Monday, November 30, 2009

UN condemns stonings, amputations, torture in Somalia

From The Media Line:

International officials fear the spread of floggings, amputation, torture and death by stoning.

The current and former United Nations experts responsible for human rights in Somalia have condemned a series of stonings in the war-torn country.

Dr Shamsul Bari, an independent expert appointed by the U.N. Human Rights Council to report on Somalia, expressed concern over a rise in stonings and targeted assassinations of women's rights advocates, journalists and U.N. staff in a meeting with Somali Prime Minister Nur Hassan Hussein.

Citing the "deteriorating" human rights situation in the country, Dr Bari called on the interim Somali government to work to end the "cruel, inhuman and degrading" practices.

"I strongly condemn these recent executions by stoning," Dr Bari said in a statement.
The statement was released after Halima Ibrahim Abdirahman, a 29-year-old married woman, was stoned to death after she allegedly confessed to having had sex with a 20-year-old unmarried man in Eelboon, southern Somalia. The young man, who has not been identified, was sentenced to 100 lashes.

That came after a 20-year-old divorced woman accused of sleeping with an older, unmarried man was put in a public square, buried up to her waist and stoned to death in front of a crowd of 200 earlier this month in the town of Wajid, Somalia. Her boyfriend was given 100 lashes.

Abdirahman Hussein Abbas, a 33-year-old man accused of adultery, was stoned to death earlier this month in Merka, a port town south of Mogadishu. His girlfriend is set to face the same fate after giving birth to their child.

Large parts of Somalia are controlled by a group of Islamic militants loosely working together to overthrow the country's Transitional Federal Government under the banner of the 'Al Shabaab' movement.

Under Al Shabaab's interpretation of Sharia, Islamic law, crimes such as theft and adultery are punishable by floggings, amputation, torture or death.

Al Shabaab considers any person to have ever been married - including a divorcee - to be forbidden from having further relations. The punishment is often death by public stoning.

Al Shabaab executions first made international news a year ago when Amnesty International accused the Islamist group of stoning a 13-year-old rape victim to death in the southern city of Kismayo after she was accused of adultery. Al Shabaab claimed the girl was older and had been married.

Bashir Goth, a Somali analyst and the former editor of Awdal News, said Somalis are shocked by the lack of international interest in the actions of Al-Shabaab.

"Where is the international community, where are the human rights organizations?" he told The Media Line. "These are crimes against humanity. They are stoning people, creating an army of handicapped youth with amputations, even stopping people with golden teeth and removing them."

"There should have been an outcry but there is silence from the international community," he said. "How long do we have to tolerate this until they notice."

"It's sheer madness to me," he added. "None of this is indigenous to Somalia and stoning is not something that you apply habitually as they are doing now in Mogadishu. Even in the prophet's time it was done only once."

"I think in their opinion they think this is the only way they can control people," he said. "It's just to put fear into the people."

Dr Ghanim A-Najjar, the former independent expert on Somalia for the U.N. Human Rights Council and a political scientist at Kuwait University, said that while the stonings were appalling, the Somali Islamist groups were not the principal cause of instability in the country.

"We are talking here about groups that claim certain rules and regulations from Islamic Sharia," Dr A-Najjar told The Media Line. "That is objectively deplorable and we call on Al Shabaab not to continue these practices, but that said this is not the cause of instability in Somalia."

"The interim government of Somalia is itself run by Islamists, so the problem is essentially which Islam we are talking about," he said. "This is the result of the loss of statehood and a central government than can control the country with one set of laws. Without this, smaller groups will run the country in accordance with their understanding of Islamic sharia without regard to the regime of international human rights."

"It's the result of the failure of the international community to put more effort into resolving the instability in Somalia once and for all," Dr A-Najjar continued. "Four years after the UN Security Council called for 8,000 international troops, we still don't even have half of them. So clearly Somalia is not an international priority."

A jihadist movement, Al Shabaab members have cited links with Al Qaeda although most analysts believe the affiliation to be minimal. The group has several thousand fighters divided into regional units, which are thought to operate somewhat independently of one another.

EJ Hogendoorn, the Horn of Africa Project Director for the International Crises Group, argued that Al Shabaab's incongruent groups have created a situation in which the more extreme among them have come to represent the whole.

"I think it's important to note that Al Shabaab is a very disparate coalition of like-minded groups," he told The Media Line. "So there are certain localities that have more conservative leadership than others, and for good or bad the more extreme ones get more media attention than others."

"It's not that widespread," he said. "Al Shabaab is fairly sophisticated when it comes to some of its actions, which are carried out in this way not because they believe this is the most appropriate penalty for people but because they believe it sends out a message both internally and externally about what they seek to further: a religiously minded government based on a very conservative, literal reading of the Koran."

Somalia has not had a functioning government since the 1991 ousting of Mohamed Siad Barre. The ensuing years have seen a chaotic system of rival clans controlling various parts of Somalia, with some of the worst fighting in years seen across the country over the past few months.

The battles pit moderate Islamists and soldiers of the shaky, Western-supported transitional government against militants from Al Shabaab.

Al Shabaab began an insurgency in late 2006 with assassinations and suicide bombings against the transitional government and aid workers, particularly in Mogadishu.

Originally the militant wing of the Islamic Courts Union, a group that controlled Mogadishu prior to the invasion by Ethiopian forces, Al Shabaab has made significant gains in the Horn of Africa nation and now controls much of Southern Somalia.

Western government's fear that Somalia's instability may provide a safe haven for terrorist groups, and some foreign militants are believed to have entered Somalia to join Al Shabaab's ranks.

The US has launched selected air strikes against Al Shabaab leaders thought to have ties to Al Qaeda, but analysts say this has only increased their support among Somalis.

The Western-backed Ethiopian military invaded the country in 2007, but many analysts believe this augmented Al Shabaab's insurgency campaign. Battles between Al Shabaab and Ethiopian forces caused roughly 400,000 people to flee the capital in August 2007.

The Ethiopians withdrew in January of this year after Al Shabaab attacked its forces for over 16 months.

African Union (AU) peacekeepers have also been in the country since 2007, but have made little impact with just over 3,000 troops from Uganda and Burundi.