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Calls made to rein in Somalia's warlords

Published Aug 2, 2004

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Nairobi - Somalia's warlords, who have caused so much suffering during their country's 20-year conflict, will be brought to book if human rights groups have their way.

Local campaigners, backed by Amnesty International, have demanded that Somalia's new government, which was expected to be set up in weeks, formulate measures to ensure that rights violators are brought to justice.

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One such measure will be formation of a South Africa-like truth commission.

Somalia is the only country in the world without a central government.

Its administration collapsed in 1991 after the dictator Mohamed Siad Barre was toppled by warlords who have since been fighting over control of the country.

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The warlords, some of whom have divided the capital Mogadishu among themselves, have been accused of widespread human rights abuses, including rape, kidnapping, arbitrary killing of civilians and looting.

According to a 2003 human rights report, cases of violations arise because lethal weapons have made their way to civilians and combatants.

The report, prepared by Somali human rights groups and presented to the United Nations in April 2004, said: "The rule of the gun and bullet has become the easiest and most accessible mechanism for dispute resolution, exertion of power, governance and even access to and control of resources.

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"The high armament recurrence in Somalia has posed grave challenges to the enjoyment and protection to the right to life."

In 1999, the Red Cross, an international charity, estimated that Mogadishu's 1,3 million residents possessed over a million guns of about 550 million small arms in circulation globally.

According to local and international human rights groups, the proliferation of the weapons has given rise to rape and kidnappings.

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"The warlords have used rape as a tool of revenge against rival factions. Women and young girls are continuously raped. Gang rape has also become widespread," Nura Abdulahi Haji of the Group 10 Focal Point, a caucus of human rights organisations in Somalia, said.

The 2003 report also outlined horrific incidents of gang rape.

On June 26 in Baidoa, a 18-year-old girl, Shukri Sheikh Cabdi Cabdullahi was gang-raped by a group of militiamen, estimated between three and five. They had stopped her and dragged her to a bush.

Two boys she had been walking with were scared away by the militia. When she passed out as a result of the gang rape, one of the rapists stabbed her in the genital area.

She was apparently dragged to the roadside and left unconscious.

Haji said there were no clear figures of the number of rape cases but that her organisation had embarked on data collection exercise.

She estimated that two women were raped every day, but in times of war between rival militias, the number increased.

According to Amnesty International, kidnappings were also common in Somalia.

Martin Hill, the organisation's researcher for the Horn of Africa, said about 300 kidnappings were carried out last year.

"But the figure could be higher," he told reporters in Nairobi this week.

Aid agencies said tens of thousands of civilians have died due to arbitrary killings by militias in the past decade.

To reduce the carnage, human rights groups have urged the new government to set up a truth commission, which they believe will play a major role in uniting Somalia.

"Such a commission will help reconcile Somalis by exposing those who committed ills against their fellow countrymen and this will promote healing," he said.

The commission will also serve as an instrument to guard against further abuses of human rights in the new Somalia," Hill added.

He said: "Somalia's new government must be committed to human rights. Human rights abuses must not be tolerated and those responsible for past crimes against humanity must be held accountable.

"Those implicated in the crimes should not hold public offices," he reiterated.

He called on donors to hold the new government to account. Human rights must be prominent in donor assistance strategies, particularly to respond rapidly to civil protection needs in the first few months of a new government," Hill added.

Somalia's new government is a creation of peace talks being held in Kenya to restore sanity in the Horn of African country.

The talks, being held under the auspices of a regional body, the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), opened in Kenya in October 2002.

IGAD comprised Kenya, Uganda, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia and Sudan.

The talks, the 14th since the collapse of the Somalia state, had borne fruits; the first being a ceasefire declaration signed in 2002, though it had been constantly violated.

A transitional federal charter signed early this year provided a framework upon which the country shall be governed.

It also contained, among other things, guidelines on human rights, which enjoyed support of human rights organisations.

The guidelines spelt out the right to life, personal liberty, and security, as well as the rights to fair trials.

About 366 delegates, comprising militia, political, religious and traditional leaders, as well as civil society organisations, weree attending the Nairobi talks.

The delegates, who belonged to Somalia's four major clans of Hawiye, Dir, Darod, Digil-Mirifle, are now in the final phase of the talks, which entailed selecting a 275-member parliament.

Each of the four major clans have been allocated 61 seats, while the remaining 31 slots will go to the fifth clan.

Once formed, the parliament will elect a speaker and two deputies, who will be charged with the mandate of electing the president.

The president will subsequently appoint a prime minister, after which, a federal government will be inaugurated.

According to Bethuel Kiplagat, chairperson of the IGAD Facilitation Committee, this brought together representatives of all the IGAD states. - Sapa-IPS

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