Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Part Five: Somalis are desperate for a new life, but refugees face a dangerous road

Along the Djibouti border

Six days ago, Deka Mohamed Idou was in a different world. She had a house, a family. She had somehow survived 20 years of civil war in the capital.
Then, in a blur, her life fell apart. A clash between al-Shabab and the government forces erupted in her neighborhood. In the chaos, she was separated from her husband and three of their children. With their two other kids, she fled Mogadishu.
Along the way, she was robbed. She had to borrow $60, the cost of coming from Galkayo to this forlorn border. Two months pregnant, in a rattletrap minibus on a bumpy road, she constantly worried that she would lose her baby.
Now, on the edge of a foreign land, she worried as much about what she left behind as what lay ahead.
Idou looked down the road, at the Djiboutian border police, at the U.N. refugee workers preparing to register her, at the white gate that would open a new life for her family. Soon, they will be transported to Ali Addeh, a desert camp across the border in Djibouti.
"How will they treat us there?" Idou asked.
Ali Addeh camp, Djibouti

A bazooka shell struck Aisha Mohammed Abdi's house in Mogadishu, killing her uncle. She fled the capital with her husband and five children. Two died of hunger along the way. Days later, they arrived in Djibouti.
"I dreamed of a better life," she recalled.
That was 20 years ago.
She still lives in this camp, hundreds of miles from the capital, on a barren, oatmeal-colored landscape ringed by tan mountains. The Somalis call it "Tora Bora" because the region resembles Afghanistan. This is where Djibouti's government, worried that newcomers would take jobs away from its citizens, sends Somali and Ethiopian refugees The U.N. rations of wheat flour, oil, lentils and sugar are not enough to feed Abdi's family. There is also a shortage of water. Every day, Abdi walks six miles to fetch wood. She sells most of it; the rest is for cooking and heating their tent. There is no electricity.
Rapists are here, too. Two policemen guard the camp of 14,000 refugees. Darkness is the rapists' accomplice.
"Women can't identify their abusers," said Ayan Mohammed, a Djiboutian social worker. "Everyone is afraid."
Abdi once dreamed of being resettled to another country. No longer. Only 64 Somalis left for the United States and other Western countries this year, less than half of 1 percent of the Somali refugees living in Djibouti.
She once dreamed of returning home. No longer.
"It is worse in Mogadishu now than when I left," she said.
Today, she no longer dreams.
"I have been a refugee for 20 years," said Abdi. "Whether I stay longer here or leave for another place, only God knows. But I have lost all hope."


Part Fourth: Somalis are desperate for a new life, but refugees face a dangerous road


This is the capital of the Other Somalia, a place barely touched by war, where gunfire is seldom heard. Known as Somaliland, this region broke away from Somalia in 1991 and today has its own elected, functioning government. The streets are bustling; new construction rises from nearly every corner.
Fatima Ahmed Noor fled here from Mogadishu after al-Shabab tried to recruit two of her nine children, after the war drove her husband insane and he separated from the family.
She has found anything but peace. The clans that rule Somaliland look at her with suspicion and disdain because she is from southern Somalia, where al-Shabab rules. Somaliland considers itself an independent country; the world does not recognize it as such. Authorities treat Somalis like Noor as foreigners. She and her children live in a refugee settlement and have little access to health care, education or jobs. "They say, 'When we get recognition, we will also recognize you. You are displaced from another country, so you have to be treated as a foreigner,' " Noor said. "Everyone from Mogadishu is in the same condition."
She and her children earn $3 a day washing clothes, if they are fortunate.
As she spoke to this reporter, a community leader came over and glared at Noor. "I want to listen to what you are saying," she said harshly. She is among those who hurl verbal insults at Noor and her children. What makes Noor equal to the other women in the settlement is this: "Rape is very common here," Noor said. "There is no discrimination."


Part Three: Somalis are desperate for a new life, but refugees face a dangerous road


They arrive in this coastal town, filled with pirates and smugglers, with dreams of sailing to Yemen.
A few months ago, as the war edged closer to his house, Ali Osman Ado took his pregnant wife and five children out of Mogadishu. A trader, he had saved enough money to move them to Bossaso - $135 from Mogadishu - and to pay smugglers to take him to Yemen, then Saudi Arabia.
"He told me when I get there, I will find a better life. I will come for you and the children," recalled Hassina Abubaker, 30, two months pregnant at the time.
He didn't know that Yemeni authorities, fearing that al-Shabab militants could infiltrate and join al-Qaeda's Yemen branch, were cracking down on Somali refugees, his wife said. He didn't know that Saudi Arabia had sent more than 9,000 Somalis back to Mogadishu. He didn't know the smugglers would be ruthless.
Three days after he left, his friends called her from Yemen.
"The ship was overcrowded. The crew started to throw people off the boat to make it more stable," said Abubaker, staring listlessly at the dirt floor of her tent. "My husband was one of them." Over the past three years, 1,066 migrants died or went missing - they were in boats that capsized or they were killed by smugglers, according to U.N. officials.
In another tent, Fatima Ali Omar held her baby. When he turns 1, she plans to go to Yemen because she heard they "treat refugees well." Eventually, she wants to be smuggled into Saudi Arabia to work as a maid. She knows that women have been raped along the way. She knows that many are forced into prostitution. She knows that if she complains, she will be deported.
"Nothing matters as long as I find a good life at the end of the journey," Omar said. "I will forget I was raped."


Part two: Somalis are desperate for a new life, but refugees face a dangerous road


Six miles north of Galkayo, in a place called Halabokhad, 473 families are stuck in a makeshift settlement. The landscape is hot, dusty, bleak as their lives. They live in round, cramped tents made from clothing and straw. They become isolated, unable to afford transportation to town.
Local officials are in charge of the settlement, which is supported by the United Nations. But there is only one borehole for water. Food and medical care are also scarce. Bone-thin children have yellowish skin, a sign of malnutrition in a country where one of every seven children dies before age 5. Women deliver babies inside their tents, sometimes without help.
This is where Amina Aden arrived three months ago with her exhausted children and nothing else. Her neighborhood was engulfed by war. Her husband was killed in crossfire a day before they fled their home carrying only what they could. A few miles outside Mogadishu, masked men stopped their minibus filled with refugees. The youngest women were ordered out. Aden heard them scream while they were gang-raped. The men returned, and Aden braced herself. Her eight children surrounded her, crying, tugging at her clothes. The men looked at them, then grabbed another woman. "My children saved me," Aden, 35, recalled with a feeble smile.
After the rapes, the men delivered one final blow: They robbed all the passengers of their meager possessions. "They even took our sandals," Aden said.
Her children, ages 3 to 15, do not attend school. For breakfast, they drink tea. For lunch, they eat a bland porridge. There is never any dinner. "I cannot even buy milk powder for my baby," said her neighbor, Kaltoom Abdi Ali, 37. She, too, fled Mogadishu with her seven children after mortar shells crashed into her house two months ago. In the mayhem, she was separated from her husband. "I don't know where he is," Ali said.
Her 14-year-old and 16-year-old sons work 14 hours a day, washing cars, cleaning houses or collecting garbage for local residents. On most days, they earn $1. "I want my children to have an education, but if we leave here, life could be worse," Ali said. "No one cares about us."

For the most part, help is limited. After two decades of conflict, famine and drought, the United Nations has had difficulty raising funds to assist Somalis, U.N. refugee officials say. There's donor fatigue and, in a post-9/11 world, nations are preoccupied with terrorism, security and other global crises. The United States, Somalia's main donor, has provided more than $185 million to Somalia's government and an African Union peacekeeping force, but withheld humanitarian funding this year, fearing that al-Shabab was siphoning off foreign aid.
More than 2 million Somalis have sought haven in U.N.-supported refugee camps in neighboring countries and in settlements in nearly every region of Somalia. The conflict has significantly blocked the ability of U.N. and humanitarian agencies to deliver aid to south and central Somalia, which are under al-Shabab's control.
Here, and in other settlements around Galkayo, women fear the night.
Two weeks ago, three masked gunmen entered Asha Muse's tent. In front of her four children, they beat her and her niece, Muna. The men tore the women's clothes off and took turns raping them for two hours. One attacker stabbed Muna in the thigh with a knife.
Another turned to Ali's son. "If you make a sound, we will kill you," Muse recalled him saying. Before they left, the men stole $85 and some clothes. "Everybody rapes women. The soldiers, the militias, everybody," said Hawa Aden Mohammed, an activist who runs a women's shelter in Galkayo where victims of rape and other gender-based violence seek shelter. Muse and her niece did not inform the police or aid workers. Muse has stopped collecting garbage, fearing her attackers will spot her. Her neighbors, who helplessly listened to their screams, look at her sympathetically. "We can't go back to Mogadishu. We can't afford to leave here. We know we will get raped again," said Muse, her tears filling her eyes. "But there's nothing we can do."


