Masthead graphic based on a painting by Gudrun Thriemer.

Wednesday, May 30, 2001

"Mass Graves Leave a Corner of Somalia Appealing for Justice," Somaliland Network, May 30, 2001.

May 30 2001 (SLN) This is the sort of crime that does not have a statute of limitations. Floods at the Malka Durduro site in Hargeisa's dry river bed unearthed a series of mounds containing the bodies, half a kilometre (mile) from the main gate of the headquarters of the 26th division of the late President Siad Barre's army.

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Mass Graves Leave a Corner of Somalia Appealing for Justice

HARGEYSA, Somalia--The anguish still penetrates the cloudy brown eyes of Abdillahi Deria Madar as he recounts his brush with death in 1988 at the hands of troops loyal to former Somali dictator Mohamed Siad Barre. With the help of a sympathetic soldier, Madar managed to escape from a lineup of about 800 of his fellow Issaq clansmen who were destined for execution by firing squad. The former businessman, now 65, hid in a dog's burrow and watched as scores of his compatriots--including his brother's wife and several of their children--were tied together in groups of 10 and shot in the back. It has never been doubted that hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Somalis from minority clans in the country's northwest region--which today calls itself Somaliland--were slain under the Barre regime, which lasted more than 20 years. But the reality hit home last year, when skeletons in several mass graves began to surface following torrential rains and flooding that ravaged Somalia's northwest.

Today, residents of Somaliland, which in 1991 declared its independence from the rest of Somalia, want justice. Authorities in Hargeysa, Somaliland's capital city, are appealing to the international community to create a war crimes tribunal--similar to those set up for Rwanda and the former Yugoslav federation--to judge and punish those who killed and persecuted Somalia's northern clans during the Barre dictatorship.

The worst atrocities came between 1988 and 1991, according to survivors, after inter-clan fighting and the Somaliland rebels' push for independence put the northwest under severe attack.

The Somalis' plea comes at a time when the United Nations is convening a five-week conference on the establishment of an international criminal court that would bring perpetrators of crimes against humanity to justice.

But such a court would probably investigate crimes and try cases that occur only from its inception onward, one source said. And though forensic experts and an independent foreign human rights investigator have confirmed that massacres took place in northern Somalia--and people were clearly tied together, lined up, shot and dumped in common graves--few believe that the people of Somaliland will ever get the consolation and compensation they seek.

Many blame a lack of interest on the part of the international community. "It always comes down to political will," said a Geneva-based U.N. expert in international criminal law.

Few countries have had much sympathy for Somalia since a U.N. humanitarian peacekeeping mission there crumbled in 1992 after 18 U.S. servicemen were killed. The country remains divided among rival warlords and without a central government. The constant threat of abduction and extortion that international relief workers face countrywide has not helped matters.

"Somalia is seen as a failed U.N. operation," said Mona Rishmawi, the independent expert for the U.N. high commissioner for human rights who investigated the mass graves in Somaliland. "I don't know if the international community is willing to invest more [there]. . . . "The moment there is more stability and more security . . . then these chapters can be reopened," she said. But since Somalia has made little progress toward a peace agreement and since the U.N. is unwilling to deal with Somaliland as a separate entity, the people here face an interminable wait.

With hopes that a judgment day will eventually arrive, authorities in Hargeysa established a war crimes committee in April to investigate and document alleged Barre-era human rights violations, including arbitrary executions, torture, rape, looting and destruction of property. Some of the alleged perpetrators still control regions of the country and have even been called upon by the international community to negotiate a settlement on Somalia.

Forensic experts have given the committee limited training in how to dig up mass graves, analyze the bones to determine cause of death, and carefully preserve the evidence. And the committee has tracked down scores of witnesses and suspects--most significantly, the operator of the bulldozer that dug the mass graves.

Survivors queued for hours to register the identities of missing loved ones, most thought to be dead. So far, more than 1,000 names have been registered. "People were very emotional," recalled Hassan Aw Barakalle, a member of the war crimes committee. "Many cried, and asked about compensation, and why we were doing this, and whether the accused would be taken to court."

