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Somalia’s first forensic lab targets rape impunity



AFP — Garowe – The new freezers at Somalia’s only forensic laboratory can store thousands of DNA samples, although for now there are just five.

The big hope is that they could be the start of a revolution in how the troubled Horn of Africa country tackles its widespread sexual violence – provided some daunting hurdles are overcome.

The first sample arrived at the start of the year taken on a cotton swab from the underwear of a woman, a rape victim from the village of Galdogob.

It was wrapped in paper and driven 250km to the Puntland Forensic Centre in Garowe, capital of semi-autonomous Puntland, slipped into a protective glass tube and placed in one of the three ultra-low temperature fridges.

If DNA ID can be teased from the sample, this would be a crucial step in convicting the woman’s rapist.

No longer would it be a case of he-said-she-said, in which the survivor is less often believed than the accused. Two decades of conflict and turmoil have made Somalia a place where lawlessness and sexual violence are rampant.

“Now, people who have been raped hide because they don’t have evidence,” said Abdifatah Abdikadir Ahmed, who heads the Garowe police investigations department.

But with the lab, he said, “it’s a scientific investigation. There are biological acts you can zero in on.”


Not yet, however.

Abdirashid Mohamed Shire, who runs the lab, has a team of four technicians ready but is awaiting the arrival of the final pieces of equipment.

Their work to provide the evidence that might convict or exonerate is yet to begin.

And the pressure is on. The freezers mean the DNA samples can be safely stored for years but Somali law allows a rape suspect to be held for a maximum of 60 days. Shire needs the analysis and identification machines urgently so that, as he put it, “justice will be timely served”.

The laboratory, partly funded by Sweden, was launched last year after the Puntland state government enacted a Sexual Offences Act in 2016, which criminalised sexual offences and imposed tough penalties.

But technology alone will not solve Somalia’s many judicial weaknesses.

The DNA sample from Galdogob, for example, was stored in unclear and unrefrigerated conditions for five days before being sent to the lab, meaning a defence counsel could potentially argue the DNA evidence had been tampered with.

Human rights lawyers worry the new lab might backfire for this reason.

“A lot of thought needs to be given to how the chain of custody can be preserved in these kinds of cases,” said Antonia Mulvey of Legal Action Worldwide, a Kenya-based non-profit organisation.

More fundamental still is the failure of Somalia’s police to take sexual assault cases – and their jobs – seriously.

Corruption is rife, with a legal advisor to Puntland’s justice ministry saying officers “meddle” in cases, undermining them for personal gain.

“My concern is that the corrupted system could not make a sure success of the lab,” the advisor said, requesting anonymity to speak candidly. “Investing in the lab is good, but we need to think about the preconditions.”

The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) which helped pay for the lab is trying to address this by running training programmes for dozens of the Garowe police on sample collection, gender violence investigations and documentation.

But, the legal advisor cautioned that donors can only do so much.

“The issue is more complicated than training police. It relates to the political commitment of the government. UNFPA can train police but who will pay those you train? Are they given power to do the work?”


Two Somali men stabbed to death in north London as 2018 toll reaches 15



Two men have been stabbed to death within two hours of each other in the same London borough, bringing the number of people fatally wounded with knives in the capital in 2018 to at least 15.

The Metropolitan police launched two separate murder investigations into the killings on Tuesday night but said they had not ruled out the possibility of a link between them.

The first victim was found with stab wounds in Bartholomew Road, Camden, at about 8.30pm. He was pronounced dead at the scene. He was named by family members as 17-year-old Abdikarim Hassan.

Officers were later called to reports of a disturbance in Malden Road, Camden, at about 10.15pm, and found 20-year-old Sadiq Adan Mohamed with serious stab wounds. He was also pronounced dead at the scene.

No arrests have been made.

Hassan came to the UK from Somalia when he was two years old and was the eldest of six children, his uncle Yusuf Ahmed said.

He was a student at Westminster college and was a “good guy” who was “always smiling” and liked playing football, he said.

Elsewhere in London, a 24-year-old man who was shot in the head in Westminster on Tuesday night remains in a critical condition in hospital. Two people were arrested at the scene on suspicion of attempted murder.

Reacting to the most recent stabbings, Commissioner Cressida Dick said: “London must come together to make it clear that this cannot continue. We will not police our way out of this problem. There is a role for all of us – London’s public, our partners and the police.

“There will be young people out today who are carrying knives. Stop and think: do you really want your life to end?”

