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Human rights abuses rampant, says expert

[Somalia] Armed Somali militiamen, locally called 'technicals', driving around the town of Jowhar on 1 August 2005.
Somali militiamen in one of the armed vehicles locally known as 'technicals' (Hilaire Avril/IRIN)

Human rights violations, including harassment of minorities and trafficking in human beings, have remained rampant in Somalia despite the creation of a transitional government for that country, an independent expert said on Thursday.

"The human rights situation has not improved," Ghanim Alnajjar, the UN Independent Expert on the Situation of Human Rights in Somalia, told a news conference in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, at the end of an 11-day mission to Somalia.

He said the fledgling Somali transitional federal government lacked the capacity to deal with the human rights problem, mainly because it had still not established its authority on the ground.

That government - led by President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed - was formed in Nairobi in October 2004 and relocated to Somalia in June 2005.

Alnajjar said minorities continued to be harassed and the lack of an authority to police Somalia's long coastline had encouraged human trafficking.

"The world is not paying enough attention to the situation in Somalia," he said, and added that the international community looked at Somalia as a "security problem" yet the country received little external support to restore stability.

"The lack of coastline monitoring encourages human trafficking, often with fatal consequences for those who seek to leave Somalia for a better life elsewhere, many of whom drown or arrive at their destination only to discover that their hopes for a better life cannot be realised," he said.

Illegal fishing by foreign vessels in Somalia's territorial waters had also continued to deplete the country's marine resources, he added.

"The lack of protection of the Somali coastline has allowed illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing activities by foreign vessels to take place, diverting resources that could considerably improve the livelihoods of Somalis," he added.

He reiterated his call for the launch of an organisation mandated to safeguard the Somali coastline until Somalia's own authorities developed the capacity to undertake that function.

Alnajjar, a professor of political science at the University of Kuwait, expressed concern over the plight of Somalia's 370,000 internally displaced persons, whom he said lived in desperate conditions.

He said he was also concerned about recent reports that non-Somali refugees inside Somalia were being unfairly targeted and harassed by authorities "under the guise of anti-terrorism operations".

The independent expert spoke out against reports that "certain countries" were stepping up efforts to repatriate - at times forcibly - Somali refugees and asylum seekers without ascertaining that their safety would be guaranteed inside Somalia.

Lamenting the lack of access to primary and secondary school education for many Somali children, Alnajjar said: "With an estimated enrolment rate of 19.9 percent, efforts to ensure the basic right to education of these children should be stepped up."

Associations of disabled people had reported numerous cases of discrimination, Alnajjar said, and many of them had urged him to support their efforts to increase awareness of the challenges they faced in their daily lives.

He condemned the recent killings of human rights activist Abdulkadir Yahya Ali, local journalist Duniya Muhaydin and the BBC's Kate Peyton, and appealed to political, religious and business leaders in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, to ensure that attacks on human rights defenders and media personnel ceased.

Alnajjar also said he was appalled by conditions in the main prison in Hargeysa, the capital of the self-declared republic of Somaliland; the prison was built in 1942 with the capacity to hold 150 inmates, but nearly 700 prisoners were crammed into it despite the lack of sanitary and medical facilities.

"It is a shameful place, the lack of medical facilities is beyond belief," he said. "Prisons in Somalia remain unacceptable and much below international human rights standards, mainly due to lack of funding and management know-how."

He noted, however, that land had been set aside for the construction of a new prison in Somaliland.

Alnajjar said Somali Prime Minister Ali Muhammad Gedi had expressed his commitment to include the establishment of an independent national human rights commission in the agenda of the interim government.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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