New Amnesty International Special Africa Programme Website

Amnesty International’s Special Programme for Africa has a new website! Here are some features as shared by its Coordinator Peter van der Horst:

SPA publications can now been downloaded in English, French and Portuguese (with very few exceptions in Portuguese and French), apart from the Facilitators’ Guide, Training on Monitoring and Documenting human rights violations. The latter will only be sent to qualified human rights trainers on their request.

All publications can also be ordered in hard copy. Small quantities are for free if an adequate explanation is given how the publications will be used.

Under SPA Update you will find information on the activities from early 2005 to date. We regularly will put information about new activities, progress in projects and lessons learned on this page. This will replace the old SPA Update that was only sent to Amnesty sections twice a year.

Click here to view Amnesty International’s Special Africa Programme website.

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Press Release: Somaliland National Human Rights Network on World Refugee Day

BAAQ XUQUUQDA QAXOOTIGA AH

Qaxootiga Somaliland Ku Sugan Aqlabiyadoodu

MA HAYSTAAN WAX AY KU DABAAL-DEEGAN!!

Inkastoo hay’adaha samofalka caalamiga ah ee arimaha qaxootiga, ururada wadaniga ah ee madaxabanaan qaarkood iyo hay’adaha dawladu ay kawada qayb qaadanayaan damaashaadka maalinta Qaxootiga Adduunka 20 June 2004, maalintan oo sidoo kale ku suntan maalinta Qaxootiga Qaarada Afrika. Hadana aqlabiyada qaxootiga ku sugan Somaliland, waxay doorbideen in aanay aqalada ka soo bixin oo ay ku murugoodaan guryahooda hoostooda, intii ay dhagaysan lahaayeen qudbadaha macmacaan ee qaar ka mid ah kuwii dayacay ay jeedinayaan.

”Salemon Kabede Tufa, waa wiil yar oo 18 jir ah, sanadkii uu aabihii Kabede Tufa la soo qaxay ee uu Somaliland la soo galay 1991 waxa da’diisu ahayd 6 jir, aabihii Kabede waxa uu ka tirsanaan jiray ciidamadii taliskii Mengistu Hayle Mariam, Salemon iyo aabihii waxay ku noolaan jireen xeredii Biyo Shiinaha ee UNHCR ay gacantaku haysay, markii la xidhay xeradaasi May 1998, waxa ka joogsatay wiilkan yar waxbarashadii, aabihii Kebede waxa isagoo aan raali ka ahayn uu buuxbuuxiyay formkii dib ugu noqoshada Itoobiya dalkiisii hooyo, isagoo arintaasi faahfaahinaya
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Xuquuq

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Xuquuq is Somali word that means rights. This is Suleiman, for his friends, relatives and acquaintance he is Suleiman Xuquuq. Somalis love giving nicknames. He is called such because he is a well known human rights activist in the country.

He was arrested in 1995 when he was investigating the conditions in Berbera prison, instead of advocating for the improvement of prison conditions he ended spending 1 month in the same compound.

In 1997, he was again arrested for advocating for minority rights and again in 1999 when he was investigating torture in Hargeisa police station, his imprisonment was reported by Jammhuriya (local newpaper) and picked up by BBC, this time, Amnesty International worked on his release.

I’ve been working with Suleiman since December last year, when ICD , my organization, assisted the formation of Somaliland National Human Rights Network. As the elected National Focal Point person he has been busy coordinating Network members composed of 39 organizations in 4 regions of Somaliland.

Together with other Network leaders, Suleiman would sit and always write something. Reports, plans, documentation of human rights cases, press releases among others.

He’s always on the go. When I see him I see an invisible sign on his foreheard that says “dakhso dakhso! (hurry hurry!). I act as the Network’s organizational capacity building adviser and it has become my role that in meetings with core Network leaders to raise my hand and say “Suleiman, sug sug i degeysu walaalo!” (Wait wait, listen to me brother). Our work would then become lighter because in those cases when everyone feels that Suleiman is raring to fly the others would look at me and smile, a signal that its time to say Sug! (wait)
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Updates on Independence Day Detainees

On Somaliland’s 13th Independence Day celebration 153 school children were arrested and sentenced to 6 months in prison, 3 women were sentenced to 1 year imprisonment.

