Six things U.S. can do to help Somalia
January 16th, 2013
02:13 PM ET

Six things U.S. can do to help Somalia

By Maria Burnett, Special to CNN

Editors note: Maria Burnett is a senior researcher in the Africa Division at Human Rights Watch. The views expressed are her own.

When the new Somali president, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, took office in September, the United States encouraged him to “usher in a new era of governance that is responsive, representative, and accountable.” This week, President Hassan Sheikh is in Washington to discuss how to get this done.

Since the collapse of the Somali state in 1991, the country has been wracked by civil conflict with serious human rights abuses by all sides. The human rights situation remains poor in areas under government control, while the Islamist armed group al-Shabaab continues to commit serious abuses throughout the country. Somalia needs U.S. support to address the cycles of violence that have plagued its people for more than two decades. This means that human rights and accountability should be high on this week’s agenda, including in discussions about Somalia’s security and stability.

The U.S. should set six pillars as the foundation for its ongoing engagement in Somalia:

First, the U.S. should work with the new government to help it reclaim a monopoly on protecting its citizens. Since al-Shabaab withdrew from much of Mogadishu last year, clan and freelance militias – many of them loyal to local politicians, including former warlords – have reassumed control of parts of the city. In some places, the police are mostly spectators. Peace will mean little to Mogadishu’s residents, including many who fled famine and fighting in southern parts of the country over the last two years, until the militias are brought to heel. Disarming, demobilizing and reintegrating hundreds of thousands of armed men in Somalia will not be easy, but it’s crucial. Somalia’s much abused population should not be forced to look to clan militias or even to the militants of al-Shabaab again to fill the protection gap.

Next, the United States must take the lead in bringing human rights reform and accountability to the security services. Militia members are not the only ones committing abuses. The U.N. and others are extremely concerned about the high levels of sexual and gender based violence in Mogadishu. The U.S. should set clear benchmarks for respecting international humanitarian and human rights law and place accountability for serious abuses such as rape and torture at the heart of further support for government forces. The police need help to investigate these crimes properly and ensure access to services for victims. And Somalia needs an effective vetting mechanism to keep those responsible for past abuses out of government forces.

The U.S. should also help the government protect journalists. It should support investigations into the numerous deaths of journalists in the last few years, including 15 killed in government-controlled areas in 2012 alone, the deadliest year on record. Access to information is crucial to progress in Somalia. Journalists, who have played a critical and fearless role in reporting on the country’s conflict, need to know they cannot be attacked with impunity. But so far, there have been no prosecutions for journalists’ killings. While the U.S. should commend President Hassan Sheikh’s commitment to set up a task force to look into these killings, it should push for speedy, concrete results. The ongoing detention of a freelance journalist, Abdiaziz Abdinur Ibrahim, for interviewing a woman who alleges she was raped by security forces, shows that the police are currently part of the problem facing the media in Somalia, rather than part of the solution.

Another critical need is to get children out of the security forces and back to school. The U.S. should continue to work with the government to prevent the recruitment and use of children within its forces, including vetting the age of recruits. The U.S. should also be making sure that detention of alleged former child soldiers by the national security agency and other security forces is a measure of last resort. This will mean expanding access to child protection activities such as demobilization, rehabilitation, and reintegration programs that include psycho-social counseling, vocational training, and schooling.

The U.S. should also throw its weight behind a beefed-up U.N. human rights monitoring team in Somalia. The U.N. is reviewing its presence in Somalia this month, so the United States should call for a significant increase in the number of U.N. human rights monitors. A regular flow of credible information on human rights from the ground, especially in areas of southern Somalia where information on the various actors and armed groups is more limited, is key to deterring violations and ensuring accountability.

Finally, the U.S. should help Somalia tackle longstanding impunity by supporting establishment of an international commission of inquiry to map and document some of the worst abuses over the past years. This would be a groundbreaking effort to provide a basis for future accountability. Any attempts to seek truth or justice would draw on such a commission and its very existence could serve as a deterrent to would-be criminals.

At long last, there is room for optimism in Somalia. Previous transitional authorities have quickly lost ground because they and their international partners have not made human rights and accountability a priority. President Sheikh Mohamud and key supporters such as the U.S. will need to focus on these issues for this optimism to endure and become a reality.

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soundoff (25 Responses)
  1. Joseph McCarthy

    There is but one thing that the U.S. can do for Somalia and that is to stay out of Somalia's internal affairs! Let the French interfere if they want to but let the Somalians decide their own future!

    January 16, 2013 at 2:26 pm | Reply
    • Mohamed


      January 16, 2013 at 2:44 pm | Reply
    • rightospeak

      Right on, as you were right about the Communist influence on the US policymaking from within our own government.

      January 17, 2013 at 3:35 pm | Reply
    • Ismail

      Is USA good in creating mess or cleaning it up. Either way we might need USA support in kind but not in cash because they don't have "Cash". Leave to us we can clean the mess; but, please do not go to other side of the fence to arm Alshabab. Kenya does that now. In one hand they are with us on other hand they said they are looking AFTER own interest!

