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Ottawa (Canada)

May, 09. 2004


M. M. Afrah

In the days when the Somali warlords have been stealing the limelight from each other by massacring more innocent civilians, a visiting journalist from Belgium asked me how some people would qualify for a war crimes tribunal.

Well, the simple answer was/is that the elements that made up the offenses of “War Crimes” and “Crimes against Humanity” included genocide, murder, torture, enslavement and destruction of cities, towns and villages. The Somali warlords are, therefore, fully qualified to appear before a war crimes tribunal, similar to the one in Arusha or perhaps the one in The Hague.

The line that the militia either followed orders or, for the warlords, they knew nothing of the massacre committed by their minions is an oversold concept borrowed from captured Nazi officials at the Nuremberg war crimes trial in the immediate aftermath of World War Two.

Not that the military regime of General Barre had not committed crimes against humanity, particularly during the later years of his autocratic rule, it’s just that there are no records available, apart from the few files from the notorious Godka torture chambers that survived the looters’ torch.

But a case in point is the mass graves at the Jasiira Beach, where the dreaded NSS and the elite Red Berets buried hundreds of Isaaq clansmen, and the execution by a firing squad of the 11 Imams who openly opposed Barre’s family laws that gave women equal rights. They had preached in their Friday sermon that it was against the Holy Quran to grant women equal rights as men.

I reckon had General Barre won the civil war, he would have wanted to roast men like Ali Mahdi, Generals Aideed and Galaal for starting the then popular uprising against his regime in 1991. But his military, one of the best in Africa South of the Sahara, was dumb enough to loss the war against a bunch of barefooted, poorly armed, starving United Somali Congress (USC) militia youths in Mogadishu, and the SNM in Hargeisa. Apparently, the Somali National Army was in a catch-22 situation. They were poorly paid, demoralized and the chain of command had eroded in the process. In Somalia the buck had nowhere to stop.

Also witnessing the mass promotion of General Barre’s clansmen in the military and the Civil Service further fueled the erosion of morals among foot soldiers and civil servants from other clans. As a result, the last thing on these soldiers’ mind was to defend a regime that had discriminated against them. No wonder the regime lost the war to teenagers who never carried guns before.

Now, you would shrug it off with: “What else is new? This is an old story.” I would, however, live in the comfort that, for the first time a number of human rights organizations in cooperation with local human rights groups, are compiling list of those who committed, and are still committing war crimes against innocent civilians during Somalia’s 13 years old civil/clan wars.

But what is worrying in this instance is that the world’s only superpower and “icon for democracy and justice for all”, has been keen to have its military exempted from prosecution for war crimes committed abroad.

After watching the pictures of US soldiers brutalizing Iraqi prisoners in the old House of Horror, otherwise known as Abu Gharaib, and according to media reports, many people in the Arab World and in the United States strongly believe that they would like to see heads roll, and those soldiers who were responsible in these brutalities brought to justice.

But the question is: since the United States does not recognize an independent international war crimes tribunal for American soldiers who commit war crimes abroad, who is to deal with those soldiers who treated Iraqi prisoners like animals. As a matter of fact, one image in the photo gallery clearly shows a woman soldier holding a leash lied around a naked Iraqi prisoner’s neck at Abu Gharaib prison, like a dog.

According to a Note from the editor of the Washington Post newspaper, some images in the gallery may be disturbing because of their violent or graphic nature. Some of the photos, including the man with leash around his neck, were cropped for publication.

Going back to the brutalities carried out by the Somali warlords against the defenseless Somali people, it is high time that these honchos be brought to justice. Members of the United Nations Security Council can do it if they really put their mind in it, instead of vacillating. Period.

By M. M. Afrah©2004

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