Police deployed extra patrols across Camden overnight, while a section 60 order – which gives police the right to search people in locations where they believe serious violence will take place – was in force until 7am on Wednesday.

Official figures show 2017 was among young people since at least 2002. Forty-six people aged 25 or under were stabbed to death in London, 21 more than the previous year, according to police figures.

The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, who has faced criticism for his handling of knife crime, said: “This morning I am asking the prime minister and the home secretary to urgently meet with me, my deputy mayor for policing and the commissioner of the Metropolitan police service to discuss what more can be done across government – including policing, youth services, sentencing, health services, probation and prisons – to tackle the evil of knife attacks on Britain’s streets.”

The latest phase of a Met police operation to fight knife crime resulted in nearly 300 arrests and the seizure of more than 250 weapons. Throughout the week-long operation officers recovered 265 knives, six firearms, and 45 other offensive weapons.

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Father cleared after judge says evidence of FGM on six-year-old was ‘wholly inconclusive’



Detectives have promised to learn lessons after the groundbreaking trial of a father accused of allowing his six-year-old daughter to undergo female genital mutilation (FGM) collapsed.

A judge at Bristol crown court ordered that the 29-year-old father be found not guilty of child cruelty and criticised aspects of the case against the man.

Outside court, police, who investigated the case for two years, said they fully accepted the decision but remained certain FGM was taking place in the UK and would continue to work to tackle the problem.

There was anger from friends and family of the father, who believed it was wrong to prosecute him, and outside court there was a minor scuffle between some of his supporters and anti-FGM campaigners.

The investigation was launched after a worker for the Bristol-based charity Integrate UK claimed the man, a private hire driver from the city, had told him during a short taxi ride that his daughter had undergone a “small” procedure.

Police were called and – more than two months later – the girl was examined by the designated doctor for safeguarding in Bristol.

The girl’s family insisted she had not undergone FGM but the doctor, Lindsey Mackintosh, reported a small lesion.

Mackintosh told the jury: “I was concerned that this may represent a form of FGM.” When the girl was examined nine weeks later by a consultant gynaecologist, nothing could be seen.

At the end of the prosecution case, Judge Julian Lambert agreed with the defence team that the man had no case to answer.

He described elements of the case against the father, who is of Somali origin, as “deeply troubling” and called the account of the key witness “inconsistent”. The jury was ordered to return a not guilty verdict.

There have been no successful FGM convictions in the UK. Afterwards, DCI Leanne Pook, Avon and Somerset police’s force lead for FGM, said she fully accepted the court’s findings.

Addressing the judge’s concerns, she said the time lapses were unavoidable. “We weren’t dawdling. There’s a whole host of complexities connected with this issue,” she said. “That’s not to say we shouldn’t keep trying. We’ll take some lessons from this and we’ll apply them next time.

“FGM remains a deeply entrenched practice and we know these harmful procedures are happening in this country right now. I will do my utmost not only to bring perpetrators to justice but to stop this from happening in the first place and give a safer future for younger girls affected by this issue.”

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) described the prosecution as “unusual and unprecedented”. A spokesperson said: “Where we feel there is sufficient evidence, and it is in the public interest to pursue, it is right that we put cases before the court so that a decision can be made by judge or jury.”

Lisa Zimmermann, the director of Integrate UK, said it was shameful that there had not been a successful FGM prosecution in the UK.

She said the case had been brought under child cruelty rather than specific FGM legislation, adding: “The CPS and safeguarding services must protect young girls by taking urgent and serious action to ensure that perpetrators feel the full force of the law. Where there is evidence of genital mutilation, the case must be prosecuted under the FGM act.”

The father left court without comment. The website Bristol Somali Media, a bilingual community site, tweeted that FGM was wrong – but activists and charities were wasting public money and destroying the lives of innocent families.

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Ottawa police identify Northview Road homicide victim as Egal Daud



CBC — Ottawa police have identified the man found dead inside a vehicle in Nepean Sunday as Egal Daud, 30, and say he was fatally shot.
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Daud’s body was found inside a parked car on Northview Road, near the intersection of Baseline and Merivale roads, around 10 a.m.
The Ottawa police major crime unit, which is leading the investigation, said his body may have been there since Saturday.

Staff Sgt. Bruce Pirt added on Sunday police didn’t yet know if the shooting happened there, or if that’s just where the vehicle was left.

Anyone with information is asked to call the major crime unit at 613-236-1222 extension 5493 or give an anonymous tip via Crime Stoppers or the Ottawa police app.

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