Part One: Somalis are desperate for a new life, but refugees face a dangerous road

GALKAYO, SOMALIA Deka Mohamed Idou sat under a tree, exhausted after a grueling six-day journey. She touched her belly, yearning for her unborn child to kick.
This is why she took the long, bumpy road out of Mogadishu: War. A missing husband and three missing children. A shattered house. This is why she's here in this wind-swept no man's land between Somalia and Djibouti: Peace. Work. An education for her two other children. She can't see what awaits them. Perhaps sanctuary. Perhaps more suffering. But she's certain of one thing.
"I will deliver my baby in a place without gunfire," she said.
For Somalis, the road out of Mogadishu is a last resort. Those traveling on it have fled homes abruptly with terrified children, and crossed a wilderness of thieves, armed Islamists and marauding tribesmen. Many have been robbed, beaten, raped, even killed.
The situation in Mogadishu has become so bad that nearly 300,000 Somalis have made their way out this year, swelling the ranks of what is, after Iraq and Afghanistan, the third-largest refugee population from any country in the world. Most are women and children. The men who have survived have stayed behind to protect their homes, or they went ahead. Some have vanished in the chaos. Others are fighting.
The road, and the places along it, is the most visible evidence of a population still disintegrating, amid hopelessness and death, two decades after the collapse of Siad Barre's government plunged Somalia into an endless civil war.
Today, al-Shabab, a militia linked to al-Qaeda, controls large chunks of the Muslim country and seeks to overthrow the fragile U.S.-backed government. The militia's Taliban-like decrees and recruitment of children provide more reasons for Somalis to flee.
They travel north, often to places they have only imagined, arriving hungry and desperate. They join the hundreds of thousands who have fled since 1991, leaving behind a city that once had 2.5 million people.
Many remain too poor to flee. The ones with some means head for camps in Somali towns like Galkayo, Bossaso and Hargeisa, searching for peace and support. The ones with a few dollars more head for foreign lands - Djibouti, Yemen, Saudi Arabia - searching for a new life.
Those who succeed enter a world where they can be deported at any moment, where they are increasingly viewed as a security threat. Those who fail, and most do, are trapped in a humanitarian limbo, resigned to hardship, dependency and a broken life or they die.
They travel from one hell to another hell," said Ahmed Abdullahi, a U.N. refugee protection officer in Galkayo, 470 miles northwest of Mogadishu and often the first stop on the journey toward Djibouti and Yemen. These are the stories of women who have taken this road, from the places they end up.

The Washingtonpost.com

Friday, 24 December 2010

Kenya endangering lives of Somali refugees, says rights group


Human rights watchdog Amnesty International on Wednesday accused Kenya of endangering the lives of thousands of Somali refugees who are being deported back to their war-torn country in violation of international law.
Kenya hosts almost 300 000 Somalis in its Dadaab refugee complex, near the Kenya-Somalia border, which is at bursting point as thousands continue to flee a bloody Islamist insurgency.However, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said many thousands of those who make into Kenya are being returned to South and Central Somalia."Continued fighting and horrendous abuses in Somalia pose a very real threat to the lives of tens of thousands of children, women and men," said Michelle Kagari, Africa programme deputy director at Amnesty International. "No Somali should be forcibly returned to southern and central Somalia."Amnesty International said Kenyan authorities forcibly returned 8 000 refugees last month, who had fled fighting, while HRW cited cases of hundreds of Somalis being driven back to the border in pick-up trucks."Kenyan officials are flagrantly violating Somalis' right not to be returned to a place where their lives are at grave risk," said Gerry Simpson, senior refugee researcher for HRW. "The Kenyan government needs to send a clear message to provincial and local authorities that Somalis must not be deported to their war-torn country."Discussions have been ongoing between Kenya and the United Nations refugee agency UNCHR for years over the allocation of more land at the Dadaab complex, but no deal has been struck.
Bearing the brunt
Kenya feels it is bearing the brunt of the exodus from its neighbour, a point acknowledged by Amnesty International."Kenya disproportionately shoulders the responsibility for massive refugee flows from Somalia and needs more support from the international community, including European Union countries to provide durable solutions for these people," said Kagaria.
Somalia has been embroiled in chaos since the 1991 ouster of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre.The latest insurgency, which pits al-Qaeda-linked group al-Shabaab against the weak Western-backed government, kicked off in early 2007. Tens of thousands have been killed in fighting, while over a million people have fled their homes.
Source: Sapa -dpa
Copyright © 2010 WardheerNews.com

Amnesty International - Somali refugees in Kenya need protection not abuse

Kenya’s violations of the human rights of Somali refugees and asylum-seekers are putting thousands of lives at risk, Amnesty International said in a report released today.From life without peace to peace without life describes how thousands fleeing violence in Somalia are unable to find refuge, protection and lasting solutions in Kenya, due to the closure of the border between the two countries almost four years ago amid security concerns. “Continued fighting and horrendous abuses in Somalia pose a very real threat to the lives of tens of thousands of children, women and men. No Somali should be forcibly returned to southern and central Somalia,” said Michelle Kagari, Africa Programme Deputy Director at Amnesty International. According to media reports as yet unverified by Amnesty International, hundreds of Somalis were recently detained in a mass police operation targeting foreigners across Nairobi.Last month around 8000 Somali refugees who had fled across the border into Kenya from the Somali town of Belet Hawo following intense fighting there, were ordered to return to Somalia by the Kenyan authorities. Moreover, Kenyan police then forced about 3,000 of them further into Somalia, where they continue to be at risk of grave human rights abuses.
Read the complete story at Amnesty International

Monday, 8 November 2010

Women of the Year 2010: Dr. Hawa Abdi & Her Daughters

A Family Affair: From left: Dr. Amina Mohamed, Dr. Hawa Abdi and Dr. Deqo Mohamed, photographed during a business trip to Geneva, Switzerland, on September 18, 2010.

They are Women of the Year because: “They are fearless. Their life’s purpose is to be of service to Somali refugees, and their unwavering fortitude in the face of insurmountable obstacles is a testament to the warrior spirit of women.”
On a still, hot morning last May, hundreds of Islamist militants invaded the massive displaced-persons camp that Dr. Hawa Abdi runs near Mogadishu, Somalia. They surrounded the 63-year-old ob-gyn’s office, holding her hostage and taking control of the camp. “Women can’t do things like this,” they threatened.
Dr. Abdi, who is equal parts Mother Teresa and Rambo, was unfazed. Every day in Somalia brings new violence as bands of rebels rove ungoverned. Today Somalia remains what the U.N. calls one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world. On that morning in May, Dr. Abdi challenged her captors: “What have you done for society?” The thugs stayed a week, leaving only after the U.N. and others advocated on her behalf. Dr. Abdi then, of course, got back to work.
Her lifesaving efforts started in 1983, when she opened a one-room clinic on her family farm. As the government collapsed, refugees flocked to her, seeking food and care. Today she runs a camp housing approximately 90,000 people, mostly women and children because, as she says, “the men are dead, fighting, or have left Somalia to find work.” While Dr. Abdi has gotten some help, many charities refuse to enter Somalia. “It’s the most dangerous country,” says Kati Marton, a board member of Human Rights Watch. “Dr. Abdi is just about the only one doing anything.” Her greatest support: two of her daughters, Deqo, 35, and Amina, 30, also doctors, who often work with her. Despite the bleak conditions, Dr. Abdi sees a glimmer of hope. “Women can build stability,” she says. “We can make peace.”
Source: Glamour

SOMALIA: Children facing the worst, says UN

Armed groups in Somalia have continued recruiting children to fight and engage in piracy, and girls have found themselves facing increasing risk of sexual violence, a senior UN official says.
“In some areas, Al-Shabab leaders are asking parents to give [them] a child. I heard of people hiding their children to escape recruitment,” Radhika Coomaraswamy, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General (SRSG) for Children and Armed Conflict, told a news conference on 3 November following a mission to Somalia and the semi-autonomous regions of Puntland and Somaliland.
“Children are expressing the difficulty of living in Mogadishu,” she added. “As they walk past checkpoints they are told your ankles are showing, wear something long. Then later they cross the TFG [Transitional Federal Government] checkpoints and are told they are Al-Shabab due to their [clothing]. It is the reason they are going to Puntland.”

