Immediately after the government of President Mohamed Siyad Barre seized power in a coup on October 21, 1969, it adopted far-reaching legislative and administrative reforms that infringe internationally protected civil and political rights. These legislative reforms were based on “national security,” enforced by a broad and vaguely worded anti-subversion law that enabled the state to remove real or potential opponents. Twenty “offenses” which constitute, for the most part, internationally protected political activities are punishable by a mandatory death sentence. Lesser crimes are subject to lengthy sentences. This system remains intact.

Strict controls prohibit independent political activity and ensure that there are no legal avenues for the expression of dissent. These laws have been supplemented by a broad range of extra-legal forms of repression, implemented by such groups as the “Victory Pioneers,” a uniformed para-military organization that acts as the regime’s watchdog at the neighborhood level and has extensive powers of arrest and detention for which there is no legal basis. A powerful secret police organization was established, the National Security Service (NSS). The NSS has a network of informers at the workplace, in mosques, in schools, and in other public bodies and even encourages spying among family members. A special judicial system handles all “political” and public order cases and has consistently subordinated justice to the government’s political interest.

  • For nearly a decade before there were any armed insurgency, the army, and various security forces, protected by blanket immunity from prosecution, sought to stamp out dissent and to prohibit criticism of government policies and leadership by extreme and systematic repres­sion. The pervasive and general control of political activity and freedom of expression, association and movement effectively dis­couraged opposition. Those who defied the system were arrested and subject to indefinite detention. The government’s response to any political opposition was excessively and indiscriminately violent.
  • Until the war with Ethiopia over the Ogaden in 1977, there was no organized opposition. Somalia’s defeat in the war in March 1978 had profound economic, political and social consequences.
  • One of the most serious consequences was the influx of hundreds of thousands of Ogadeni refugees into Somalia. A substantial percentage of the refugees were settled in the north-west region, close to main towns. Their presence created severe political and social tensions, taxing further the already inadequate public facilities. The government created paramilitary groups among the refugees, as well as hiring and conscripting them into the national army, contrary to Somalia’s obliga­tions under a number of international conventions to which it is a party. In addition, the government encouraged armed militias among other civilian groups. These militias committed atrocities against the Isaak civilian population living along the Somali/Ethiopian border. Killings, rape, and looting became common. The government failed to take action to halt the abuses. In addition, the perception that the refugees had access to far better facilities than the local population, bred resentment, fueled by a struggle over land and limited grazing oppor­tunities. This, coupled with anger that the north had been left out of the benefits of independence, in terms of political power and develop­ment opportunities in the field of health, education, and industry, eventually led to the creation of the Somali National Movement, an Isaak-based anti-government guerrilla organization. The Isaaks are the largest clan in northern Somalia.
  • As the government became alarmed at the threat of an armed insur­gency, it tightened control. From 1982, special emergency regulations were put into effect and civilians were placed under the jurisdiction of military tribunals and the military police. The extraordinary powers given to the military and security forces under the state of emergency gave them unlimited power over the lives of civilians and led to violent excesses as a matter of policy. As the abuses grew, resistance intensified and the response was increasingly violent.
  • The government has been at war with the Isaaks since 1981, after the creation of the SNM. Apparently suspecting every Isaak of supporting the SNM, the government unleashed a reign of terror and lawlessness in northern Somalia. The authorities exploited the emergence of the SNM to justify indiscriminate violence against individuals and groups that criticized government policies and leadership, or merely because of their clan affiliation. The targets of persecution included inter­mediate and secondary school students who became radically politicized. Challenging the totality of government policies, they articu­lated the grievances of the wider community and became their spokes­men. * Both the urban population and nomads living in the countryside have been subjected to summary killings, arbitrary arrest, detention in squalid conditions, torture, rape, crippling constraints on freedom of movement and expression and a pattern of psychological intimidation. Nomads, who the government regarded as the manpower and economic base behind the SNM, suffered the worst abuses, especially as the SNM increased its incursions into the towns from late 1984. Whenever the SNM launched an attack or the government learned of their presence in a region, the rural population in that area was subject to harsh reprisals, including summary executions, the burning of vil­lages, the destruction of reservoirs, the indiscriminate planting of land mines and the killing and confiscation of livestock, the lifeline of nomads.
  • War broke out on May 27, 1988, when the SNM attacked Burao, one of the main towns in the north. On May 31, they attacked Hargeisa, the provincial capital of the region and the second city in the country. Immediately, in every town, including Berbera, Borama, Sheikh and Erigavo which the SNM did not attack, Isaak men who the government feared would assist an SNM attack, especially members of the armed forces, businessmen, civil servants, and elders, were arrested. The army engaged in looting on a massive scale; hundreds of people were shot as their homes and businesses were ransacked.
