Breaking point in Somalia

Dr. Shamsul Bari, the UN Independent Expert on Somalia has visited the country twice this year, in February and again in July. In his account of those visits to the Human Rights Council, Bari points out that he and others warned months ago of the “terrible consequences of the drought” but he says he “was pained to discover that, despite clear warnings by all concerned, the international response has been far from satisfactory.”

Whilst acknowledging that the UN and other international agencies are working to alleviate the consequences of the famine, Bari says the combination of the decades-long conflict and the drought has taken the Somali people to ‘breaking point”.

The situation is made even worse by a lack of funds. According to Bari the United Nations is conceding it cannot respond properly to the “enormous needs caused by the drought in Somalia” for lack of money.

It is estimated, he says, that this year’s UN Consolidated Appeal for Somalia is only half funded and when the extra costs created by the drought are added there is a predicted shortfall of around 70 percent. 

The effect of the deficit will be two-fold: funding of famine relief efforts will be inadequate but also, and crucially, Bari says the international community will miss the first opportunity it has had in years to work with the Transitional Federal Government to re-establish a functioning system of government in Somalia.

“For the first time in nearly two decades, with the exception of the brief rule by the Union of Islamic Courts, Mogadishu will come under an internationally supported central authority,” Bari says. That opening has been created by the withdrawal early in August of Al-Shabaab, the insurgent group from Mogadishu.

The Independent Expert warned that failure to act could result in the development of a power vacuum “that could undermine the capital’s stability and allow it once again to descend into warlordism”.

Describing his conversations with Somalis in the Dadaab refugee camps in Kenya the Independent Expert says there are now much stronger feelings of disapproval for the policies of Al-Shabaab. Most of the refugees, he says had come from areas controlled by the insurgents who had refused to allow international agencies to provide aid to relieve the effects of the drought and who had refused to provide any assistance themselves. The refugees felt “betrayed” Bari says in his report.

This disillusionment with Al-Shabaab presents the transitional Government and the international community with another opportunity to be seized, the Independent Expert said.

At the September Session of the Human Rights Council the Universal Periodic Review report of Somalia on its human rights record will also be discussed. The report on Somalia follows its participation for the first time, in May this year, in the Universal Periodic Review, the Council’s system of regular peer reviews of the human rights records of all UN member States.

Bari says “The government should be commended for its commitment to promote and protect human rights in Somalia even in the midst of war. It must now be helped to turn its commitments into reality. The role of the international community and the United Nations is critical… “

A three day consultative meeting in early September, backed by the UN, endorsed a “roadmap” which spells out the steps to be taken before the current government arrangements end in August next year. The agreement describes a process which will be owned by Somalis, which is inclusive of all sectors of Somali society, and which will be continually monitored.

Also included were two human rights benchmarks - first, a commitment to preventing the recruitment of children for the armed conflict and second, a commitment to strive to protect civilians from armed conflict and to adhere to Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law.

The Human Rights Unit of the United Nations Political Office in Somalia and the United Nations Development Programme will prepare a human rights audit of the draft Constitution in October.

Financial support from the international community will depend on the achievement of results and implementation of agreed priorities.

Shamsul Bari has been to Somalia many times. He has seen the conflict and now the famine at first hand. Bari describes himself as swaying between optimism and pessimism for the future of Somalia but says he has never given up hope. In his report he expresses his belief that “in the not too distant future, the people of Somalia will be able to wake up from their long nightmare to find that normality has returned to their country.”

15 September 2011

UN Independent Expert on Somalia