AI-index: AFR 52/002/2003
As the four-month-long Somali Peace and Reconciliation Conference resumes at a new Kenyan venue and with a new chairperson, Somali human rights activists have issued an important declaration founded on their many years of mostly unacknowledged and risk-fraught human rights defence work.
Somali human rights defenders from 23 organizations, meeting in Hargeisa from 10 to 18 February 2002, declared that they will "increase the struggle against human rights abuses, such as arbitrary killings, torture, arbitrary detention and kidnapping, and work for the equal rights of all, with full protection for vulnerable groups such as women and minorities". They affirmed support for women human rights defenders campaigning for the eradication of violence against women and for women's full political participation in building democratic governance.
In addition, they called on all Somali political authorities to "publicly recognize the legitimate role of human rights defenders in the protection and promotion of human rights, as set out in the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders", and that "human rights defenders will not be subject to reprisals for these activities".
They also called on the international community to protect human rights defenders at risk, and assist them to build up the capacities of their organizations. The declaration was adopted in the presence of the UN Independent Expert for Somalia, Dr. Ghanim Alnajjar.
Human rights defenders in conflict-riven central and southern Somalia face daily dangers of arbitrary killing or detention by faction militias or ransom kidnapping by gunmen whom faction leaders have done little or nothing to suppress in the areas they claim to control. In Puntland, civil society organizations documenting abuses receive little tolerance from the political authorities and are at risk as a result of the unresolved armed conflict. In Somaliland in contrast, where there is a long-established peace, general respect for human rights, a largely free press and a multi-party election process, activists are concerned mainly about a very poor justice system and declining political representation for women and minorities.
In November 2002, Amnesty International's Open Letter to the Somalia Peace Conference supported the demands of civil society groups attending it for greater priority for human rights and not just a sharing-out of violently-acquired power and its gains between armed faction leaders. The Somali Human Rights Defenders Declaration took up the concerns of other Somali activists at the peace talks and reiterated that there should be "no impunity granted to those who have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity .. .if they were allowed to hold government office they could commit such crimes again".
"The outcome of the peace talks should not be a government of warring faction-leaders giving themselves total impunity for their gross violations of human rights", said Amnesty International. "Somali political leaders who believe in peace and human rights must unite now to stop the cease-fire violations, arbitrary killings, rape, kidnapping and financial extortion." So far there is little indication from the armed faction leaders that they are committed to rescue Somalia from a seemingly endless crisis threatening regional peace and security.
"The regional and international sponsors of the peace talks must strive harder to secure this commitment and see it in action as a basic pre-requisite for any new transitional government," they said
Meeting in Somaliland at a workshop organised by Amnesty International, Novib and International Cooperation for Development in the only safe area of the former state of Somalia which disintegrated in 1991, the participants included human rights defenders from Mogadishu, such as the Peace and Human Rights Network, Coalition of Grassroots Womens' Organizations and Dr Ismail Jumale Human Rights Organization; Dulmidiid Centre for Human Rights from Puntland regional state; Isha Human Rights Organization from Baidoa; Kisima Peace and Human Rights Organization from Kismayu; and Nagaad Women's Coalition, Hornwatch and several others from Somaliland.
Somaliland's 12-year government is still campaigning for international recognition. The UN-supported Transitional National Government (TNG) holds little power even in Mogadishu as it approaches the end of its three-year term. Two rival coalitions of over a dozen armed clan-based factions - one linked to the TNG and the other backed by Ethiopia - continue to struggle for power. Violations of the October 2002 cease-fire persist unpunished.