      January 19, 2013 at 5:15 pm | Reply
    • Abdulkadir

      We all need to be alone taking our decitions nothing else and thats a very hard if you following the histroy well!

      January 20, 2013 at 6:35 am | Reply
  2. kevobx

    Do weapons prosper, the world wants to bear arms? *Isaiah 52:10 The Lord hath made bare his holy arm in the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God. *Hebrews 12:29 For our God is a consuming fire. Are you tired of asking why? (*Daniel 9:13*) Are you really tired of asking why? (*Jeremiah 5:19*) The world chose the tree of knowledge, and what is knowledge without grace and truth? The most High is the tree of life! *Revelation 22:2 and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. *Isaiah 40:17 All nations before him are as nothing; *John 13:19 Now I tell you before it come, that, when it is come to pass, ye may believe that I am he. *Ezekiel 13:21 and ye shall know that I am the Lord. *Jeremiah 23:23 Am I a God at hand, saith the Lord, and not a God afar off? (*Psalm 109:6 Set thou a wicked man over him: and let Satan stand at his right hand.*) *Revelation 22:10 for the time is at hand.

    January 16, 2013 at 3:34 pm | Reply
  3. kevobx

    God is the I as in I am he: Satan is the eye, the plank in one's eye. God is one (*1st Corinthians 8:6*), and Satan eye is written on the back of a dollar bill. *Acts 17:30 And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent: *Exodus 21:21 for he is his money. *Luke 20:26 And they could not take hold of his words before the people: and they marvelled at his answer, and held their peace. *2nd Corinthians 11:14 And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. *Revelation 16:14 For they are the spirits of devils, working miracles, which go forth unto the kings of the earth and of the whole world, to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty. (*John 6:26*)

    January 16, 2013 at 4:11 pm | Reply
  4. kevobx

    Lying is a mental health issue, a free will disease? *Exodus 15:26 for I am the Lord that healeth thee. *Isaiah 52:12 For ye shall not go out with haste, nor go by flight: for the Lord will go before you; and the God of Israel will be your rereward. *Luke 1:39 And Mary arose in those days, and went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Juda; *Hebrews 7:14 For it is evident that our Lord sprang out of Juda; *Matthew 24:20 But pray ye that your flight be not in the winter, neither on the sabbath day: *Exodus 16:27 And it came to pass, that there went out some of the people on the seventh day for to gather, and they found none. (*Luke 19:32 And they that were sent went their way, and found even as he had said unto them.) God is odd. Satan is even. Who are you?

    January 16, 2013 at 4:38 pm | Reply
    • Lee

      Huh? What? OMG?

      January 17, 2013 at 1:06 am | Reply
  5. Name*elvoh

    this is crap only way Us can by supprting the African Union forces of which Kenya and Uganda are majority by equipping them with modern military hardware and funds then human righta will come later!

    January 17, 2013 at 4:54 am | Reply
    • Quigley

      Another dumb post from another dimwitted Tea Partier. Like Joseph already said, we need to just stay out of other peoples' wars. In other words, we need to adopt a laissez-faire foreign policy.

      January 17, 2013 at 10:53 am | Reply
  6. rightospeak

    We need to stay out of Somalia and Maria needs to read our Patriot Act and tell Jimmy Carter about which Human Rights the Act is in violation of.

    January 17, 2013 at 3:39 pm | Reply
  7. Saida Jama

    I think it is too late for you to say what US can do for Somalia or talk about Human Rights where where you 1991 when Doctor,s lawyers ,Engineer's , civil workers ,women, children, elders and all intellectual's has been slurred. please don't even go there let cannibals in Mogadishu clean their mess.

    January 17, 2013 at 7:22 pm | Reply
    • Abdulkadir

      I agreed with u my sista, mahadsanid!

      January 20, 2013 at 6:31 am | Reply
  8. kevobx

    Be watchful of you call an ass, even the Lord Christ rideth into Jerusalem. Where are your manners? *Genesis 36:24 this was that Anah that found the mules in the wilderness, as he fed the asses of Zibeon his father. *John 1:23 He said, I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as said the prophet Esaias. *Genesis 32:18-19 Then thou shalt say, They be thy servant Jacob's; it is a present sent unto my lord Esau: and, behold, also he is behind us. And so commanded he the second, and the third, and all that followed the droves, saying, On this manner shall ye speak unto Esau, when ye find him. *Obadiah 6 How are the things of Esau searched out! how are his hidden things sought up! *Romans 9:11 (For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth;) Genesis 2:9 the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

    January 18, 2013 at 7:34 pm | Reply
  9. j. von hettlingen

    Mohamud, a relatively new figure in Somali politics is academic and civic activist. Perhaps his priority is to try to reunite a country divided into a de-facto independent north and a south still partly controlled by the al-Shabab Islamist militia, while rallying the support of the rival politicians whom he beat during the presidential election. He appointed his close associate Mr Saaid as prime minister in October 2012. It's difficult to figure out what his real goals are. No doubt, a stable Somalia would end a lot of trouble around the African Horn.