Sexual- and gender-based violence, Coomaraswamy said, was on the increase, according to child protection partners, with fast, quick marriages, killing and maiming of concern. “These young boys [fighters] are marrying young girls, and then moving on to others – forced marriages are making a comeback,” she said.
A nine-year-old girl told Coomaraswamy: "My greatest fear, besides thieves, is that men will come and do violence to women and girls in the night."
Coomaraswamy said she had not had access to the Al-Shabab and Hisbul Islam militia, but urged states with an influence on the parties to call for the release of children in their ranks. She expressed concern over the use of radio and schools to recruit children in militia-controlled regions.
The Special Representative also said children were held alongside adults as pirates in Bosasso Central Prison. "The adults are not separated from the children and there are complaints of abuse," she said. "The frontline [pirate] troops now are increasingly children and youth. The big pirates do not go out, they have become businessmen; it is the young children [15-17-year-olds] who are sent out."
Armed groups, she added, were "exploiting [the fact] that children have a less developed concept of death and tend to be fearless fighters. Children are susceptible due to notions of romantic death.”
She said the new Somali Prime Minister, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, had pledged to stop the recruitment of child soldiers.
"The government will work with the TFG and allies towards a UN action plan for the release and verification of the release of child soldiers," Coomaraswamy said, adding that some released children were already in the African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM) camp in Mogadishu.
She said there were two schools of thought regarding TFG recruitment of child solders - one that the TFG-proper was not doing the recruiting but its allies were, while "others say that even the checkpoints are run by the TFG itself.
“In 2008, I said the African child suffers the most but I think the Somali child suffers even more,” she said.
Source: IRIN

Sunday, 29 August 2010

Life and death on the streets of Somalia -

Saturday, August 28, 2010

In a city where so much time and energy is spent on killing, few people have saved more lives this year than Hassan Mohamoud Mohamed, a driver who traded his taxi for an ambulance in war-torn Mogadishu. When the muffled blast of a mortar round echoes in the distance or the thunder of artillery fire erupts, Hassan gulps his cup of tea and stares at his mobile phone. He knows a call is minutes away. "The days I would wait for western tourists at Mogadishu airport are long gone," said the 51-year-old, propped against his beat-up Toyota minivan. Three years of fighting between Islamist insurgents and pro-government forces have turned central Mogadishu into a death trap where civilians are wounded or killed almost daily. "Now I pick up my clients from pools of blood in shattered homes," he said. "Needless to say, they don't pay the fare." His pay is three dollars a day, barely enough to feed him and his family.
"It's not an ordinary job but I'm like everyone else in this city when I fear for my life every day," he said. "But there is nothing else to take in Mogadishu, so I figured this place needs people who help just for the sake of helping." Typical was one recent morning in the Hamarweyn district. Hassan's phone rang; he quickly answered. "Oh, my God! Where and how many victims?" He flapped his hand at the loud crowd in the nearby tea shop as he struggled to make out the crackly directions given by the caller. Within seconds, Hassan and his yellow-and-white-striped ambulance hurtled through Mogadishu's ruined streets, siren blaring. "Most of the time, I have a really tough time getting to the scene of the incident without getting killed myself," he said, tugging the wheel to steer the speeding van past a rut. He's only half joking. The two previous drivers of his ambulance were killed doing their job.
Militia manning rogue checkpoints, artillery fire, trenches and cement boulders are just some of the obstacles he has to contend with. "The roads are rough, sometimes they're blocked, so you need to know all the shortcuts. You have to keep in mind that you are not driving healthy passengers. Their survival depends on how clever you are," he said. For Hassan, who has no medical training, the hard part begins when he reaches the wounded and has to identify who has a chance of surviving and needs his services the most.
"This is voluntary ambulance service," he said. "Can you imagine driving this vehicle and having to choose the most urgent cases without any medical assistance? "Sometimes people die in my van on the way to hospital and nobody will know the reason. They get their first treatment only when I reach the hospital." After Mogadishu sank into chaos following the 1991 ouster of president Mohamed Siad Barre, pushcarts and wheelbarrows became the main medical emergency transport.
In 2008, volunteers set up the ambulance service with the help of Mogadishu-based telecommunications company Nation Link.
There are six other drivers like Hassan in Mogadishu, ready to bring the wounded to the city's three hospitals.
Ali Muse Sheikh Mohamoud, the head of Mogadishu ambulance services, said his drivers brought more than 700 wounded to Medina Hospital in July alone and appealed for more help.

"We want to have medical staff on board the ambulances in order to give more attention to the victims before they reach hospital," he said.
"But all this is done on a voluntary basis, there is not much more we can do. Yet fighting has become the norm, there are clashes every day." There are no reliable casualty figures for the fighting in Mogadishu but thousands die each year, caught in the crossfire of the never-ending battle for control of the capital.
Hassan moved his wife and eight children out of their home as the fighting got more intense in northern Mogadishu a few months ago; the last thing he wants is to be called to rush a relative to hospital. Dealing with strangers is tough enough.
"For months now, this ambulance has been my home," he said. "Waiting for bad news is my life."

Source: AFP

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Peaceful region of Somaliland votes for president

HARGEISA, Somalia; Voters in Somaliland queued for hours and thronged polling stations Saturday for the second presidential election held in the self-declared republic, in a peaceful exercise in governance not seen for decades in the country's anarchic south.
Voters and candidates said they hope this vote will award Somaliland the international recognition it seeks. The three men vying to become president of the region have all promised to seek international recognition for the autonomous region.
"The election is very crucial for the future of Somaliland," said President Dahir Riyale Kahin as he voted Saturday morning. "It a bridge to a long-awaited international recognition."
Saturday's election also coincides with the 50-year anniversary of independence for Somaliland, a former British protectorate. The province was only independent for five days before joining Somalia on July 1, 1960.
Somaliland declared its independence from Somalia in 1991 and has been a haven of relative peace in northwest Somalia as southern Somalia has degenerated into chaos and anarchy. The region has its own security and police forces, justice system and currency, but is not recognized by any other state.
All three candidates, who include Kahin, Ahmed Mohamud Silanyo and Feysal Ali Warabe, have also promised to maintain the region's security and economic development.
Warabe said that while he believes his party deserves to win, he will accept the results given by the national election board.
"I am now ready endorse if any one of us wins by one vote," he said.
Residents also said they hope the vote will win more respect for the region and maintain the peace that has eluded southern Somalia since the 1991 ouster of longtime dictator Mohamed Siad Barre by warlords.
Business student Sarah Jama said she was concerned about unemployment levels, but that she based her vote on a desire for peace.
"Inasmuch as we need change, we must maintain the peace we enjoy," she said. "We are very scared of what has happened in countries around us, like southern Somalia."
Omar Ali, 32, an electrician and father of seven, traveled from Libya to vote for the first time.
"I think the election is very beautiful and I support the Somaliland elections so that they can be peaceful and fair," he said.
He added, "I believe at the rate things are going in Somaliland, the future will be bright for my children, where they will be more interested in their country and not go abroad."
Officials said polls were orderly on Saturday, but that the masses of voters kept polls open a few minutes after closing time. Results are expected in a week.
"The process has ended peacefully, and the polling stations were supposed to close at 7 p.m. (1600GMT), but they extended for fifteen more minutes because people were in queues and we had serve them," said Issa Ahmed Hamari, chairman of the National Electoral Commission of Somaliland.
The vote was closely watched by dozens of international observers.
One observer, Steve Kibble of the British organization Progressio, said the campaign "has generally been peaceful and good-natured."
The candidates agreed to hold campaign rallies on different days in order to avoid bouts of violence between supporters. More than 1.6 million people have registered to vote at more than 1,000 polling sites.
Kahin, leader of the Democratic United National party, or Udub, was elected president in 2003 with 42.08 percent of ballots cast in an election won by 80 votes.
Somaliland's second presidential election has been frequently delayed. It was first scheduled for 2008, and then for 2009.
Associated Press Writer Samson Haileyesus contributed to this report.

