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HRW report on Somaliland

Human Rights Watch published this week a report on Human Rights violations in the self-declared republic of Somaliland. You can read this 56-page report following this link: “Hostages to Peace”: Threats to Human Rights and Democracy in Somaliland. Here you have an excerpt from the summary:

Since declaring its independence from Somalia in 1991, Somaliland has set up its own government institutions, written its own laws and constitution, and held credible elections. No government in the world has yet recognized Somaliland’s independence and for 18 years the territory has been left in legal limbo—a country that does not exist. During that time Somaliland has gone a long way towards building security and developing democratic institutions of governance. But the government’s failure to hold elections planned for a year ago has laid bare the limitations of that progress and now threatens to reverse it. Somaliland is at a crossroads, and the events of the next few months could well determine whether the territory will build upon its gains or see them begin to unravel.

What Somaliland has accomplished over the years is both improbable and deeply impressive. While much of south/central Somalia remains mired in chaos and bloodshed, Somaliland has built a hard-won peace that it has now maintained for more than a decade. That peace has sheltered Somalilanders from the horrific abuses that have destroyed so many lives across Somalia. At the same time, Somaliland has done much to build the foundations of democratic governance grounded in respect for fundamental human rights. In 2003 and 2005 it held competitive and credible national elections, including parliamentary polls that put the territory’s House of Representatives firmly in the hands of the political opposition. There is a vibrant print media and an active and independent civil society. Somaliland has accomplished these things primarily on its own, in one of the world’s most volatile regions.

All of this stands in marked contrast not just to the chaos in Mogadishu, Somalia’s capital, but also to the records of governments across the Horn of Africa. The brutal, systematic repression that characterizes governance in Ethiopia and Eritrea does not exist in Somaliland. Its elections have not been undermined by the sort of brazen fraud that delegitimized Kenya’s 2007 polls or rendered meaningless by broader patterns of government repression like Ethiopia’s 2008 local government elections. Somaliland’s security forces have not been implicated in the kind of deliberate attacks against civilians that have taken place in Ethiopia, Kenya, and south/central Somalia in recent years.

The problem with all of these comparisons is that —given the dismal human rights situation that prevails across the region— they set the bar extremely low. Viewed objectively, Somaliland’s human rights gains are both limited and fragile. Despite the achievements, human rights violations by government officials occur with impunity.

Government officials have often harassed journalists, opposition figures, and other government critics. Numerous journalists and opposition activists have been briefly detained in retaliation for their activities. Many have also been subjected to attempted bribes by government officials eager to bring them into the fold of the ruling United Democratic Peoples’ Party (UDUB).

While rare, more heavy-handed acts of repression have also occurred. A former driver to Somaliland’s first family who blew the whistle on alleged acts of corruption was imprisoned and released only after a public outcry resulted from photos of him lying ill in a hospital, chained to his bed. Journalists who reported on similar allegations of government corruption have been arrested and sentenced to lengthy prison terms, then released under strong public pressure.

While Somaliland’s civil society and print media are both independent and vibrant, government efforts to curtail the strength of both institutions have had a chilling effect. Months after it attempted to challenge in court the constitutionality of the government’s use of illegal security committees as instruments of detention, Somaliland’s preeminent independent human rights monitoring organization was effectively dismantled after a leadership struggle that was characterized by overt government interference. The government has refused to permit the emergence of any independent radio broadcasters—the one media outlet capable of reaching most of Somaliland’s population.

Arguably the most important caveat to everything Somaliland has achieved —and the one thing that most threatens those gains in the short term— is the presidency’s consistent and brazen refusal to abide by the rule of law. Perhaps the most glaring example of the government’s extralegal practices is its use of Security Committees to usurp the role of the courts across a broad range of criminal justice and other matters. The security committees, made up of government officials and security officers, exist without a sound legal basis. They completely ignore the due process rights guaranteed by Somaliland’s constitution and regularly sentence defendants to prison terms en masse without even allowing the accused an opportunity to speak. During Human Rights Watch’s most recent visit to Somaliland in February-March 2009, over half of the prisoners in Somaliland’s main Mandhera prison, primarily alleged petty criminals and juveniles, had been sentenced by the Security Committees, not the courts. […]

Related links:

15 Xullo 2009 - Posted by | Human Rights, Human Rights Watch, Politics, Somalia, Somaliland

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