Somali Prime Minister Abdi Farah Shirdon today launched an Independent Task Force on Human Rights to tackle what he called a “culture of impunity” over human rights abuses in Somalia.
The new body, established after extensive consultations with the Speaker of the Parliament and members of civil society groups, will investigate the broadest range of human rights abuses, including the organized killing of journalists and sexual violence against women.
It consists of 13 prominent and respected Somalis. They include a human rights defence lawyer, civil society activist, human rights campaigner, doctor, a religious leader, distinguished police officers and a representative from the media. Four of the members, including the chair, are women, including a peace activist, a lawyer, an educationalist and leaders of Somali women’s organizations. All members of the Task Force will serve as volunteers.
The taskforce will have a three-month mandate, on completion of which it will issue a public report detailing its findings and recommendations. The Chair of the Task Force, Maryam Yusuf Sheikh Ali, a leading human rights lawyer, welcomed the formation of the temporary body and said it would do its utmost to investigate the highlighted troubling issue of human rights abuses.
“I am honoured to chair this new Task Force and I would like to assure my fellow Somalis, together with our international partners, that we are aware of the great responsibility we have accepted today, we are completely serious about this work and we are totally committed to our investigation of human rights abuses.” Speaking at the launch of the Task Force in Villa Somalia, Mogadishu, the Prime Minister said he would not avoid taking difficult decisions, including prosecutions where necessary, following the Task Force’s report and findings.
“The first step to take when addressing any problem is to admit there is one. We will not hesitate to take the appropriate action, however though that may prove. This is all about instituting accountability and showing that nobody is above the law. Where it is found that crimes have been committed, we will seek to press charges. Today we want to send the strongest message that human rights abuses have no place in today’s Somalia. It won’t happen overnight, but we must consign them to history.”
The new Task Force will pave the way for the establishment of the permanent Human Rights Commission, which will sit in Parliament. This body will be able to investigate human rights abuses committed during a longer period and on an ongoing basis. Referring to the spate of killings of journalists in 2012, the Prime Minister emphasised he would do everything in his power to promote freedom of expression. He was committed to defend journalist’s rights to do their work, including the investigation of any human rights abuses.
“It cannot be right that Somali journalists should routinely risk death just for doing their work, which is an essential pillar of a modern society. The simple and unpalatable truth is that for all the journalists who have been killed in Somalia, there has never been a single prosecution. That is unacceptable in any civilized society. Everyone knows we must do better and this is my pledge to you today.”
The Prime Minister said the new Task Force specifically would be investigating allegations of widespread rape and sexual abuse, especially of women in Internally Displaced People’s camps. It would also be investigating the background to a court case that is ongoing in Mogadishu to review whether due process had been followed. The Prime Minister has repeatedly expressed his opposition to holding anyone in detention without charge.
“The simple fact is that sexual violence against women is completely unacceptable and must never go unpunished,” he said. “We cannot say we have made progress until those who commit these crimes are brought to justice. My government’s final target is to eliminate these inhuman practices.”