Somali Legal Aid Newsletter | May 2015

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SLAN Newsletter: Welcome

Welcome to the first edition of the Somali Legal Aid Network (SLAN) newsletter! 
This newsletter will be issued every three months and will provide you with updates on trends and analysis of legal developments, key human rights issues, examples of innovative legal strategies and a profile on a member of the network.

The aim of the network is to bring Somali lawyers together to share information, learn, and identify strategies to overcome common challenges and ways to overcome them. The first Network Roundtable will take place in June 2015 and will bring all members of the network together for the first time.

Key Legislative Developments

 The Federal Government of Somalia ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child in January 2015.
 In Somaliland civil society, led by Nagaad Network, has drafted an amendment to the existing House of Representatives Election Act. The amendment would provide women with a certain quota in elections. The amendment has not yet been presented to Parliament. 

 In Somaliland, a Sexual Offences Bill drafted by Nagaad Network with the support of Legal Action Worldwide is currently before the Parliament. The Bill clarifies and expands the scope of existing sexual offences under the Penal Code, introduces new offences not previously criminalised by Somaliland law, sets out clear and enforceable duties for the police and includes provisions for the protection of survivors and witnesses. The Bill will be reviewed and voted on by Parliament during the second Parliamentary session, held in July and August 2015. 
 In Puntland, a Human Rights Commission was established in November 2014. Mohamed Yusuf Ali, the first and former Dean of the Puntland State University Faculty of Law, was elected as the Chairperson of the Committee. 
 In Somaliland, the Ministry of Information, Culture and National Guidance made an executive order on 8 November 2014 requiring media agencies and individual journalists to register with the Ministry to lawfully operate. The order was criticised by the independent media and human rights organisations as a restriction on the freedom of journalists. 
 In Puntland, a new media law was passed by Parliament on 21 July 2014. The law was drafted without consulting media or news groups, and was criticised by the Media Association of Puntland for restricting the right to freedom of expression and the independence of journalists. The government initially agreed to postpone putting the law to vote until the input of these groups had been received. However, it is now understood that the President has signed the Bill into law, in spite of calls for reform by key stakeholders.
 In Mogadishu, Somalia’s Council of Ministers approved a Draft Media Law on 1 September 2014, which is now before the Federal Parliament. The Media Law requires all journalists and media agencies to register with a National Media Council, prohibits “false news” or “propaganda” directed against the government and imposes fines of up to $10,000 for breaches of its 'Code of Ethics'. The proposed law has been sharply criticised by the National Union of Somali Journalists for amounting to an attempt to control and censor independent media and restricting freedom of speech.
 In Somaliland, a draft Bill on Combating and Preventing Terrorism is currently being considered by the Parliament. Though the Bill has not been made public, Network members have received reports that it grants wide powers to the executive, including to arrest suspects without a warrant, and that it is ambiguous in its definition of terrorism, leaving a wide discretion to the police to determine who may be subject to arrest under the legislation. Civil society actors allege that the Bill is likely to violate rights to freedom of movement, association and due process.

Human Rights Issues: Key Concerns and Priorities

Source: Reporters Without Borders
Freedom of Speech  
In Somaliland, the total number of journalists arrested remains unknown. Four journalists were arrested and two were prosecuted between 30 October and 3 November 2014 for reporting on anti-government activity. Somaliland authorities have also banned Hubaal News Network and the Haatuf and Somaliland Times newspapers.
In MogadishuReporters Without Borders reported that NISA arrested 30 journalists from 15-17 August 2014. Several witnesses, including security officers, have stated that three journalists remaining in detention have been subjected to torture.

In Puntland, a journalist was killed by unidentified gunmen in November 2014 and another  on 1 May 2015. 

Fair Trial and Due Process
In Somaliland, members have expressed concern over reports of an increase of arbitrary arrest and detention by security forces, and specifically the Rapid Response Unit (RRU).  People are reportedly being seized from their homes and held for extended periods without being formally charged.

Following statements criticising the execution of six people accused of murder, the Chairman of the Somaliland Human Rights Centre was detained on 18 April for ‘anti-national propaganda.’
In south central regions of Somalia, the National Intelligence and Security Agency (NISA) has reportedly carried out mass security operations, occasionally holding detainees for prolonged periods, and mistreated suspects during interrogations. NISA has no mandate to arrest or detain.

Suspect being handed from the African Union Mission in Somalia to NISA:
Sexual and Gender Based Violence
In Somaliland, sexual and gender based violence (SGBV) continues to be prevalent. In 2014, through the Baahi-Koob referral centre, 399 rape and SGBV cases were reported, the Attorney General’s office proceeded with 191 cases and 47 people were convicted. 
In Puntland, according to members, levels of SGBV remain high, particularly in IDP camps. However, there are no statistics are available on the number of reported SGBV offences or prosecutions in Puntland. Members emphasised the need to raise awareness within communities of formal justice systems, psycho-social and medical services.
In south central regions of Somalia, there were 820 incidents of rape and 270 incidents of sexual assault between January and August 2014 according to the Gender-Based Violence Information Monitoring System (GBVIMS). Sexual violence perpetrated by security forces has remained of particular concern. 
Forced Evictions
In Mogadishu, more than 25,700 IDPs were evicted from public and private buildings between January and February 2015.