Monday, 14 June 2010

Children Carry Guns for a U.S. Ally, Somalia

MOGADISHU, Somalia — Awil Salah Osman prowls the streets of this shattered city, looking like so many other boys, with ripped-up clothes, thin limbs and eyes eager for attention and affection. But Awil is different in two notable ways: he is shouldering a fully automatic, fully loaded Kalashnikov assault rifle; and he is working for a military that is substantially armed and financed by the United States “You!” he shouts at a driver trying to sneak past his checkpoint, his cherubic face turning violently angry.
“You know what I’m doing here!” He shakes his gun menacingly. “Stop your car!”
The driver halts immediately. In Somalia, lives are lost quickly, and few want to take their chances with a moody 12-year-old. It is well known that Somalia’s radical Islamist insurgents are plucking children off soccer fields and turning them into fighters. But Awil is not a rebel. He is working for Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government, a critical piece of the American counterterrorism strategy in the Horn of Africa. According to Somali human rights groups and United Nations officials, the Somali government, which relies on assistance from the West to survive, is fielding hundreds of children or more on the front lines, some as young as 9. Child soldiers are deployed across the globe, but according to the United Nations, the Somali government is among the “most persistent violators” of sending children into war, finding itself on a list with notorious rebel groups like the Lord’s Resistance Army. Somali government officials concede that they have not done the proper vetting. Officials also revealed that the United States government was helping pay their soldiers, an arrangement American officials confirmed, raising the possibility that the wages for some of these child combatants may have come from American taxpayers.
United Nations officials say they have offered the Somali government specific plans to demobilize the children. But Somalia’s leaders, struggling for years to withstand the insurgents’ advances, have been paralyzed by bitter infighting and are so far unresponsive.
Several American officials also said that they were concerned about the use of child soldiers and that they were pushing their Somali counterparts to be more careful. But when asked how the American government could guarantee that American money was not being used to arm children, one of the officials said, “I don’t have a good answer for that.”
According to Unicef, only two countries have not ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which prohibits the use of soldiers younger than 15: the United States and Somalia.
Many human rights groups find this unacceptable, and President Obama himself, when this issue was raised during his campaign, did not disagree. “It is embarrassing to find ourselves in the company of Somalia, a lawless land,” he said. All across this lawless land, smooth, hairless faces peek out from behind enormous guns. In blown-out buildings, children chamber bullets twice the size of their fingers. In neighborhoods by the sea, they run checkpoints and face down four-by-four trucks, though they can barely see over the hood.
Somali government officials admit that in the rush to build a standing army, they did not discriminate. “I’ll be honest,” said a Somali government official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of the subject, “we were trying to find anyone who could carry a gun.” Awil struggles to carry his. It weighs about 10 pounds. The strap digs into his bony shoulders, and he is constantly shifting it from one side to the other with a grimace. Sometimes he gets a helping hand from his comrade Ahmed Hassan, who is 15. Ahmed said he was sent to Uganda more than two years ago for army training, when he was 12, though his claim could not be independently verified. American military advisers have been helping oversee the training of Somali government soldiers in Uganda.
“One of the things I learned,” Ahmed explained eagerly, “is how to kill with a knife.”
Children do not have many options in Somalia. After the government collapsed in 1991, an entire generation was let loose on the streets. Most children have never sat in a classroom or played in a park. Their bones have been stunted by conflict-induced famines, their psyches damaged by all the killings they have witnessed.
“What do I enjoy?” Awil asked. “I enjoy the gun.” go full story into this link: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/14/world/africa/14somalia.html?pagewanted=2

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

UN agency urges bolstered protection for Somali refugees

The United Nations refugee agency issued new guidelines today, calling on governments to enhance their protection of people escaping the “unfolding international tragedy” in Somalia.
The guidelines seek to ensure that the protection needs of Somalis are dealt with consistently. They also encourage nations to assess applications for refugee status for people from the war-torn country in the broadest way and to extend other forms of international protection when refugee status is not granted.

Melissa Fleming, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said that that the agency believes that asylum-seekers from central and southern Somalia are in need of international protection.

Those who do not meet the criteria to be granted refugee status under the 1951 Refugee Convention or the 1969 Refugee Convention of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), she said, should still be protected, as applicable in situations of generalized violence or armed conflict.
The Horn of Africa nation continues to be plagued by fighting between Government forces and its supporters and Islamist rebels. It remains the scene of one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world, with 1.4 million internally displaced persons (IDPs), some 575,000 refugees and nearly 3 million people dependent on aid, out of a total population of nearly 8 million.
“In view of the nature of the conflict and the dramatic humanitarian situation, UNHCR does not believe that Somalia refugees can find an internal relocation alternative in central of southern Somalia,” Ms. Fleming stressed.
Further, she said, there is no possibility for Somalis not originally from the self-declared autonomous regions of Somaliland and Puntland to take shelter there.
Although most countries look into refugee claims on an individual basis, UNHCR is calling on countries facing large numbers of arrivals to grant protection to people from Somalia on a group basis.
“It is our view that involuntary returns to central and southern Somalia under today’s circumstances would place individuals at risk,” the agency’s spokesperson said.
Last week, Deputy High Commissioner Alexander Aleinikoff said that thousands of Somalis fleeing the violence in their homeland are expected to cross into neighbouring countries this year, adding to already overcrowded and under-resourced conditions in camps.
“The burden for these countries is enormous,” he said after a two-week visit to camps in Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia for refugees and IDPs.
“If there was one resounding call from the refugees we met with it was this: please find me a new home,” Mr. Aleinikoff added.

Some of the camps have housed Somalis since the Somali Government collapsed in 1991, casting the country into chaos between political factions, armed groups and clans.

Recently the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), strengthened by the African Union (AU) and with logistical support mandated by the Security Council, has fought Islamic militant rebel groups in the political arena, and on Somali streets.

Monday, 10 May 2010

Half of Somali women, children suffer from anaemia: study

NAIROBI, May 7 (Xinhua) -- A national study has shown that Somali women and children are suffering from shocking levels of anaemia and Vitamin A deficiencies.

According to the study published on Friday by the Food Security and Nutrition Analysis of Somalia (FSNAU), about 50 percent of all women, 30 percent of all school aged children and 60 percent of children fewer than five were classified as anaemic. "Anaemia in Somalia is caused by a range of factors including frequent exposure to diseases which are often untreated, and the consumption of predominantly cereal based diets, which are missing key vitamins and minerals," Grainne Moloney, interim Chief Technical Adviser of the FSNAU.
The results also show that one third of all children and half of adult women have Vitamin A deficiency.
Although children may seem healthy as they are not very thin, these underlying deficiencies mean these children are still malnourished.
The required nutrient rich foods, such as meat, eggs, fish, vegetables and fruits foods are often too expensive for poor households to buy and the problem is further exacerbated by inadequate health care and sanitation, disease and a lack of appropriate infant and young child feeding," Moloney said, adding that the levels of anaemia in Somalia are amongst the highest in Africa."
In conflict situations such as Somalia, the report says, the collapse of the health system and frequent displacement also contributes to micronutrient deficiencies. "Anaemia in children can delay both physical and intellectual growth; lead to increased risk of infectious diseases and an increased risk of death," it says. "In women, anaemia can lead to poor foetal development and birth complications during pregnancy, as well as an increased risk of infectious diseases and death."
Anaemia can be easily treated with a combined package of good nutrition and good health including: early treatment of childhood illness, consumption of foods high in iron such as red meat, iron supplementation, de-worming, food fortification and reducing intake of foods such as tea, which can inhibit absorption of iron.
Vitamin A deficiency is well known to cause night blindness, but more importantly, can increase the risk of mortality from childhood diseases such as measles.
However research has shown that where a population is at risk of Vitamin A deficiency, such as Somalia, supplementation reduces mortality in children 6 month to 5 years of age by up to 23 percent.
Unexpectedly, the report also shows that levels of iodine deficiency were not of concern, in fact high levels were reported across both school aged and adult women populations.
The study was conducted in Somalia between March and August 2009 led by the FSNAU and Food and Agriculture Organization.