Somaliland Times (local newspaper) in its May 29 issue reported that 2 of the 3 women arrested were rushed to the hospital. According to the report Ayan Hassan Mohamed and Sado Ismail Nuur were reportedly beaten by the police that caused their miscarriage. They were closely guarded by women police guard during their stay at the Hargeisa Group Hospital.

Meanwhile President Dahir Riyaale Kahin released 55 of the detained youth, they were pardoned so that they could undergo the annual entrance examination of Somaliland Schools.

DRC’s Work with the Aqils

International non-government organizations, UN Agencies and humanitarian aid agencies operate on the basis of their organization’s mandate.

Very few however deal with the informal, ad hoc and traditional leadership structures. In Somaliland, there is only one international organization that braved the brow raising and pessimistic reactions of many. There is only one organization that stood firm and believed in the continuous role of traditional leaders’ contribution in shaping Somaliland’s transition to a democratic state, the Danish Refugee Council.

In Somaliland, DRC’s Advocacy program centers on Human Rights and Peace Building. One unique feature of the program is its focus on Somaliland’s traditional leaders, the Aqils. Unlike other International agencies that puts its efforts in dealing with modern government structures and civil society organizations, DRC’s Advocacy Program decided to concentrate on the Somali Traditional system and the customary law to ensure protection of human rights and peace.

“The traditional leaders play as active change agents in the area of peace and human rights through updating the xeers (customary laws) consistent to human rights principles.” Victoria Justiniani, Advocacy Adviser of DRC-Somaliland said.

The Program has organized workshops and seminars among the Aqils that started with the Aqils of Togdheer, followed by traditional leaders from Hargeisa region and intends to reach the remaining regions of Somaliland. To date, it has produced agreements and declarations signed by 188 Aqils.

The Program also facilitated the networking of Aqils with Somaliland’s budding civil society movement in working to improve the human rights situation as shown in the joint celebration of the International Human Rights Day 2003.

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DRC is presently documenting its experience in working with the Aqils and will come up with a publication that will articulate a detailed report of its program achievements.

Iron Bars

The annual examination of Somaliland Schools started today. More than 100 students will not make it. They are in Mandeera prison and will stay there for 6 months. Arrested last May 18 during the country’s Independence Day celebration and sentenced the following day by the Regional Security Council.

The arrest of these kids mostly students raised mixed reactions among Somalilanders. Some welcome the decisive move of the government as a way to keep the country intact. “Somaliland needs stability and there is no room for trouble makers at this time.” a Somali community worker said.

Human Rights organizations on the other hand released a statement last night condemning the imprisonment of demonstrators and the government’s continuous implementation of the Emergency Law, a remnant of the Siad Barre dictatorship.

Now people ask how could the government through the Regional Security Council abruptly decide and sentence the young demonstrators while they keep mum on the progress of killers of Kenyan GTZ humanitarian aid worker caught redhandedly by the villagers of Dhoqoshay?

Parents gathered around Hargeisa’s Central Police Station on the night of Somaliland’s Independence Day, their festive spirit transformed into grief and anger, they failed to bring their children home. The decision came as a surprise to everyone, some hope that this is only temporary, some fear however that this is becoming a trend.

One thing is clear though the young fresh inmates of Mandeera prison will not be able to join their classmates in taking their exams today, instead of pens their hands will learn to grasp the cold iron bars of prison cells.

154 youth arrested in Somaliland Independence Day celebration

Local newspapers today report that the Regional Security Council sentenced 154 young people who were arrested in yesterday�s celebration to 6 months imprisonment. They were arrested for creating disturbance as Somaliland celebrates its 13th year of independence.

A number of the arrested youth were allegedly responsible for throwing stones at the Presidential residence after the celebration. There were also reports that these young demonstrators suffered beatings from the police. They were transferred to Mandeera jail last night.

Youth Demonstrators Released

The Radio Hargeisa announced yesterday that 18 of the 19 young demonstrators were released. One man, Ali Qooryoolay, a writer and one of the more vocal critique of the present government remains in jail. The arrest happened during a demonstration against corruption that was triggered by the termination of Somaliland’s Minister of Commerce and Industry.

