Somali Human Rights Activist Urges Restoration of Democracy

Hasssan Shire Sheikh Sees Role for New Decision-Makers
By Stuart Gorin
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington -- Attention needs to be paid to the role of the Somali civil society in producing a new generation of decision-makers to lead Somalia into the new millenium, says a noted Somali human rights activist.

Hassan Shire Sheikh, co-director of the Dr. Ismail Juma'le Human Rights Center in Mogadishu, said January 13 that he was in Washington to urge the Clinton administration, congressional leaders, the media and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to support the Somali civil society in efforts to restore the democratic right of the people to freely choose their own destiny.

He said civil society exists separately from the various authority structures, and includes both traditional structures, such as clan institutions; and modern organizations, such as religious bodies, NGOs, and associations of lawyers and journalists. Civil society also includes Somalis in the diaspora, scattered in many countries of the world, he said, adding that they lack unifying associational structures due to the persistence of social divisions.

Noting that that there are now 87 warlords in Somalia and that the people have human rights, Hassan said "They have the right to be protected from oppressive, reckless and power-hungry individuals who continually move from capital to capital, raising funds and procuring armaments. These individuals are responsible for the destruction of the nation, the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians, and the paralysis of the country."

A second objective, Hassan said, is to explore the possibility of U.S. support for establishing a War Crimes Tribunal for Somalia. "This would aid in the charging of warlords with crimes against humanity, abuses of power, aiding and abetting wanton persecution of unarmed civilians, violations of human rights, causing the state to collapse into endless violence and instability," he said.

Hassan pointed out that for more than a decade, "the world has been witness to a relentless disintegration of Somalia, with a vicious circle of violence, and the denial of the basic human rights to peace and government."

He added that coupled with recurrent natural disasters, war situations have caused hundreds of thousands of Somalis to die, millions to flee their homes and become refugees, and millions more to become displaced within the country.

"A decade of violence, hunger, disease and political uncertainty has brought an unparalleled flood of despair that exists virtually nowhere else in the world," Hassan said.

Noting that the outbreak of war between Ethiopia and Eritrea has spilled over into Somalia causing even further destabilization, Hassan said that if unchecked, it would cause a renewed humanitarian crisis.

Hassan's organization was established in 1996 in the memory of the late Dr. Ismail Juma'le Ossoble, a respected and popular politician and lawyer who devoted his life to make Somalia a better place. The Center has held public rallies, processions, and human rights workshops; lobbied on behalf of the Human Rights Charter and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights Pledge; and reports on human rights abuses.

The Center is the founding member of the Somali Peace and Human Rights Network (PHRN), a joint platform of action for more than 20 national NGOs operating in Somalia. The Washington-based National Endowment for Democracy (NED) originally funded the center.

(The Washington File is a product of the Office of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State.)