Source: Xinhua

Sunday, 4 April 2010

SOMALILAND: Human trafficking on the increase

HARGEISA, 2 April 2010 (IRIN) – Officials in Somaliland are concerned over a rise in human trafficking in the region. Children are mainly trafficked from south-central Somalia, because of the lack of government there, says a senior government official.
“Human trafficking is increasing in Somaliland. Before, no one believed that human/child trafficking existed in Somaliland but such kinds of crimes occur here…” Fadumo Sudi, the Minister for Family and Social Affairs, said during a recent ceremony to reunite a girl with her family. She had been trafficked to Hargeisa in February from Qardho, in the autonomous northeast region of Puntland.
“One day, my sister went to school as usual, but she disappeared. We searched for her everywhere but we didn’t find her. Finally, we heard from the media that she had been trafficked to Somaliland and by Allah’s mercy she was saved. We are happy to have her back,” Najib Jama Abdi, the girl’s brother, said.
In January, the Somaliland immigration office in the area of Loyada, along the border with Djibouti, sent home more than 60 minors in the company of about 200 illegal immigrants who were hoping to proceed on to Europe via Eritrea, Sudan and Libya.
Ethiopian Oromian children also travel to Somaliland without their parents in search of work; most end up in petty trade or as street children. Older people, claiming to be the children’s parents, use them to beg.
“The children are used in different ways … and are exploited for child labour in Somaliland,” Lul Hassan Matan, the director of child protection in Somaliland’s National Human Rights Commission, told IRIN. “Whenever you see a child in the street crying and ask him or her why, they respond they are not with their parents, but have been brought in to work.” (Since speaking to IRIN, Matan has left this position).
Raising awareness
According to Khadar Qorane Yusuf, the victim referral mechanism lead person in the Ministry of Family and Social Affairs, the children are initially enticed with false promises and told not to share the information with anyone, only to be later violated.
“With the collaboration of the International Office for Migration (IOM), we are raising awareness by holding forums to discuss the issue of trafficking, as well as debates and seminars,” added Qorane. Information posters have been strategically placed along the borders and airports.
IOM defines trafficking in persons as the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation.
Exploitation includes the exploitation or the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labour or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs.
Forced into sex work
According to Mayumi Ueno, the counter-trafficking project manager at IOM’s Somalia Support Office, the scale of human trafficking in Somalia is not known. “But [a] rapid assessment conducted by IOM indicated [the] existence of international trafficking of Somali women to Djibouti, Kenya, and the Gulf States, mainly the United Arab Emirates, for sexual and labour exploitation. Moreover, further investigations confirmed the widespread practice of domestic human trafficking of Somali women and children [who are] lured into forced prostitution in some areas of Somalia [Somaliland and Puntland],” Ueno told IRIN.
In 2009, IOM launched a Counter Trafficking Project for Somalia, in Somaliland and Puntland, whose activities include awareness-raising campaigns targeting the local population to inform them of the dangers and risks of being trafficked. It has also supported Somaliland and Puntland in setting up National Counter Trafficking Taskforces.
Challenges remain, however, with the public and authorities not familiar with the concept of human trafficking and the best ways to respond, Mayumi said. “Furthermore, the general lack of social services and issues of culture and social stigma make victims’ reintegration extremely difficult.”
Theme(s): (IRIN) Children, (IRIN) Human Rights

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Thousands flee Somalia fighting, says UN refugee agency

"Many people recognize that Somalia is moving from being a failed state in conflict to a fragile state with major development and Insurgents already control much of Mogadishu and southern Somalia Thousands of people have fled Somalia's capital, Mogadishu, since Wednesday, the UN refugee agency has said."Since the beginning of February, over 8,000 people have left the city to escape the fighting.

" spokeswoman Melissa Fleming said. "We are stepping up our preparedness to intervene and deliver emergency relief to the affected population as soon as the security situation permits." For months now, fighting has been an almost daily occurrence in Mogadishu. Some 24 people have been killed and another 40 injured since Wednesday, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Ms Fleming warned of the difficulties posed by working in a war zone: "As with other humanitarian actors, our own access is affected by conflict." 'Fragile state'Despite reports of violent clashes between government troops and the Islamist group al-Shabab, the UN Special Representative for Somalia congratulated the transitional government on its work over the past 12 months and urged it to continue its efforts to restore peace and stability to the country. "Unfortunately, they have had to spend time and resources trying to stop the violent attacks by extremists who oppose all their attempts to bring normality back to the country," said Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah. "Many people recognize that Somalia is moving from being a failed state in conflict to a fragile state with major development and reconstruction needs," he added.


Monday, 8 February 2010

Appeal For Urgent Humanitarian Assistance and Livelihood Support For Humanitarian Crises Prevention in Somaliland

Hargeisa, 6 February 2010 (Somalilandpress) – Predictions were made that food security and nutrition situation may worsen in most parts of Somaliland by Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit (FSNAU) of FAO in its early warning briefs .Some of the reasons cited included:
i. Poor “deyr” rains that preceded by dry “Hagaa” season which negatively affected pastural livelihoods.
ii. Very critical nutrition situation reported in agro-pastoral population, based on a data for rapid assessment.
iii. High numbers of children, identified as acutely malnourished, that require rehabilitation. For Togdheer pastoral population, the situation was classified as serious.
iv. Insufficient water and pasture for livestock herds through the “jilaal” dry season (January to March 2010), which will cause early water trucking in Sool, Haud and Haud of Hargeisa.
v. Very low Livestock production and re-production due to poor conception rate during the post “jilaal” and “Gu 2009” as well as livestock diseases during, “Hagaa 09”, that resulted in death and abortion of camels and goats. In Awdal region, cattle and sheep had weak body conditions.
Recent assessment carried out by National Environment Risk and Disaster (NERAD) also confirmed the gravity of the drought faced by the people.
The facts are:
 The ”Gu” rains were below normal
 The “Karan” rains were below normal
 The “ Deyr” was also below normal
 The “Heis “rains in Guban areas didn’t also rain normally
 In certain areas in Sool, Sanag and Togdheer, there were no rains

As a result of above facts, poor pasture, scarcity of water, food and weakend human and animal health has been experienced. Recent Reports received from all regions confirmed (Viz: Togdheer, Sool, Sanag, Awdal,Maroodijeex,and Selel) that both pastoralists and agro- pastoralists are facing serious, but devastating drought. The affected population is estimated to be 40% of the total population of Somaliland of 3.5 million which equals to 1.4 million people.
A serious humanitarian catastrophe seems to be imminent, which is beyond the capacity of national authority, that requires to be prevented.
The government of Somaliland, therefore, appeals to international community (i.e. Governments, UN Agencies and other humanitarian organizations as well as the business communities and other benevolent institutions for urgent humanitarian assistance and livelihood support to avert worsening of the humanitarian crises.
In addition, assistance and support to urgent water trucking, construction and rehabilitation of boreholes as well as rehabilitation and desilting of “Berkads” and ‘Dams’ and the supplies of necessary medications for affected human and livestock populations will be needed to avert break-out of epidemics. Nutritional support to the weak and sick will also be necessary.
The situation is critical and may continue to worsen in the coming months. It requires rapid and fast responses from the international community, the business community, humanitarian and benevolent institutions to deliver needed humanitarian assistance and livelihood support.

Hon. Ali Ibrahim Mohamed
Minister of National planning, coordination and Relations with International Organizations

On behalf of Chairperson of the National Disaster Management Committee and Vice President of the Republic of Somaliland


Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Up to 240,000 Somali under fives malnourished - report

NAIROBI, 2 February 2010 (IRIN) - Somalia has one of the highest levels of malnutrition in the world, with up to 240,000 children under five affected, according to an early warning report published on 1 February by the Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit for Somalia (FAO/FSNAU) and FEWSNET. The report comes as Mogadishu residents say the humanitarian situation has deteriorated. "I honestly cannot remember when things have been so bad; it is as if all the negative things are coming together at one time," civil society activist Asha Sha'ur said. "If the situation - both security and humanitarian - does not improve soon, we will be looking at a far worse situation than Somalia has ever faced." Ali Sheikh Yassin, deputy chairman of the Mogadishu-based Elman Human Rights Organization (EHRO), said many business people had fled the city due to increasing insecurity. "These were the people who used to create jobs," he said. "It was not much but it allowed many displaced poor people to supplement what little aid they got. Now that is not possible." More than two-thirds of malnourished children were in south-central Somalia, the report said. "Although we are seeing some positive indicators in terms of the lifting of the livestock export ban and improved crop and livestock production in southern parts... the food security and nutrition situation in central regions remains in crisis, where 70 percent of the population require assistance," said Grainne Moloney, FSNAU's interim chief technical adviser for Somalia.

