(London) – International donors meeting in London to discuss the new Somali government’s reform agenda should make accountability and women’s rights a priority, Human Rights Watch said in a briefing paper sent to conference participants. On May 7, 2013, over 50 countries will convene to discuss the government’s strategic plans for justice, police, and army reform, prevention of sexual violence, and financial management.
“International good will for the new Somali leadership and its proposed reforms should not mean unqualified support,” said David Mepham, United Kingdom director. “After the London conference, the government will need to address ongoing rights abuses in the country. Decisions made in London will have an enormous impact on all Somalis.”
The Somali government and its international partners should make commitments to take concrete measures to exclude rights abusers from any role in the security forces, hold all rights abusers accountable, and improve protections for women and children.
Reform of the security and justice sectors is critical for Somalia’s future. Somalia’s security forces, including the police, military, and government-aligned militia, have committed serious abuses throughout the country’s two-decade conflict with almost no one held accountable. In a recent report, Human Rights Watch documented abuses by government forces and affiliated militia against the displaced population in the country’s capital Mogadishu, including rape, beatings, and looting of assistance.
The government’s police and military action plans should include specific vetting procedures to identify abusive individuals, and donors should support the establishment of troops who are well-trained and accountable. The government’s four-year strategic police reform plan includes needed training to prevent and respond to sexual and gender-based violence and internal and external oversight mechanisms. But it does not include a procedure for weeding out rights abusers, particularly during recruitment.
The army reform proposal includes commitments to human rights, but does not include provisions for excluding people with a poor rights record during the integration of ad hoc militias into the Somali army. Removing children from government ranks will also require measures to systematically screen all recruits, including former militia members.
Given the dire state of the Somali justice system, establishing institutions capable of upholding the rule of law while protecting the rights of defendants and victims of abuse alike requires extensive and ongoing support. A draft justice reform action plan seen by Human Rights Watch includes important measures to improve access to justice and enhance judicial capacity. At the London conference the Somali government should make a public commitment to respect the fair trial rights of all defendants, prohibit the trials of civilians in military courts, and impose a moratorium on the death penalty. Human Rights Watch opposes the death penalty in all circumstances as an inherently irreversible, inhumane punishment.
The April 21 coordinated attacks on the Mogadishu court complex and the April 26 targeted killing of a senior prosecutor underscores the importance of increasing protection for Somali legal professionals, including judges and lawyers, yet this is not sufficiently reflected in the justice reform plan.
The Somali government and its partners should also make a commitment to address the rights of women throughout the reform agendas. Donors should help build the capacity of police to protect women’s rights, including by recruiting more women, and of the justice system to handle sexual violence cases adequately. They should also support appropriate funding for victims’ medical and psychosocial support services.
“There is an urgent need in Somalia to increase access to post-rape services for women and girls, including health care and psychosocial support,” Mepham said. “But survivors of sexual violence also need responsible security forces, access to justice, and reforms to the criminal justice system.”
At the conference, donors and the government should also support an expanded human rights presence in the new United Nations structure in Somalia, with the necessary resources to carry out systematic human rights monitoring and public reporting. If a national human rights commission is established it should be fully independent with a mandate to set its own priorities, initiate investigations, and have guaranteed, unrestricted access to detention facilities.
Given the scale and nature of the abuses in Somalia over the past two decades, the government and donors should push for the establishment of a UN commission of inquiry to map and document serious crimes committed throughout the conflict.
“If world leaders meeting in London seek meaningful change for Somalia’s future they will support measures to help all Somali victims of abuse, past and present, have a path to justice,” Mepham said. “Systematic national and international human rights monitoring will assist efforts to make abusers answerable for their crimes, and help to deter future abuses.”