscriminate use of heavy weapons with wanton disregard for the lives of civilians. The actions of United Nations forces are assessed strictly against their obligations under humanitarian law and are also found wanting, notably with respect to the indiscriminate use of force by United States air power in civilian areas and against civilian targets. The report recommends changes in the U.N.'s procedures for ensuring adherence to humanitarian law.

Although the human rights dimension of UNOSOM's own role and its relation with the warleaders is discussed here, this report focuses primarily on the abuses committed on the authority of Somali leaders against other Somalis, and the potential for human rights protection in the long term. To this end we examine the relation between the warleaders, the United Nations mission, and the patchwork of authority identified at the community level. In particular, we examine the reemergence of local authority structures that show some promise in assuming responsibility for their actions. These largely traditional structures frequently hold both a capacity for abuse, through their influence on militia and local police, and the potential to remedy abuse and provide a check on the warleaders even in the absence of a national system of law. The relationship of these de facto authorities to the militias, police, bandits and nominally private guards was misread by the U.N. to its cost.

New information concerning the structures, recruitment base and leadership of the militias and the police, and their relation to the ubiquitous private guards and bandits of the UNOSOM period, is a crucial part of the human rights picture shown here. This report provides evidence that the warleaders do, in fact, exercise a considerable degree of command and control over their forces, particularly when mobilizing for war and raiding, and should be held directly responsible for the abuses committed by those forces. The leaders had the authority in some cases to restrain and discipline their subordinates during the difficult times of 1992-94 but did not do so; to the contrary, many of the systematic abuses described below could not have occurred without the warleaders making them happen.

In the aftermath of the U.N. mission, Somalis face the task of reconstruction in their own way. Grassroots efforts, led by a broad variety of activists and elders, offer an alternative to the cycle of violence, although law and order remains an issue dominated by clan discrimination and kinship status, and the warleaders engage in reprisals against key elders to counter their efforts at negotiation. The greatest danger to the broad-based efforts at reconstruction could come from the international community—if any nation chose to interfere now by backing one or more warleader.

This report is largely based on more than seventy interviews carried out by Human Rights Watch consultant John Prendergast in Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia during January and February 1995. Those interviewed included Somali elders, sultans and other traditional leaders, local Somali government officials, and officials of subclan-based political factions. Gen. Said Hersi Morgan, one of Somalia's best-known warleaders, was interviewed, as were representatives of other warleaders. Interviews were also carried out with members of particularly vulnerable groups, notably ethnic minority communities, the displaced, and with other members of civil society, including members of women's self-help organizations. Non-Somali and Somali officials of aid agencies, of the United Nations in Somalia, and others provided further useful information through extensive interviews. Most names have been omitted from citations in order to safeguard the security of those interviewed.

John Prendergast visited Somalia during the last weeks of the United Nations Operation in Somalia (UNOSOM II), with a brief to assess the basis for human rights protection in post-UNOSOM Somalia. In the course of his mission he visited the interior towns of Baidoa, Bur Hakaba, and Luuq, and the ports of Kismayu, Merca and Mogadishu. Further interviews were carried out in Nairobi, Kenya, where the United Nations now bases its operations related to Somalia, and in Addis Ababa and Washington, D.C. The report also draws upon material from a Human Rights Watch mission to Somalia in October 1993, when Prendergast spent several weeks in Bardera, Baidoa and Kismayu, and material produced by consultant Patrick Gilkes, who conducted extensive interviews on our behalf in Addis Ababa, Nairobi and Somalia in December 1993. The report was written by Michael McClintock and edited by Cynthia Brown.

Full Report

Source: UNHCR

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