Severely malnourished One in six children was acutely malnourished and in need of specialist care. "One in 22 is severely malnourished and at a nine times increased risk of death compared to well nourished children," the report said. In south-central Somalia, which has seen significant clashes between Islamist insurgents and government forces, one in five children were acutely malnourished, it said. Civil society activist Sha'ur told IRIN that high food prices, lack of employment opportunities and reduced humanitarian aid had contributed to the crisis. A 50kg bag of maize which was selling for the equivalent of US$12 two months ago was now going for $30, she said. EHRO’s Yassin said the situation in the city had deteriorated in the last two weeks. "We had a few weeks when some people actually returned to their homes from the camps, but that has now been reversed by fighting in the past week." Up to 45 people had been killed and at least 152 injured in fighting between government forces and insurgents in the last week, he said. ah/cb

Theme(s): (IRIN) Children, (IRIN) Food Security, (IRIN) Health & Nutrition

Somalia violence claims 258 lives, displaces 80,000: UNHCR

NAIROBI, Feb. 2 (Xinhua) -- At least 258 people have been killed and 80,000 others displaced this year by violence in Somalia which sharply escalated in January resulting widespread destruction, a UN refugee agency said on Tuesday.
The UNHCR said in a statement issued here that some 29,000 people have been uprooted by heavy fighting in Dhusamareebb in Galgaduud region, over 25,000 have fled their homes to escape renewed clashes in Beledweyne in Hiraan region, while another 18, 000 are known to have been displaced in the on-going conflict in the capital, Mogadishu.
"According to local sources, intense clashes between government forces and militia groups fighting for control of the conflict- torn central regions have left at least 258 civilians dead and another 253 wounded, which makes January the deadliest month since last August," it said.
"We estimate that more than 80,000 Somalis have been displaced since the beginning of the year. Thousands were also forced to leave their homes in other parts of Somalia."
The UN agency said the deteriorating security conditions have so far made it hard for humanitarian workers to access the needy population.
UNHCR plans to distribute emergency relief items and shelter material to over 18,000 people in 27 locations where the displaced are temporarily settled around Dhusamareebb and Belet-Weyn as soon as the security situation will permit.
UNCHR said the internally displaced people (IDPs) in Galgaduud region face difficult conditions. Fearful of returning to their homes, many are reported to be sleeping in the open with dwindling shelter and little water.
There are also growing concerns about the health conditions of particularly vulnerable groups - such as children, women and elderly.
More than 1.4 million people are internally displaced in Somalia and some 560,000 Somalis live as refugees in the neighboring countries. In 2009, over 120,000 Somalis sought refuge mainly in Kenya, Yemen and Ethiopia.
Source: Xinhua

Monday, 1 February 2010

UN rights expert warns of human rights violations in Somalia

The UN independent expert on the situation of human rights in Somalia, Dr. Shamsul Bari, has issued a strong warning on the security, human rights and humanitarian situation in the country, including Somaliland and Puntland.Bari described as "extremely serious" the situation in South and Central Somalia, where civilians continue to bear the brunt of the fighting between forces of the transitional government forces (TFG) and Islamist armed groups."The Islamist Forces fighting to topple the TFG are reported to have carried out extrajudicial executions, planted mines, bombs and other explosive devices in civilian areas, and used civilians as human shields," said Bari in a statement received here on Friday."Fighters from both sides are reported to have fired mortars indiscriminately into areas populated or frequented by civilians."At the end of his fourth monitoring mission to the Horn of Africa, the UN expert reported grave violations of women and children's rights, including the recruitment and use of children by several parties to the conflict.He added that "corporal punishment in the name of Sharia Law by such groups, including floggings and amputations following summary if any proceedings, arbitrary detention, death threats and intimidation are reportedly taking place."The UN expert stressed that "journalists and human rights defenders in all parts of Somalia continue to face severe restrictions, increasing death threats and are often victims of targeted killings for their work"."The suspension of the humanitarian assistance and the discontinuation of the food distribution with continuing restrictions by armed groups to humanitarian access by targeting aid workers violate rights to protection, adequate food, medical care and shelter," he said.In particular, he noted that piracy, human trafficking and mixed migrations remain the most serious challenges to the Puntland government."Piracy and the huge money it generates may pose a security threat not only to Somalia and the region, but to the whole world, " Bari stated, warning that "the recent killings targeting senior politicians in Puntland raise legitimate security concerns regarding the spread and the attempt of terrorist groups to destabilize Puntland and Somaliland."Bari was unable to visit the capital, Mogadishu, and southern and central Somalia due to security constraints."The stabilization of Somaliland and Puntland could have a positive impact on South and Central Somalia," the UN human rights expert stressed.He urged the international community and the UN to strengthen international engagement and support to Somalia, including Puntland and Somaliland."This increased support is required particularly for the implementation of the three pillars of the Djibouti process -- political, security and recovery -- which all include cross- cutting human rights issues," Bari said.The UN refugee agency UNHCR estimates that more than 117,000 residents of Mogadishu have been displaced in the past month due to heavy exchanges of fire between government troops and Islamist insurgents.It says that the latest round of fighting has caused 200 deaths among civilians and wounded 700 others.
Source: Xinhua

