The presence of mass graves in Hargeisa, Somaliland, was brought to the Independent Expert’s attention in the summer of 1997.

The account of events following the discovery of the remains, confirmed by the UNDP Office for Somalia, indicated that several hundred bodies were unearthed and then re-buried by the local community.

Information indicated that the victims had been bound by the wrist and roped together in groups of 10 to 15 individuals and were believed to have been killed by government troops in 1988 during the regime of President Siyad Barre.


In the report to the 1998 Commission (E/CN.4/1998/96), the IE called for steps to be taken to preserve the evidence at the sites for possible use at a later stage.

A mission to conduct an on-site forensic assessment of alleged mass graves was carried out by Physicians for Human Rights, an NGO, under the auspices of the OHCHR. The mission took place in December 1997. Among the tasks of the forensic experts were:

(a) determination of the nature of the graves and a preliminary assessment on the conditions of the remains and types of injuries to the bodies;

(b) assessment of all logistical considerations regarding the exhumation and examination of all the graves;

(c) and the conducting of a one-day workshop for the local authorities and NGOs to provide them with basic information on how to determine whether corpses discovered in a mass grave are the result of a massacre and how to preserve evidence.

Forensic Report On Mass Graves In The Vicinity Of Hargeisa
Human remains in Somaliland’s Valley of Death. (Photo courtesy of the Peruvian Forensic Anthropology Team, led by Franco Mora)

The forensic report prepared for the 1999 Commission ( E/CN.4/1999/103/Add.1) reviews conditions leading to the creation, discovery, and partial excavation of the grave sites and notes, inter alia, that:

(a) a total of 92 to 116 alleged mass grave features were observed in three areas examined by the forensic team;

(b) the nature of the graves, evidence of perimortem injury, and the occurrence of bodies bound together by ligature, in combination with the haphazard placement of the bodies in the graves led to the conclusion that the deaths of these individuals were suspicious, and constituted a violation of human rights; and

(c) features described by witnesses as mass graves are indeed mass graves.

The recommendations in the report included that:

  • Given the number of graves in the vicinity, the location of all known mass graves be mapped; a limited and representative sample of graves be fully exhumed and the victims examined by an international team of forensic experts;
  • For those graves not the subject of an in-depth forensic investigation, they be excavated by the Somaliland authorities, with the assistance of local physicians specially trained in forensic analysis of skeletal remains;
  • Advance preparations in Somaliland include the location and securing of facilities for storage examination remains selection training a forensic analysis team composed medical doctors as well local excavation administrative issues concerned with certification death final disposition be resolved prior to the start of excavations;
  • Forensic investigations be undertaken in the dry season; a preparation lead time of approximately five to six months be arranged to develop and implement the logistics of the mission; and
  • Training and assistance be provided to the Somaliland Administration in regard to setting up its own forensic team for purposes of performing controlled excavations mass graves and osteological analysis of recovered human remains.

The report also recommended that the UN, in consultation with the Technical Committee:

  • Provide assistance to the Technical Committee relating to the procedures for the collection of witness testimony;
  • Provide assistance to the Technical Committee relating to compiling a comprehensive grave registry, including a detailed survey, in the vicinity of Hargeisa, as well as in other regions and towns with suspected mass graves;
  • Establish a means of providing financial support for the conduct of thorough investigations of alleged and known mass grave sites and human rights violations linked to the period 1988 to the present; and
  • Authorize and assemble an international team of forensic specialists, working with local professionals for the purpose of conducting investigations of selected mass graves and encouraging and supporting additional forensic investigations conducted by local professionals trained in forensic methods, assisted by international specialists.


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