The Somali Women's Development Centre reported that security forces forcibly evicted and demolished the homes of seven minority-clan families in the Abdiaziz district after claims by a businessman to be the landowner. SWDC were able to halt further evictions on the disputed land through advocacy with the Commander of Police, and the person claiming ownership has now been arrested. The case against this person is ongoing. For more information please contact:
“Sexual violence is almost universally underreported because of the risks faced by survivors and witnesses who come forward and by the humanitarian workers, human rights defenders, journalists and others to whom they speak.”

Common Challenges

Many network members are struggling with inadequate and inconsistent ad hoc funding. A centralised and consistent funding model is clearly needed to enable members to continue effectively providing their invaluable services. 

Access to Justice in rural regions
Members reported that most rural communities in Puntland and south central regions of Somalia do not have access to formal justice systems, and that they are unable to reach them due to security concerns.
Administrative Issues
A number of providers reported that administrative issues were providing challenges, including delays in cases due to judges and registrars being paid late. 
Members have reported that there is a general resistance to the work of GBV legal aid providers, which exposes these organisations to safety and security risks. Many legal aid providers report that perpetrators, ex-partners and families of clients have all threatened to harm the survivor, and sometimes to the legal aid workers themselves.
Security protocols and measures, and trainings on these protocols, are needed to safeguard legal aid staff, survivors and witnesses.

Successes of Network Members

In Puntland, the Puntland Legal Aid Centre (PLAC) worked to commute the death sentences of seven people convicted by the Military Supreme Court. PLAC succeeded in reducing these sentences to a term of life imprisonment.

The Puntland Women Lawyers Association conducted training on GBV and conducted an awareness raising on women’s rights and duties towards their husbands in Islamic perspectives.

The Puntland State University (PSU) Faculty of Law, which houses the PSU legal aid clinic, is set to begin a new course on civil society law, which will assist young lawyers wanting to work in the legal aid and human rights sphere. 

In Mogadishu, Save Somali Women and Children (SSWC) successfully resolved 28 cases. Of these, 23 were resolved through non-formal justice systems, and five were resolved through formal justice systems. SSWC provided regular legal advice to survivors of GBV, and conducted a month of GBV sensitisation on the importance of seeking legal aid support and the services that are available. 

SSWC celebrates international women's day with survivors of sexual violence. 
In Mogadishu, the Coalition Organisation of Grassroots  Women's Organisations (COGWO) has offered the opportunity for many new female law graduates to practice as paralegals. The ratio of female to male paralegals is 11:4.

In Somaliland, the University of Hargeisa is conducting research into the customary law, and the Dean of the Law School Professor Mohamoud Farah has participating in the 'Scholars at Risk' programme hosted by the University of Cape Town's Centre for Comparative Law in Africa (CCLA) in South Africa. 

In Mogadishu, the Association of Somali Women Lawyers undertook Information, Counselling and Legal Assistance programmes programmes with the Norwegian Refugee Council, on land disputes and and provided practical legal training to their paralegal team.

In Mogadishu, the Somali Young Lawyers Association conducted a number of workshops and trainings, including a workshop on 6 March 2015 on the role of religious figures in raising community awareness, and a legislative drafting training for graduating law students on 4 February 2015.

Innovative Legal Strategy from a Comparable Jurisdiction

The Protection of Survivors and Witnesses of Sexual and Gender Based Violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo
In November 2012 it is estimated that over 1,000 people were raped by government armed forces in the town of Minova, in the Democratic Republic of Congo. A special court was established and sent to Minova to enable survivors of sexual violence to testify. As well as traveling to the area where the crimes allegedly occurred, the court had special measures in place to protect the identities of the survivors and witnesses.
Thirty-nine soldiers were tried and 26 convicted of some charge, though only 2 were convicted for rape.

One of the greatest successes was that the identities of the survivors were kept confidential and that this had 
a significant impact on both their safety and their willingness to testify. 
Key Dates
19-20 June 2015: First Legal Aid Network Roundtable
The first roundtable for the Somali Legal Aid Network will be held over two days in mid June 2015 at an exact date and location to be confirmed. Participants will discuss the purpose and direction of the Legal Aid Network, identify key legislation and policies, identify issues for public interest litigation and legal advocacy discuss funding strategies and future trainings/capacity building requirements. The roundtable will result in a Network Action Plan.

July - August 2015: Somaliland Sexual Offences Bill before Parliament
Please let us know what you are doing so that we can include it in the next newsletter. Have you successfully used any new legal strategies? Are there any new legislative updates that you can share? What challenges have you faced? Do you know of any upcoming key dates for legislation, elections or trainings? Please also share any photos of your work, or any photos that you think may be of interest to the network.
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