Sunday, 31 January 2010

A California Reckoning in a Case of Abuses Abroad

SAN FRANCISCO— The three refugees from Somalia came to the Bay Area several years ago to escape the violence of their homeland, to put the terror behind them. But they were shocked to learn in 2002 that a former Somali official they believed responsible for brutality against their family was living freely in the United States.
To Bashe and Omar Yousuf, who are brothers, and their cousin Amina Jireh, that did not seem right.“I was really mad,” said Omar, a Caltrans engineer who now lives in Hercules. “The person who destroyed the country and killed thousands and thousands of people was in the United States, and we couldn’t do anything about it.” In fact, they could. They met in a friend’s living room in Oakland with lawyers from the Center for Justice and Accountability, a small San Francisco nonprofit. Since 1998, the little-known center, based on Market Street, has been filing suit on behalf of human rights victims seeking to hold their tormentors accountable. With the center’s assistance, Bashe and four other Somalis filed suit against the official, a former Somali prime minister living on the East Coast. Now the case is before the United States Supreme Court, a legal contest that is a test of whether former officials of foreign governments who are accused of committing war crimes before they moved to the United States have immunity from civil lawsuits. Oral arguments are scheduled for March.
“The issue is whether government officials who come to the United States and seek safe haven are above the law,” said Pamela Merchant, the center’s executive director. “The court will decide whether foreign government officials who use their powers to cause torture and rape and the killing of innocent civilians can be held responsible for their actions.”
The Center for Justice and Accountability was founded by Gerald Gray, a San Francisco psychotherapist who began treating victims of torture in 1985 and soon made it his exclusive practice.
In the mid-1990s, Mr. Gray received an urgent call from San Francisco General Hospital seeking help for a newly arrived Bosnian refugee. When he got to the hospital, he found that the refugee was distraught because he had discovered that his torturer was living in San Francisco.
Mr. Gray feared that the man might kill his tormenter, but instead the traumatized refugee fled to the East Coast. His torturer was never held accountable.
After that experience, Mr. Gray resolved to find a way to help victims bring their abusers to justice. With the assistance of Amnesty International, he established the center.
“The law gives us a chance to do something in a civilized way,” said Mr. Gray, who serves on the center’s board and has founded other groups to aid torture victims. “If we didn’t have the law, or if it didn’t work, we would be stuck back in that primitive place of flight or fight.”
With a staff of 10, the center has carved out a niche among human rights groups by suing alleged human rights violators for damages. Since 1998 it has filed suits on behalf of human rights victims from five continents, winning every one of them that has gone to trial.
The center is unusual among rights organizations because it is based in San Francisco, rather than New York or Washington, where most have their headquarters. It typically recruits law firms around the country to work on cases without charge.
“They’ve been amazingly effective, especially given their small size and limited resources,” said Vienna Colucci, the managing director of Amnesty International USA.
William Aceves, an associate dean at the California Western School of Law in San Diego, said the lawsuits give victims a forum to confront their abuser.
“It’s never about money,” said Mr. Aceves, who sits on the center’s board. “It’s about an opportunity to present a case before a judge and jury, to be able to point a finger at the perpetrator and say, ‘What you did was wrong.’ ”
About 500,000 torture victims live in the United States, Ms. Merchant said. Amnesty International estimates that 1,000 people who committed human rights abuses also live here, sometimes in the same communities as their victims.
The Somali suit was filed in 2004 against Mohamed Ali Samantar, a defense minister and prime minister during the 1980s. Bashe Yousuf, who had been tortured and imprisoned in Somalia, became the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit, which says Mr. Samantar is responsible for the killings, torture, rape and unlawful detention carried out by military forces under his control.
For the center, the question is whether torture victims should have the chance to confront their abusers in court.
“Samantar should not be above the law,” said Ms. Merchant, the center director. “The United States should not be a safe haven for war criminals.”
Mr. Samantar, who came to the United States in 1997 and lives in Fairfax, Va., argues that he is protected from lawsuits by a federal law that grants immunity to foreign nations. He disputes the charges against him but declined to be interviewed.
“Mr. Samantar vigorously denies the particular allegations in the suit, none of which have ever been determined to be true by any court of law,” said one of his lawyers, Shay Dvoretzky.
Ms. Jireh and Omar Yousuf are members of the Bay Area’s small Somali community, which numbers about 1,500, mainly in San Jose and the East Bay. Bashe Yousuf now lives near Atlanta.
Unlike Somali refugees in other parts of the country, most in the Bay Area came from the northwestern part of Somalia, now known as Somaliland, which suffered some of the harshest abuses in the 1980s under the government of Maj. Mohammed Siad Barre, who seized power in a 1969 military coup.
The Barre government was notorious as one of the most brutal in Africa, and used summary execution, rape, torture and imprisonment without trial to control the population, particularly in Somaliland.
The government collapsed in 1991, and the country descended into chaos. Today, Somalia is a base for pirates who attack commercial vessels and for Al Qaeda, which recruits fighters and suicide bombers there.
Mr. Samantar served under Barre as defense minister and first vice president from 1980 to 1986 and then as prime minister until 1990. He fled to Italy before coming to the United States.
Mr. Samantar’s lawyers argue that any actions he took were in his official capacity. Some refugees, particularly those from southern Somalia, view Mr. Samantar as a leader who fought to keep the country united.
Bashe Yousuf was a successful businessman in Hargeisa, Somaliland’s largest city. He was arrested in 1981 after leading an effort to clean up a hospital and obtain medical supplies from foreign charities.
The government falsely accused him and his colleagues of fomenting rebellion and conspiring with foreign agents. Mr. Yousuf was subjected to electric shocks, water boarded and held in solitary confinement for six years. He received political asylum and is now a United States citizen.
Four other Somalis joined the lawsuit: a man who survived execution by firing squad and hid under dead bodies until he could escape; a woman who was arrested, repeatedly raped and held for years in solitary confinement; a man whose two brothers were arrested and executed, and a man whose father and brother were killed when the military attacked civilians.
A district judge ruled in 2007 that Mr. Samantar had immunity and dismissed the suit. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit overturned the decision, ruling that the law applies to foreign states, not individuals. Mr. Samantar then appealed to the Supreme Court.
“This case will set a precedent for a lot of countries that are ruled at gunpoint,” said Ms. Jireh, an insurance sales representative who lives in Brentwood. “He’s a war criminal who is living like you and me. That shouldn’t be O.K.”
Source: Los Angeles Times, 30 January 2010

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Focus on Human Rights Consequences of Conflicts

Mogadishu Saturday 23 January 2010 SMC

The African Union (AU) should improve its strategies for civilian protection and accountability in its efforts to end ongoing crises on the continent, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to AU heads of states. The AU will hold a Summit meeting in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia from January 25 to February 4, 2010.
"African heads of state declared 2010 the 'Year of Peace and Security in Africa' for compelling reasons," said Aloys Habimana, deputy Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "Now they need to act, by coming up with long-term solutions for armed conflicts and stronger measures to protect civilians and ensure justice for victims of atrocities."
Human Rights Watch highlighted the worsening human rights crises in Sudan and Somalia and urged African leaders to take concrete steps to advance both civilian protection and accountability for victims of serious human rights violations throughout Africa.
In Sudan, with general elections scheduled for April, the situation is volatile. As Human Rights Watch has extensively documented, the government in Khartoum has maintained a climate of fear and oppression. In Southern Sudan, increasing violence has heightened the risk of attacks on civilians in the absence of adequate protection from the southern government or the United Nations Mission in Sudan (UNMIS). Under the circumstances, Human Rights Watch said, it is unlikely the elections will be free, fair, and transparent, as required by the 2007 African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance.
"The African Union should promptly deploy a robust election observer team across Sudan, including in Darfur, and ensure that regional standards for observing and reporting on the elections are strictly met," Habimana said. "African leaders should also press the two peacekeeping forces in Sudan to give top priority to protecting civilians, a crucial aspect of their mandates."
Human Rights Watch said that Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who is running for re-election, should instead be in The Hague facing trial before the International Criminal Court, where he is wanted on charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.
In Somalia, the situation continues to worsen, despite important efforts by the African Union to tackle massive security problems. Thousands of civilians have been killed and wounded since fighting between a weak interim government and insurgent forces trying to control the country began in 2007. Mogadishu remains a war zone, with an ever-worsening humanitarian crisis throughout the country. In parts of southern Somalia controlled by the militant group Al Shabaab, women routinely endure human rights violations linked to its harsh enforcement of Shari'a.
Human Rights Watch also called on African leaders to ensure that all allegations of indiscriminate bombardment of civilian neighbourhoods of Mogadishu - including by troops from the AU Mission in Somalia - are promptly, transparently, and impartially investigated by independent experts operating under the mandate of the AU's Peace and Security Council. The AU should take the first step in requesting a UN Commission of Inquiry, which could contribute to accountability for abuses and stability in the region.
"The African Union has an important role to play in improving the situation in Somalia," Habimana said. "But as impunity is a key catalyst for the abuses committed there, it's crucial that African leaders focus more on accountability and the human rights consequences of the conflict."
Human Rights Watch called on African leaders to increase their attention to justice for victims of serious crimes, referring in particular to African Union discussion of a proposal to extend the power of the UN Security Council to suspend International Criminal Court activities under article 16 of the Rome Statute to the UN General Assembly. This should be avoided because it would substantially increase the risks of political interference in the court's work, Human Rights Watch said. The AU should also focus on making the African Court on Human and People's Rights a more robust institution.
"The AU has a tremendous opportunity to further the cause of justice on the African continent," Habimana said. "Only by taking steps to ensure accountability for human rights violations can African states contribute effectively to justice, lasting peace, and long-term stability."