    January 19, 2013 at 7:18 am | Reply
  10. kevobx

    Exodus 16:30 So the people rested on the seventh day. *Hebrews 4:3 For we which have believed do enter into rest, as he said, As I have sworn in my wrath, if they shall enter into my rest:

    January 19, 2013 at 7:31 pm | Reply
  11. kevobx

    Genesis 2:3 And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made. *Hebrews 4:4 For he spake in a certain place of the seventh day on this wise, And God did rest the seventh day from all his works. *Matthew 1:18 Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost. *Matthew 27:49-50 The rest said, Let be, let us see whether Elias will come to save him. Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost. *Exodus 20:19 And they said unto Moses, Speak thou with us, and we will hear: but let not God speak with us, lest we die. *Revelation 3:2 Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God.

    January 19, 2013 at 8:23 pm | Reply
  12. kevobx

    God is black. Satan is red? *Revelation 13:8 And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. *Matthew 27:32 And as they came out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name: him they compelled to bear his cross. *Luke 22:31-32 And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren. *Hebrews 9:24 For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear the presence of God for us: *Acts 7:48 Howbeit the most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands; *2nd Corinthians 5:1 FOR we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. *Jeremiah 4:28 For this shall the earth mourn, and the heavens above be black: *Matthew 24:30 and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. *Malachi 3:6 For I am the Lord, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed. *Daniel 2:21 And he changeth the times and the seasons: *Romans 1:25 Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen. ;;;

    January 19, 2013 at 10:26 pm | Reply
  13. kevobx

    *Jeremiah 23:23 Am I a God at hand, saith the Lord, and not a God afar off? *Exodus 20:21 And the people stood afar off, and Moses drew near unto the thick darkness where God was. *Daniel 2:22 He revealeth the deep and the secret things: he knoweth what is in the darkness, and the light dwelleth with him. *Genesis 1:2 And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. *Job 9:24 The earth is given into the hand of the wicked: he covereth the faces of the judges thereof, if not, where, and who is he? *John 18:6 As soon then as he had said unto them, I am he, they went backward, and fell to the ground. *Daniel 10:15 And when he had spoken such words with me, I set my face toward the ground, and I became dumb. *Isaiah 38:18 For the grave cannot praise thee, death can not celebrate thee, they that go down into the pit cannot hope for thy truth. *Luke 1:20 And, behold, thou shalt be dumb, and not able to speak, until the day that these shall be performed, because thou believest not my words, which shall be fulfilled in their season. *1st Thessalonians 5:1 BUT of the times and seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you.

    January 19, 2013 at 11:14 pm | Reply
  14. kevobx

    Jeremiah 22:18-19 They shall not lament for him, saying, Ah my brother! or, Ah sister! they shall not lament for him, saying, Ah lord! or, Ah his glory! He shall be buried with the burial of an ass, drawn and cast forth beyond the gates of Jerusalem. *Luke 23:27-28 And there followed him a great company of people, and of women, which also bewailed and lamented him. But Jesus turning unto them said, Daughters of Jerusalem, weep not for me, but weep for yourselves, and for your children. *Luke 23:49 And all his acquaintance, and the women that followed him from Galilee, stood afar off, beholding these things. *Exodus 20:18 and when the people saw it, they removed, and stood afar off. *Matthew 21:27 And they answered Jesus, and said, We cannot tell. And he said unto them, Neithertell I you by what authority I do these things.

    January 20, 2013 at 12:45 am | Reply
  15. Adde

    Somalia's peace, unity and a viable government is directly connected to the fate of Jubbalands because these are the most fertile, rich and multi clan habitation province in Somalia. The right of making and setting up administrations in Somalia belongs solely to the Somali people and its representative government and not IGAD !. It would be strongly advised to the current Somali government not to follow the failed political routes of the previous so-called regimes but to follow a different political and social road map that is constructive and in search of rebuilding Somalia through political independence and the restoration of Somalia sovereignty and dignity in the world. After 22 years full of political and social tragedies, misfortunes, foreign domination and coupled with persistent social and political instabilities in Somalia, it is time to take serious lessons from the past and make sure that the Somali parliament and the government as well as the Somali people to commence a serious national reconciliation, social and political process in order to resurrect Somalia and own its revival and rebuilding without relying outside forces anymore.

    January 23, 2013 at 9:10 am | Reply
  16. Adde

    May I thank President Hassan Sheikh, Speaker of the Somali Parliament Prof. Jawari, and Prime Minister Saa'id for their Efforts of bringing Somalis Together after 22 years anarchy and foreign domination.
    As allah Said in one of the Versus in our Holly Koran ;"la-in shakartum la azid anna kum wala-in kafartum inna adaabii la shadiidu"which means " If you offer thanks, I WILL give you more! and if are ungrateful, my punishment is very stern." We Somalis in Diaspora as well as inside yhe Country ought to thank Allah despite the difficult times we passed

    January 23, 2013 at 9:21 am | Reply

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