Somaliland opposition, Kulmiye Party leader Ahmed Mohamoud Silaanyo critisized the arrest in a press conference and raised that the government’s continuous use of the Public Order Law, No: 21 of 1963 is unconstitutional.

Images of the House of Aqils of Togdheer

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The House of Aqils of Togdheer with Victoria (the lone female) of DRC taken during their Human Rights Conference.

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An Aqil signing the Human Rights Declaration

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Aqils meeting the villagers of Ainabo

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and the villagers of Odweine

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Aqil Mohamed explaining their initiatives to Human Rights NGOs during the syposium on Peace and Security (December 10,2003)

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Addressing the people at the kharia (public square) during the International Human Rights Celebration

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In a caucus with NGO leaders of Togdheer, their first time to work with civil society groups.

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The Aqils of Togdheer (in the middle) with the rest of Human rights leaders from different regions.

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Togdheer Aqils with Bashir, Victoria and the author
*First four photos courtesy of DRC-Somaliland

Knowing the Aqils

“Sheer beleed” or peace conferences were composed mostly of these men. The 1993 Borama conference granted these traditional leaders a separate legislative chamber of their own in the government structure of Somaliland. It is known as the Guurti, the collective voice of various clan leaders. This is one distinct feature of Somaliland government, which is a fusion of traditional and “modern” leadership models.

Among the traditional leaders, there are the Aqils, the head of the diya-paying group in the intricate clan system of Somaliland. Some of their functions are to act as a judge (within their clan) or negotiator (in situations that require inter-clan dialogues) upholding the “Xeers” or customary laws that govern the traditional practices on issues such as inherited marriages, revenge killings or any conflict that involves the clan.

In an oral society like Somaliland, customary laws are not written on paper, but imprinted in the minds of these elders and are passed from one generation to another by word of mouth. Traditionally, these clan leaders are expected to possess the wisdom and protect the culture and tradition of this country. They are crucial in deciding when clans should go to war or when it should uphold peace.

One eastern region of Somaliland, Togdheer has one distinct traditional structure. The House of Aqils. The place where the Aqils meet and gather. Togdheer is reputed to be a place where some of the fiercest liberation fighters originated. It straddles a strategic location connecting the capital to the east. They too are represented in the Guurti.

The first Aqils I worked with are from this region. They hold the pioneering role in acting on human rights issues in the country. They traversed the road very few attempted to take, they initiated changes in customary laws.

In September last year, upon the initiative of the younger clan leaders, Togdheer’s House of Aqils met, debated and agreed on issues affecting issues on human rights. Togdheer’s Governor Abdi Hussein recognized their crucial role when he said during his opening speech “The Aqils are the thread that connects the government and the communities; any interventions concerning peace and development will not be successful without the participation of the Aqils” .

With the Danish Refugee Council (DRC) the gathering was held upon the initiative and request of the younger Aqils who want to effect change. Some of these changes on customary laws related to women’s right to choose their spouse.

If the marriage does not happen between two consenting individuals, it will not last and will not result to a good and stable marriage. If we allow the woman and give her the freedom to choose her husband then, there is a huge chance that marriage will work..” Aqil Shukri explained.

This was supported by Sheikh Ahmed Sheikh Ali Yusuf who attended the same event when he said: ” “If a woman’s husband dies, she is free as she was in the beginning. We do not have the authority to tell her that she cannot get married. Inherited and forced marriage cause child neglect, lawlessness and conflict. So God is telling us that the woman is free to choose and to marry.”

Inherited marriage is only one of the issues they tackled. Controversial and sensitive issues such as revenge killings or “Ano” is another major concern they want to change.

As a result of the conference a Declaration was passed and signed by the leaders of the House of Aqils.

After the gathering, they travelled to far flung villages and informed the people who were gladly surprised by this development and like the traditional Somali way of gathering they met and discussed with the people …under the tree.

As a result, there are reports that after women heard about the initiative, widows have started marrying the men they have long wanted to marry, not by the virtue of his relationship to her deceased husband, but of their choice.

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