In Somalia, a country long troubled by deadly violence, there’s a disturbing new trend: an increase in summary executions.
Somali military courts and the militant group al-Shabab have each executed about a dozen people so far in 2017, all of them killed in public settings as crowds of between 30 and 300 people looked on.
While executions in Somalia are nothing new, the sudden increase has drawn the attention of human rights groups like Amnesty International as well as the local European Union delegation, which has asked Somali authorities to enact a moratorium on the death penalty.
Activists have been particularly critical of executions carried out by military courts, which they say are trying cases beyond their jurisdiction and failing to give defendants fair legal process.
Military courts put to death 11 people in April alone, including a policeman convicted of murdering a civilian, a soldier convicted of killing a civilian, and four al-Shabab militants sentenced for explosions that killed some 80 people in the town of Baidoa.
The execution of five young men by firing squad in the semi-autonomous Puntland region on April 8 sparked the most controversy. Amnesty International says the defendants, all accused of murdering officials in the town of Bossaso, were too young to be tried as adults, never given access to a lawyer and coerced into giving false confessions.
The rights group says that according to family members, the boys confessed to the killings only after being beaten, raped, subjected to electric shocks and burned with cigarettes on their genitals.
“These horrific allegations of torture must be fully and independently investigated and those found responsible held to account,” said Michelle Kagari, Amnesty’s deputy regional director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes.
The head of Puntland Military Appeals Court, Salah Liif, said the court does not force confessions and denied the allegations about the defendants being underage.
“Puntland Administration does not execute children and will never do that,” he told VOA’s Somali service. “It was a propaganda spread by elements playing human rights groups against Puntland.”
Al-Shabab gives defendants virtually no legal process at all. On the morning of May 6, residents of tiny Quar’a Madobe village were going about their business when al-Shabab militants ordered them to assemble. Dozens gathered to see the militants holding two men in civilian clothes at gunpoint.
“They brought the men in front of a tea restaurant, and told the residents they were captured enemy soldiers,” said a witness who spoke to the Somali service. One militant then recited a Quranic verse, he said, and two others used large knives to slice off the men’s heads, as those watching gasped and screamed.
A Somali National Army colonel identified the men as Mowlid Hussein and Ahmed Ya’qub, and said they were driving to the town of Jowhar to tend to family emergencies when al-Shabab intercepted their vehicle. The colonel said they were “off duty, uniformed and unarmed.”
On May 1, al-Shabab executed two other men — Ahmed Ibrahim Ragow, 29, and Yusuf Ali Bajin, 22 — for allegedly raping a girl and killing her brother in the city of Beledweye. One was shot by firing squad; the other was publicly stoned.
Hassan Shire Sheikh is chairperson of the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (EHAHRD). In an interview with VOA Somali, he called for a complete stop to the executions.
“Carrying out executions abruptly won’t help the nation as it can cause the death of innocents,” said Shire. “The current executions represent retrogressive and unjustifiable [policy], as there is no evidence to suggest that the death penalty deters crime more effectively than other punishment.”
Cleric backs death penalty
Sheikh Bashir Ahmed Salad, an influential cleric and the chairman of the Council of Religious Scholars of Somalia, said his council backs use of the death penalty, which describes as “a strong principle in our Islamic law.”
The cleric, who survived a car bomb in Mogadishu in 2013, is one of the few Somali clerics to publicly criticize al-Shabab’s extreme ideology and terrorist attacks. He supports any harsh sentences against the militant members.
“We generally believe that al-Shabab militant members disrespect human life, kill innocent people indiscriminately and destabilizes people’s peace and norm, so we support any iron hand dealing with them,” he said.
Diplomatic leaks: UAE dissatisfied with Saudi policies
AL JAZEERA — Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed (MbZ) is working on breaking up Saudi Arabia, leaked documents obtained by Lebanese newspaper Al Akhbar revealed.
Al Akhbar said that the leaked documents contained secret diplomatic briefings sent by UAE and Jordanian ambassadors in Beirut to their respective governments.