The testimonies are gut-wrenching. Zahra Mahamed Muhumed, 25, believes that her stepson, Abdi Noor Naaleeye, was bled to death--a common form of execution, according to Somalis--in a local hospital after being captured by Barre soldiers in the spring of 1988.

The 20-year-old's body, clad in blue jeans and a red T-shirt, was dumped in a mass grave on the banks of the Hargeysa River, Muhumed said. She was one of the hundreds who rushed to the shore upon hearing that the graves had surfaced.

Bones, shoes, watches and jewelry still litter the soft sand dunes that border the now-dried-up river. Rope, still in the shape of the loops that tied the wrists or ankles of the deceased, are a bitter indication that those killed had no means of escape.

Rishmawi, the U.N. investigator, estimates that up to 2,000 people were massacred and buried in common graves, primarily in a two-month period in 1988, when Hargeysa was constantly being shelled. The first site, excavated in December, contained about 200 bodies.

The people of Somaliland believe that the death toll is significantly higher, claiming that almost every family in this republic of about 4.2 million people lost at least one relative. The victims may have included former Somali government soldiers from rival clans that opposed the dictator's regime. In addition, Somaliland militias may have executed Ethiopian refugees who collaborated with Barre, as well as government loyalists captured immediately after the dictatorship was toppled in 1991.

However, the vast majority of the dead are believed to be civilians. Madar, the lucky escapee, is haunted by the memory of a woman holding her child above her head and begging the soldiers to spare the infant's life. The soldiers shot her on the spot, and then her child.

Madar, the 11th man behind a lineup of 10, was pushed aside and told to wait, but the executioners kept ignoring him. A soldier standing guard, intrigued by Madar's good fortune, allowed him to jump to freedom over a nearby wall.

Mohammed Ismail Ahmed, a former soldier in Barre's army, said he watched from his cell window as prisoners were loaded onto trucks, their hands tied behind their backs. After the sound of gunfire, the trucks would return empty--or filled with new victims. As Ahmed recalls, the procedure continued for 23 days--then stopped, a day before his own execution was scheduled, due to an unexplained order from the Somali capital of Mogadishu.

Today, Ahmed, a 38-year-old typist and mason in the Somaliland National Army, is thankful that the suffering of his countrymen will at least be documented.

"It's of great importance to me because it will give a record of how people have been treated, how they have been killed, and it will give hope that one day the criminals will be brought to justice," he said.

However, some observers believe that the authorities in Hargeysa want to exploit the war crimes issue for political ends--namely, as a way of justifying Somaliland's separation from the rest of Somalia.

"They want to assert that they were persecuted and systematically killed, and this is why they can't join [Somalia]," Rishmawi said.

War Crimes Tribunal

Somaliland, the northwest region of Somalia that declared its independence from the rest of the country in 1991, is seeking a tribunal to investigate and prosecute atrocities committed against its minority clans under the rule of former Somali dictator Mohamed Siad Barre.

By ANN M. SIMMONS, Times Staff Writer

Hannah accepts a leading role to promote tragedies of Somaliland


Charity begins: Hannah is just back from Somalia [Somaliland] where he witnessed the opening of a mass grave of murdered civilians: 'You simply cannot have a human response to anything so massive.'

IT must have been a sobering & head-imploding moment. John Hannah, the actor who plays the fictional pathologist McCallum in Scottish Television's crime drama, staring at death in all its brutal, decomposed and utterly tragic reality.

Hannah's encounter with murder in the raw did not take place, as might happen in the television siries, amid the stainless steel and antiseptic white tiles of the mortuary dissecting room. The scenario was more gruesome and less clinical than that.

Only days ago, he was standing on the edge of a mass death pit, looking at the rotting bones and ragged shreds of clothing that remained of what, a few short years ago, had been human beings. This chilling episode took place under the heat of an African sky, amid the war-torn, acacia sprinkled desert scrub of Somaliland.

