15th April 2013
It is with great sadness that Strategic Initiative for Women in the Horn of Africa (SIHA) has learnt of the brutal deaths of Professor Mohamed Mahmoud Afrah, Head of Somali Lawyers Association and Abdikarin Hussein Gorod Lower, lawyer and human rights defender, both of whom were affiliated to SIHA member organisation, the Somali Women’s Development Centre, Mogadishu. On the 14th April, a coordinated attack upon the Banadir regional Court in Mogadishu was carried out deploying armed militias, car bombs and suicide attackers. Estimates place the number killed as approximately 25. A further four people were killed later the same day when a car laden with explosives exploded close to a vehicle carrying Turkish personnel.
The deaths of these two prominent legal advocates are a huge blow to the pursuit of women’s human rights and women’s access to justice in Somalia. Only recently, the two had successfully represented a woman who had been persecuted by the state for reporting that she had been raped by government soldiers. By employing legal frameworks against this woman, the state endeavoured to create a veneer of legitimacy to the persecution of her and a journalist who had sought to investigate the case. Both Professor Afrah and Mr Lower quashed the charges and set about challenging the validity of placing survivors of sexual violence on trial. These two men were at the forefront of the struggle against sexual violence which has become a plague in Mogadishu.
Only five days prior to this recent suicide attack, a woman, Ayaan Mohamud Adar, was publically executed in the town of Buulo Burde, Hiraan Region by Al Shabab on the pretext that she had been spying for the SNG. Her murder is one of many committed by both Al Shabab as well as frequently unknown actors across South Central Somalia and Mogadishu. Civilians have become targeted for real or perceived political affiliations and punishment is swiftly discharged by the gun.
Mogadishu and much of South Central Somalia continues to endure insecurity on multiple levels, from hand grenades thrown daily, through to suicide attacks and electronically controlled roadside bombs; rape and theft against IDP communities by armed militias continue to be a daily reality alongside the theft and diversion of humanitarian supplies by camp gatekeepers and district commissioners. Since early this year the prevalence of rape has escalated tremendously, only between March 16 to March 18 SIHA members documented 21 incidences of rape from one IDP camp alone in Mogadishu.
There is no simple analysis to offer, and there are no easy solutions to overcoming such violence. We frequently look towards the Somali government and to Al Shabab as both protectors and perpetrators of violence. The reality is that there are multiple bases of power and a monopoly of violence held by no-one. The withdrawal of Al Shabaab from Mogadishu in late 2011 created a power vacuum which many sought to fill, especially in lieu of a government with insufficient capacity to do so themselves. In this jostle for power and competition, it seems that all of those who assert violence manage to make gains from the continued insecurity, the presence of IDPs and the availability of humanitarian aid. It is only civilians that seem to suffer.
That violence has become a daily occurrence both within Mogadishu and beyond should not allow the deaths of these two prominent lawyers, nor all of those who have died in these and other attacks, to diminish our sensitivity nor our outrage, compassion or concern. We must not allow the cultivation of immunity or indifference and despite the frequency of these attacks; no victim should be rendered solely a statistic. Reminding ourselves of the human cost for families, friends and the community should always be at the forefront of our minds.
At no point should violence be accepted or tolerated in Somalia and there should be no normalisation of good people like Professor Mohamed Mahmoud Afrah and his colleagues to be publically executed for trying to restore a peaceful Somali society.
We endeavour to create alongside our Somali friends and partners a better place in which individuals and communities can exist in peace. But in the midst of violence, in the pursuit of human rights and justice, in our political analysis, in our critique of the security context, in our interrogation of our mode of work, there is one singular item we must retain as central; we must stay human.