One of the documents, issued on September 20, 2017, disclosed the outcome of a meeting between Jordan’s ambassador to Lebanon Nabil Masarwa and his Kuwaiti counterpart Abdel-Al al-Qenaie.
“The Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed is working on breaking up the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” the Jordanian envoy quoted the Kuwait ambassador as saying.
A second document, issued on September 28, 2017, reveals meeting minutes between the Jordanian ambassador and his UAE counterpart Hamad bin Saeed al-Shamsi.
The document said the Jordanian ambassador informed his government that UAE believes that “Saudi policies are failing both domestically and abroad, especially in Lebanon”.
“The UAE is dissatisfied with Saudi policies,” the Jordanian envoy said.
The Qatar vote
According to the leaks, UAE ambassador claims that Lebanon voted for Qatar’s Hamad bin Abdulaziz al-Kawari in his bid to become head of UNESCO in October 2017.
“[Lebanese Prime Minister Saad] Hariri knew Lebanon was voting for Qatar,” the UAE ambassador said in a cable sent to his government on October 18, 2017.
In November last year, Hariri announced his shock resignation from the Saudi capital Riyadh.
He later deferred his decision, blaming Iran and its Lebanese ally in Lebanon, Hezbollah, for his initial resignation. He also said he feared an assassination attempt.
Officials in Lebanon alleged that Hariri was held hostage by Saudi authorities, an allegation Hariri denied in his first public statement following his resignation speech.
Somalia’s Puntland region asks UAE to stay as Gulf split deepens
BOSASO, Somalia (Reuters) – Somalia’s semi-autonomous Puntland region urged the United Arab Emirates not to close its security operations in the country after a dispute with the central government, saying the Gulf power was a key ally in the fight against Islamist militants.
The dispute goes to the heart of an increasingly troubled relationship between Gulf states – divided by their own disputes – and fractured Somalia, whose coastline sits close to key shipping routes and across the water from Yemen.
Analysts have said the complex standoff risks exacerbating an already explosive security situation on both sides of the Gulf of Aden, where militant groups launch regular attacks.
The central Somali government said on Wednesday it was taking over a military training program run by the UAE.
Days later the UAE announced it was pulling out, accusing Mogadishu of seizing millions of dollars from a plane, money it said was meant to pay soldiers.
“We ask our UAE friends, not only to stay, but to redouble their efforts in helping Somalia stand on its feet,” said the office of the president of Puntland, a territory that sits on the tip of the Horn of Africa looking out over the Gulf of Aden.
Ending UAE support, “will only help our enemy, particularly Al Shabaab and ISIS (Islamic State),” it added late on Monday.
Watch this presser. pic.twitter.com/wEH19WsG7t
— Abdisalam Aato (@AbdisalamAato) April 16, 2018
The UAE is one of a number of Gulf powers that have opened bases along the coast of the Horn of Africa and promised investment and donations as they compete for influence in the insecure but strategically important region.
That competition has been exacerbated by a diplomatic rift between Qatar and a bloc including the UAE. In turn, those splits have worsened divisions in Somalia.
Puntland, which has said it wants independence, has sought to woo the UAE which runs an anti-piracy training center there and is developing the main port. The central government in Mogadishu last year criticized Puntland for taking sides in the Gulf dispute. Qatar’s ally Turkey is one of Somalia’s biggest investors.
One Somali government official said last week Mogadishu had decided to take over the UAE operation because the Gulf state’s contract to run it had expired. Another official said the government was investigating the money taken from the plane.
The competition among Gulf states in Somalia has fueled accusations of foreign interference and resentment in many corners of Somali society.
The loss of the UAE program could have a destabilizing effect, said one security analyst, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“The value of the UAE trained forces was two-fold – they were relatively well trained but, most importantly, they were paid on time,” unlike other parts of the security forces, the analyst told Reuters.
Somalia has been mired in conflict since 1991.