The human remains Hannah was staring at belonged to just a few of the estimated 50,000 people who were tortured and executed in the Somaliland capital, Hargeisa, in a vicious outbreak of tribal ethnic cleansing during the civil war of the Eighties.

As we sit in Oxfam's Edinburgh office. Hannah gives a powerful and gripping account of his experience. As he speaks, you can almost feel the heat of the African sun bearing down, shining off the bones and the white brick of the nearby buildings You feel like asking if the vultures were circling overhead, though you immediately realise that in the face of such genuine suffering, such a remark would be unforgivably flippant.

McCallurn the pathologist would probably be detached and cynical about such an encounter. Hannah himself is anything but. Ironically, the graves were opened not for him, but for United Nations' pathologists as part of an evidence gathering exercise. And no, he didn't feel any sense of engagement with their job. A cheesy showbiz question. Once again -too late this time - the flippancy alarm rings.

What, then, did he feel at that dreadful moment?
'Numbness. You simply cannot have a human response to anything so massive. You do actually feel guilty because you think to yourself, I should be thinking more than this. I feel that I should talk about how overwhelmingly horrendous the whole thing was, hut there really is no emotional response.

What, though, was John Hannah, formerly of East Kilbride and now moody-to-order professional Scots actor, doing staring at this charnel pit in a third World backwater? His bit for mankind, that's what. He is currently taking time away from stage and screen to help Oxfam promote its Cut Conflict Campaign, which calls on the British and other governments to do humanitarian things such as curbing the arms trade and bringing war criminals to justice. Hannah is a realist and is aware of the mountain that has to be climbed. To carry out charity work, he says, gives him a sense of per sonal fulfilment.

"The campaign had a political dimension to it, which satisfied my own personal criteria. I also thought it was quite innovative, and it was a sop to my own conscience." He describes it as taking personal res- ponsibility for one's fellow human citizens - more than putting money in a collecting tin or posting food parcels. "it's part of our generation I voted for the first time in 1979. I don't think you can grow up under a Tory government without becoming politicised. "I think we all feel that within our society, we have to take more responsibility than simply voting once every five years - or not. Things can be changed by the will of the people." Hannah's agreement to take, part in Oxfarms current campaign, and his eagerness to participate by flying out to the Horn of Africa to see the results of war for himself, is of immeasurable benefit to the organisation. It is now 1-3 years since Michael Buerk's chilling account of famine in Ethiopia conquered the consciousness of the nation. A generation on, we all suffer from compassion fatigue: television pictures of another ethnic squabble in another faraway country simply bore us.

Famous celebrities are just about the only people who can successfully overturn this public complacency. It may seem cynical but it works. And that is exactly why we are sitting in a dingy Edinburgh office, listening to the thoughts of John Hannah on the best way of saving the world.

"It does unfortunately require a celebrity to attract media interest and it's something I felt I could do." he says. "That's the world we live in, and that's the contribution I can make."

But even celebrities, surely, are moved by the sheer scale of the suffering? "I was quite overwhelmed by how much needed to be done, and also felt in some way perhaps slightly naive in thinking we might be able to do something about it. "The most direct emotional feeling I have come away with is one of being inspired by the people, who have moved on from their history by their own efforts. It seems entirely inappropriate to feel pity or sympathy, or empathy, or even a personal degree of horror when people there are achieving so much."


Nairobi, Feb 22, 2000 -- The bodies of more than 700 people have been discovered in a mass grave in northern Somalia and they may have been killed more than a decade ago, United Nations officials in the Kenyan capital said Tuesday.

According to the officials, the bodies were found last week near the airport in the northern city of Berbera. The speculated that the bodies may belong to victims of a massacre carried out by troops loyal to then-president Siad Barre who was ousted in 1991.

Local authorities said the bodies could be of members of Issak clan which went missing in 1988 after Barre's troops arrived in the region.