The full text of the Declaration,
and a link to the Somali-language text is available here:
http://click.topica.com/maaaRSiaaWboRbb0h0ab/ (see below)
For the full text of Amnesty International's Open Letter to the Somali Peace Talks, click here
View more on Somalia/Somaliland http://click.topica.com/maaaRSiaaWbhxbb0h0ab/
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Declaration of Somali Human Rights Defenders
14 February 2003
We, Somali human rights defenders,
Representing civil society organizations covering issues of justice and the rule of law, women's human rights, minority rights, freedom of expression and association, and development, coming rom Somaliland, Puntland and Central and Southern Somalia, with a common aim of a better human rights future for all our Somali brothers and sisters,
Gathered together for human rights discussions and workshop training in Hargeisa, and determined to increase the extent and influence of human rights defence activities defenders seeking peace, reconciliation, justice, security and good governance,
Remembering countless Somali civilian men, women and children who have died as a result of political violence, including human rights defenders, and others who fled dictatorship and civil war,
Encouraged by the support for human rights defenders worldwide established by the international community in 1998 on the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, when the United Nations' General Assembly adopted the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders,
Responding to the strong support of the UN Secretary General's Special Representative for Human Rights Defenders, and appreciating the efforts of the UN Independent Expert for Somalia on behalf of Somali human rights defenders,
Recalling the signing of a worldwide Human Rights Pledge in 1998 by the Government of Somaliland, the President of the Transitional National Government, certain political leaders, and hundreds of members of civil society throughout Somalia and Somaliland - a pledge to "do everything in my power to ensure that the rights set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights become a reality throughout the world",
Noting the achievements of human rights defenders across Africa and the rest of the world in building democracy, strengthening the rule of law and resolving conflict,
Determined that there shall be no impunity granted to those who have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity, and believing that if they were allowed to hold government office they could commit such crimes again;
We will increase our struggle against human rights abuses, such as arbitrary killings, torture, arbitrary detention and kidnapping,
We will work for the equal rights of all, without regard to gender, social identity or status or regional origin, with full protection for vulnerable groups such as women and minorities, and for a sustainable livelihood and favourable humanitarian environment,
We recognize and support women human rights defenders in their work for the promotion of women's rights, the eradication of violence against women and female genital mutilation, their services to women victims of violence, and campaigning for women's full political participation in building democratic governance at all levels;
Call on all Somali political authorities to:
- publicly recognize the legitimate role
of human rights defenders in the protection and promotion of human rights,
- guarantee our right, as set out in the
UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, to hold meetings and rallies,
conduct research and investigations into human rights abuses, publish reports,
make complaints and recommendations, lead public discussions, look for
and receive resources both nationally and internationally, and communicate
freely with the international community and mechanisms of the United Nations,
- publicly declare that human rights defenders
will not be subject to reprisals for these activities, whether through
arbitrary actions of security forces or laws incompatible with international
human rights instruments,
- ensure that human rights defenders have access to institutions of accountability, a free press, democratic political institutions, justice consistent with international standards, and redress when their rights are abused;
- respond positively to appeals for recovery,
rehabilitation and development
- assist especially those areas displaying
evidence of commitment to human rights, peace, security and good governance,
and engagement in development through their own efforts,
- assist and protect Somali human rights defenders facing severe risks by bringing pressure on the authorities persecuting them, and by helping to build the capacity of their organizations and enhance their influence.
Dr Ghanim Alnajjar,
and signed by the following Somali human rights defenders' organizations:
1. Samo Talis Coalition for Human Rights
2. Nagaad Women's Coalition
3. Peace and Human Rights Network
4. Ismail Jum'ale Human Rights Organization
5. Coalition of Somaliland NGOs (COSONGO)
6. Coalition of Grassroots Womens' Organizations (COGWO)
7. WAWA (We Are Women Activists)
8. Isha Human Rights Organization
9. Dulmidiid Centre for Human Rights
10. Somaliland Committee for War Crimes Investigation
11. Kisima Peace and Development Organization
12. Technical Development Foundation
13. Academy for Peace and Development
14. Somaliland Manufacturing and Craft Association
15. Somaliland Trade Union Confederation
16. Heegan Human Rights Network
17. Somaliland Women for Peace and Advocacy
18. Somali Young Women Activists
19. Somaliland Journalists Association
21. Somaliland Womens' Research and Action Group
22. Forum for Peace and Governance
23. Horn of Africa Human Rights Watch Committee (Hornwatch)
The Declaration was adopted at a workshop for Somali Human Rights Defenders organised by Amnesty International, Novib and International Cooperation for Development in Hargeisa.