Source: Human Rights Watch (HRW)

Somaliweyn Media Center

Monday, 25 January 2010

My experience at the deadly Hotel Shamo bombing

Mohamed Olad Hassan, (look the Photo) a reporter for the BBC and The Associated Press, and chairman of the Somali Foreign Correspondents Association, recounts his experience covering a deadly ceremony in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu. Olad narrowly escaped death after a suicide bomber killed at least 23 people on December 3 at the graduation ceremony at Hotel Shamo. Three journalists were killed in the attack...
It was a Thursday morning, December 3. As usual, I got ready for my work as a journalist. I had an invitation that was given to me by Mohamed Zobe, one of the organizers of what was supposed to be a joyful graduation ceremony.
I and my colleague Ayaanle Husein Abdi, a reporter for the BBC Somali service, drove from my office toward the hotel, which is about 550 yards (500 meters) from my office. We were welcomed by jubilant students, whom we knew by face at the main gate of Hotel Shamo, where their Benadir University graduation ceremony was due to start.
There were dozens of armed body guards outside the hotel; they were apparently accompanying government ministers invited to the ceremony. Nobody checked us. There were only two men sitting in front of the hotel’s meeting hall. They looked at our invitation and allowed us to pass. Everyone assumed this would be a peaceful ceremony.
We sat in two empty seats in the second row of seats where ministers, doctors, and other dignitaries were sitting. There were hundreds of people in the meeting hall. The students were all dressed in colorful uniforms for their graduation. The hall had been brightly decorated, and there was a feeling of excitement—such ceremonies rarely happen in Mogadishu. With the conflict raging throughout the capital, the chance to attain academic credentials are limited. This ceremony, perhaps, symbolized a trace of hope: People’s lives could continue despite the shelling.
Proud parents beamed at their graduating loved ones, who were also sitting in the hall. Journalists, particularly the cameramen, were right in the front for a good view. People were making speeches, and we were taking notes, as usual.
Then all this brightness turned to darkness.
All I remember is being covered in dust. Some debris apparently from the roof of the hall hit me and there was no light anywhere. I looked across and the young guy sitting next to me was dead. The seat he had been sitting on was mine. We had changed positions for one moment, when I had left momentarily to move my recorder nearer to the speakers. That’s when the explosion occurred. It was my luck not to be sitting in that chair.

I recalled later that the dead man was a journalist, Mohamed Amin, at right, a reporter for Radio Shabelle, a local FM Station in Mogadishu. I had to jump over him to get out. I tried to get over the table where the ministers had been sitting. There were dead bodies right in front of my eyes. I had to step over their bodies too.
People were screaming the same question over and over: "Is it a bomb? Is it a bomb?" I went through the door that the ministers had come through when they entered the hall and I hid in a small room. It was a very dirty, unused toilet but already three other people, including a Reuters reporter, Abdi Guled, were there with me.

The survivors who could move immediately ran out of the hall because people thought a mortar had hit and that there could be another one. We had no idea what had happened. But I didn’t hear any more explosions and I had to go back into the hall to get out.
It was a shocking, terrible scene. There was blood splattered everywhere. I was really in disbelief, in shock. I have never seen so many people killed at the same time. All these bodies were there, right in front of my eyes, including two journalists.
I looked at the roof to see if there had been some kind of rocket attack but the roof was intact. So I knew something had exploded in the hall—either a suicide attack or a bomb or a mine. I went outside and the street was filled with people trying to rescue their friends and family.
No one knew who had been killed and who had survived.
I could see my colleagues—journalists I had been talking to just moments before—lying on the ground covered in blood. Hassan Zubeyr, at left, a cameraman for the Dubai-based Al-Arabiya TV and Abdulkhafar Abdulkadir, a freelance photographer who had only arrived five minutes before the explosion, were lying on their stomachs in a pool of blood. Abdulkadir died of his injuries in the afternoon.
One other colleague, Omar Faruq, a Reuters photographer, was right in front of me on his stomach. I couldn't tell whether he was alive or dead, but later noticed he had his cheek bone broken. Another colleague, Abdulkadir Omar, a reporter for Universal TV was being carried out as locals began to arrive and help out. He had his hand on his bleeding forehead.
It was a terrible few minutes. It's still impossible to understand how everything turned from a colorful celebration to grief within seconds.
During the rescue operation at the hotel, people concentrated on the dignitaries while injured journalists were left bleeding for some time. It helped us realize that we needed to create our own support, so we started the Somali Foreign Correspondents Association. We formed this union to establish a permanent office that will help journalists in times of emergencies. Our dream is to have at least one ambulance at our disposal to transport wounded colleagues to hospitals and to arrange evacuations if needed.
(Reporting from Mogadishu)

Sunday, 24 January 2010

SOMALIA: Hospital desperate for specialists

MOGADISHU, 21 January 2010 (IRIN) - As conflict continues in Somalia, the main hospital in Mogadishu, the capital, lacks orthopedic specialists to handle the increasing number of patients with broken limbs, a doctor has said.

"Currently, the patients with the most serious injuries are mostly young; 30 of them require specialized treatment that is not available in the country," Mohamed Yusuf, the director-general of Madina Hospital, told IRIN. "Since 2009, we have seen hundreds of patients requiring orthopedic treatment but very few of them can afford specialized treatment; 98 percent of the patients are too poor."

Mogadishu has borne the brunt of the fighting in Somalia, which pits an opposition Islamist group against government troops. The country has been conflict-ridden since 1991 when President Siad Barre was ousted. Although a transitional government is in place, fighting continues in Mogadishu as well as in southern and central parts of the country.

Yusuf said 95 percent of the patients treated in Madina were victims of gunshots and artillery shelling. Of these, he said, 45 percent have limb injuries; 9 percent have chest wounds, 8 percent head injuries and 8 percent stomach injuries.

"We treat and sometimes operate on those with stomach wounds but injuries of the legs are problematic to treat here because we don't have an experienced orthopedic doctor to reconstruct broken bones," Yusuf said. "The most difficult cases involve injuries where a bullet hit the bone, causing fragmentation. Reconstruction using special metal is required but at the moment we do not have a doctor specializing in this sector in the country."

Yusuf said the International Committee of the Red Cross was the main agency supporting Madina and supplying medicine but the availability of specialist doctors remained a challenge: "The only foreign doctors here are from Qatar, working in the maternity sector."

At the same time, Yusuf said the number of injured children was increasing. Most of them, he said, were victims of mortar shelling and since there was no orthopedic expertise available locally, many ended up becoming disabled.

Habiba Ahmed, 41, mother of a nine-year-old boy with spinal injuries, told IRIN: "My child has been suffering for almost four months now, parts of his bones are missing; he was injured when a mortar hit our home. I have come to Madina Hospital for him to be treated but I am told he requires treatment outside the country, which I cannot afford. My child remains disabled."

A report released by Amnesty International on 21 January says indiscriminate attacks in 2009 by all parties to the armed conflict resulted in thousands of civilians killed and hundreds of thousands displaced.

The UN estimates that at least 1.5 million Somalis are internally displaced while 3.7 million require humanitarian aid.

Source: IRIN

Stop supplying Somalia with arms: Amnesty

International donors should end weapons and other military supplies to Somalia's embattled government as lack of safeguards risks worsening the violence and human suffering, Amnesty International said.

The London-based rights group voiced concern that war-wracked Somalia's government was receiving weapons while “issues of vetting, accountability, arms management and respect for human rights by Somalia's police and armed forces remain largely unresolved,” according to its report.

“Without adequate safeguards, arms transfers may threaten the human rights and worsen the humanitarian situation of Somali civilians,” said the report: "Somalia: International Military and Policing Should be Reviewed."

The watchdog said until safeguards are in place “the international community should end all supplies of weapons, military and security equipment and financial assistance” to the transitional federal government.

It also called for the proper enforcement of a 1992 arms embargo on the Horn of Africa state.

Despite international backing, the Somali government has largely remained ineffective in the face of relentless attacks by Islamist rebels who have pared its control of the capital Mogadishu to just a few streets.

It also has no control of large swathes of the country, much of which is in the hands of the radical Islamist Shebab fighters, who together with the more political Hezb al-Islam militants have vowed to topple it.

Alliance-shifting fighters also pose the risk of arms ending up in the hands of the extremists, exacerbating Somalia's conflict which erupted in 1991 with the ouster of president Mohamed Siad Barre.

“Unless effectively regulated and monitored, such material assistance could be used in committing serious violations of international humanitarian law,” warned the rights group.

Source: AFP

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

UNHCR: already 63,000 Somalis displaced in 2010

GENEVA -- The U.N. refugee agency says an estimated 63,000 Somalis have been chased from their homes since Jan 1. because of intense fighting in the country.
UNHCR spokeswoman Melissa Fleming says "fighting in central areas of Somalia rages on," continuing to uproot communities and leave people living in deplorable conditions outside of cities.
Fleming said Wednesday that 14,000 people were displaced over the last two weeks in the capital, Mogadishu.
She said fresh battles in central Somalia's Belet Weyne and Galgaduud areas have left thousands more homeless.
Somalia has one of the world's worst humanitarian crises, with 1.5 people displaced inside the country and 560,000 registered as refugees in neighboring countries.

Source AP