Somalia: The Mess Continues and a Lot of It is Our Fault

Human Rights Watch is publishing a report today accusing all sides of war crimes in Somalia. I’ve been trying to get a story away for the past couple of months on how British-funded police have been shooting up schools, looting and arbitrarily detaining journalists (see below).

“The combatants in Somalia have inflicted more harm on civilians than on each other,” said Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “There are no quick fixes in Somalia, but foreign governments need to stop adding fuel to the fire with misguided policies that empower human rights abusers.”
The full horror of these abuses can be captured only through the stories of Somalis who have suffered through them. Human Rights Watch interviewed teenage girls raped by TFG security forces, parents whose children were cut to pieces in their own homes by Ethiopian rockets, and people shot in the streets by insurgent fighters for acts as trivial as working as a low-paid messenger for TFG offices.

Among its recommendations, HRW calls for UN funding of the Somali National Police Force to be suspended until several conditions have been met, including

Commissioner of Police Abdi Qeybdid is suspended from office pending the results of an independent, impartial, and transparent investigation into patterns of widespread human rights abuse implicating officers of the Somali Police Force;

…and proper systems for monitoring abuse are in place. I have heard of at least one case where a local NGO complained to the United Nations Development Program about harassment by police funded by the UN, only for those same NGO workers to be arrested days later. In other words, staff at UNDP had passed on details of the complaints directly to the police.
In short, the whole system is currently a mess and western taxpayers’ money is a direct, contributing factor to the abuses. (My analysis of the problem is here.) For aid money to be going to a murderous thug like Qeybdiid simply beggars belief. Anyway, this is my latest story in full…
SOMALI police officers, funded with British and European taxpayers’ money, are engaged in a campaign of looting, intimidation and extortion, according to witnesses in Mogadishu.
In one of the most blatant incidents, police armed with AK-47 rifles opened fire in a school in apparent retaliation for a mortar attack on the president’s motorcade in June.
A child in year 6 was seriously injured.
The police, dressed in khaki uniforms, smashed electrical equipment and tried to burn down the school by setting fire to piles of books.
“It was very frightening. We thought we were all going to die,” said a witness, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.
“Why would they do this to a school?”
The United Nations Development Programme which is responsible for delivering donor cash to the police has launched an investigation into the incident.
In dozens more cases, security forces – who cannot be identified because many wear the same types of uniform – are accused of raping, looting and arbitrarily detaining suspects.
Human Rights Watch will today(MON) launch a report detailing the full scale of abuse, and call for western government to reappraise their positions on Somalia.
Earlier this year, The Times revealed that Britain’s Department for International Development was one of the major donors backing attempts to bring law and order to Somalia’s lawless land.
A weak transitional government took control of the capital Mogadishu last year after its Ethiopian allies defeated an alliance of Islamic courts. Since then ministers have relied on donor cash as they try to stop Islamist insurgents regaining control of the country.
The money is supposed to help build a community-based police service, trained in human rights, based on the success of similar projects in other “fragile states” such as Sierra Leone.
Without basic security, so the philosophy runs, it is difficult to channel development aid into lawless states.
The British Department for International Development (DfID) is the second-largest donor – behind the European Commission – to UN programmes supporting the Transitional Federal Government, having committed £11 million to date.
However experts warn the policy is going awry in Somalia.
Millions of pounds in police stipends, vehicles and equipment has been given to a force headed by General Abdi Hasan Awale Qaybdib, one of Mogadishu’s most notorious warlords.
A recent United Nations report showed the Somali police included members of his own militia, drafted in to collect donor-funded stipends, which are currently suspended.
Security experts in Nairobi believe Qaybdid’s police are acting in tandem with the feared National Security Agency, arresting suspects before delivering them to the an underground prison in Mogadishu.
The Times has spoken to three Somali journalists who were arrested by the Somali police force and held for weeks without charge in the dungeon before paying bribes to be freed.
One radio reporter was accused of supporting Islamist insurgents and tortured when he told his interrogators he knew nothing about al Qaeda.
“They ordered me to stand and put my hands on the wall and face them,” he said by telephone from Mogadishu. “Then they started to beat me. When I cried they took off my shirt and used cables to beat me until I was close to unconscious.”
A spokeswoman for DfID said Britain’s work in Somalia was under review because of the country’s testing conditions.
“We condemn in the strongest possible terms any violation of human rights by the Somali police force. All UK-funded police training includes training on human rights. Somalia is an unstable country and the international community has a duty to remain engaged there, not just to reduce poverty, but also to build regional stability,” she said.
Britain’s Department for International Development tells me today it has stopped supporting the UN’s Rule of Law and Security programme, which has been the main target of human rights campaigners.
I’m also told, by one of my UN chums, that my report in The Times earlier this year and Aiden Hartley’s Dispatches documentary forced a rethink.