A U.N. fact-finding team is to visit the region to carry out an investigation in collaboration with an organization which is probing war crimes there, the U.N. officials said.EFE

After Barre fled the east African nation, Somalia dissolved into chaos with its people terrorized by warlords and their heavily-armed followers.

Muna Rishmawe Calls for Bringing War Criminals Responsible for Genocide in Somaliland to Justice

UN Special Report - Nov 18, 1997

Mis Muna Rishmawe of the United Nations High Commissioner's on Human Rights was assigned to conduct a facts-finding survey to investigate the mass-genocide which occurred during 1988-89 in Somaliland. Initially, Miss Rishmawe's search for facts on war crimes committed in Somaliland has lasted for a period of three years in which she briefed the United Nations in Geneva on the findings and out-come of her efforts. Miss Rishmawe is now appealing to the world to bring those who were responsible of mass executions of civilian population to justice to account for their crimes. The suspects are understood to have worked for the now-defunct regime of late dictator Mohamed Siyad Barre. Rishmawe has documented the prime suspects for these crimes. Also, she has confirmed that during 1988, a large number of innocent civilian population were massacred in groups. The overwhelming majority of the victims were executed in Northern Somalia presently known as Somaliland.

During her several visits to Hargeisa, Rishmawe has met with eye-witnesses to mass execution operations that occurred in Hargeisa during 1988-89 civil war. She has also visited several mass graves within the vicinity of the town. Information collected from individuals who have themselves escaped from executions has confirmed the occurrence of mass killings. Ms Rishmawe said that most of the people suspected of participating in the killings can be identified. Most of them now live in Somalia or abroad where they enjoy political asylum, she has reported. Miss Rishmawi said the world has forgotten about the mass-genocide of civilian population carried-out in Somalia while the criminal offenders were set out freely and granted peaceful-settlement throughout the world. Also, she has confirmed that many leaders of Somalia's factions are among the prime suspects behind the mass-executions. She added "since these people are suspected of committing mass-slaughter against a civilian population they deserve to be brought to justice in front of an international tribunal outside Somalia to face war crime charges. Miss Rishmawe has strongly emphasized upon the United Nations that all findings, evidence and whereabouts of suspects should be strictly kept confidential until suspects are brought to court of law outside Somalia.

Miss Muna Rishmawe visited Hargeisa in late 1997. She also came back in 1998 along with a team of forensic experts on genocide killings.

Somaliland police find 200 skulls in mass graves

HARGEISA, Somaliland, June 16 (Reuter) - Police in the self-declared Republic of Somaliland dug up a series of mass graves containing more than 200 skulls, eyewitnesses said on Monday.

The corpses, bound by the wrist in groups of ten and 15, were believed to have been killed by forces of then president Siad Barre in 1988, police said.

Floods at the Malka Durduro site in Hargeisa's dry river bed unearthed a series of mounds containing the bodies, half a kilometre (mile) from the main gate of the headquarters of the 26th division of the late President Siad Barre's army.

The finding is the first of its kind and confirms rumours that mass graves existed in the Somaliland capital, but the identities of the bodies and their manner of death remain unclear.

Police officers putting the skeletons into white sheeting told Reuters they had uncovered more than 200 heads.

Machinegun cartridges, army uniforms and civilian clothes littered the site and bones protruded from uncovered mounds.

Somaliland, which has just over one million people, proclaimed itself independent from Somalia in 1991 under Mohamed Egal, but has not been recognised by foreign governments.

Barre's warplanes and artillery pounded Hargeisa for three months in 1988 reducing it to rubble and forcing the entire population of 200,000 to flee.

Somalia has had no central government since Barre was ousted in 1991. Famine fuelled by the civil war that followed killed an estimated 300,000 in 1992.


Somaliland covers the area of the former British Somaliland Protectorate which merged with Italian Somalia in 1960 to form the new Somali Republic.

Somaliland declared itself independent after the collapse of the Somali government when President Mohamed Siad Barre was ousted in January 1991. But its sovereignty is not recognized internationally.

World needs to know why we want independence
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