Western anti-terror units accused of abuse

Editorial, Jordan Times, 2 September 2005

Foreign security services chasing suspected terrorist cells in Somalia are abusing human rights with kidnappings, harassment and threats to suspects, some of whom may be innocent, a UN envoy said on Thursday. “This has to be highlighted. I cannot just sit back and watch,” Ghanim Al-Najjar, the UN-named rights expert on Somalia, said after an 11-day trip to the Horn of Africa nation.

US and other Western security services see Somalia as a potential haven for terrorists as it has been without government since warlords overthrow dictator Mohammed Siad Barre in 1991.

In cooperation with agents from neighboring Ethiopia and local Somali authorities, they are monitoring or chasing suspects there, mostly from other Arab nations, experts say.

“One thing which worries me always is using the pretext of war on terror to harass people. This concerns basically the non-Somalis living in Somalia,” he said.

“Some of them have been kidnapped, some of them have been harassed, or threatened to be deported … This practice should really be stopped … It might hit innocent people.” Al-Najjar, a Kuwaiti academic chosen by the UN to report independently on rights in Somalia, did not give more details.

But his comments echoed concerns voiced in a recent report by the International Crisis Group (ICG) think tank. It said Al-Qaeda operatives, other jihadists, and Ethiopian and Western security networks were engaged in a “quiet, dirty conflict.” Western surveillance flights, abductions of innocents, and cooperation with unpopular faction leaders were causing resentment among Somalis, the ICG said in its July report “The Shadow War on Terrorism in Somalia: Losing Hearts and Minds?”

Human trafficking

Al-Najjar said the recent relocation to Somalia of a new government \u2014 formed in Kenya in a 14th attempt to reestablish central rule since 1991 \u2014 was yet to bring any tangible improvement in rights as they had no authority on the ground.

Characterizing the overall rights situation as “very bad,” he chastised the international community for neglecting Somalia, except when it came to worrying about terrorists there.

Of particular concern to the world, he said, should be rampant abuse of fishing waters off Somalia's long coastline.

Foreign vessels fishing illegally, often armed and in league with local Somali warlords, were taking some $300 million worth of fish each year, he said. “We are talking about huge robbery … going on for some time. Nothing is being done about it.” Trafficking of Africans across the Gulf of Aden from Somalia to Yemen was also on the increase, Al-Najjar added.

At a cost of just $30-$50 a head, thousands of people a year were being smuggled that way, he said.

The majority were Ethiopians coming into Somalia's Puntland region and leaving from the port of Bosasso. “These people are suicidal and desperate. They want to cross, even if it means they are going to die,” he told a news conference in Nairobi.

Al-Najjar also highlighted the dire state of Somalia's jails, which he said showed the state of human rights. “Prisons tell the real story, not fancy restaurants, hotels or meeting rooms.” Even in the self-declared republic of Somaliland, where facilities were generally better than the rest of Somalia, a visit to the capital Hargeisa's jails shocked him.

“It is a shameful place, beyond belief,” he said, listing lack of medical facilities and sanitation, bunker cells and overcrowding at five times the original maximum capacity of 150.

Al-Najjar's visit to Somalia did not include the capital Mogadishu. “We are not in the suicidal business here,” he said.