  • Apparently frustrated by their efforts to defeat the SNM in direct combat, the army turned its firepower, including its air force and artillery, against the civilian population, causing predictably high casualties. On the claim of looking for SNM fighters and weapons, systematic house-to-house searches were carried out and thousands were shot in their homes. Residential areas were targets of artillery shelling; a substantial number of people died as their homes collapsed on them.
  • Since the war began, the government has intensified its policy of recruiting and forcibly conscripting refugees from the Ogaden. It has financed and armed paramilitary groups among the refugees and pro-government civilians, using these as a fighting force. Refugees and armed civilian groups committed, and continue to commit, gross abuses against unarmed civilians, and have contributed significantly to the casualty rate among civilians
  • As the shelling and the shooting intensified, people began to flee the towns after a few days. The fleeing population was subjected to intense aerial bombardment and strafing, which followed them even after they crossed the border into Ethiopia. Civilians were also attacked by military units patrolling the exits of the towns. A pattern of killings, rape, and extortion was characteristic of the troops that intercepted the fleeing civilians.
  • Africa Watch’s estimate of the number of people killed by government forces, shot point-blank, or killed as a result of aerial bombardment and artillery shelling and war-related wounds, is in the vicinity of 50,000-60,000. The figures are so high because the army sought both to punish Isaak civilians for welcoming the SNM attack and to discourage them from further assistance to the guerrillas.
  • When it attacked Burao, the SNM shot in their homes and on the streets, a number of senior government officials who were considered particularly cruel to civilians. The SNM sought to have the Ogaden refugees return to Ethiopia, to drive them off Isaak territory. The SNM has attacked a number of refugee camps in which women and children have died, both in retaliation for refugee attacks against Isaak civilians and to force the refugees to leave the camps and return to Ethiopia. There have also been a number of incidents in which young men who joined the SNM after the war began, took matters into their own hands and executed a number of non-Isaak unarmed civilians.
  • The war has caused over 400,000 refugees to flee, principally to Ethiopia, where they live in squalid conditions in overcrowded camps. Another 40,000 refugees are in Djibouti, and tens of thousands have gone to stay with relatives in Mogadishu, the capital, or escaped to the United Kingdom, Holland and Canada. In addition, close to 400,000 people, both urban dwellers, and nomads have left their homes because of the insecurity and are displaced within the Somali countryside, living without any international assistance.
  • The government has consistently denied that civilians have been killed or that civilian targets have been destroyed deliberately. It has sought to legitimize its practices by describing civilian casualties as “excep­tional episodes,” “unfortunate” consequences of counter-insurgency operations. The frequency with which such practices have been employed belie the effort to label them as “exceptional.”
  • The abuses we describe in this report are not only concerned with the past. The war in the north continues. Similar policies are now being pursued in southern and central Somalia against the Ogaden and Hawiye clans in reprisal for their support of two new rebel movements, respectively the Somali Patriotic Movement (SPM) and the United Somali Congress (USC), established in 1989. Increasingly harsh counter-insurgency measures have resulted in the slaughter of noncombatants, aerial bombardment of civilian targets, the burning of villages and the killing of livestock. Given the more recent outbreak of the wars in the central and southern parts of the country, and the lack of access to places where refugees and the displaced congregate, Africa Watch has not been able to gather sufficient information based upon its own independent research to include relevant material in this report.
  • The U.S. government has followed an ambiguous course in Somalia since the outbreak of the war. Although the Administration has undertaken thorough investigations of human rights violations and made its findings available to the public, it has refrained from publicly condemning the Siyad Barre regime for the abuses it documents. It has continued to request aid for Somalia even while admitting that the government it seeks to assist has murdered and driven out hundreds of thousands of its own citizens and destroyed their homes and cities. Instead of using its influence with the Siyad Barre regime to put an end to the violence and persecution that has brought the country to ruin, the effect of this muddled policy has been to help make it possible for the government to hang onto power.
  • A positive aspect of U.S. policy towards Somalia has been the high level of interest demonstrated by the U.S. Congress, and its extensive efforts to block aid and to pressure the Administration to change its policy towards the Siyad Barre regime.
  • In the absence of genuine efforts at reforms that are responsive to the needs of the people affected by the war, the refugees we interviewed were unanimous and adamant in their views that the conditions to enable them to go home do not exist. The government has publicized a number of initiatives that it claims are genuine efforts towards peace and reconciliation in the north. To that end, it has sought international assistance for people displaced in the region. This has been largely an exercise in public relations and apparently an attempt to obtain funds with which to pursue the war. The only concrete measure has been a partial amnesty under which about 300 political prisoners have been released. However, many others have not been released and hundreds, and perhaps thousands, continue to be detained completely outside the framework of the law.
  • Africa Watch calls on the international community, in particular, the governments of the United States, the European Community, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the United Arab Emirates, to exert pressure on the Somali government to end its grossly abusive policies, and to alleviate the human misery that Somalia has come to represent.

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