3 February 2013

Somalia: PM Pledges Commitment for Human Rights and Press Freedom

press release

His Excellency Prime Minister Abdi Farah Shirdon reiterated the Somali government's commitment to upholding human rights and freedom of expression after a court hearing was adjourned until 5 February.

Referring to the hearing in Mogadishu, the Prime Minister emphasised the independence of the judiciary and noted that that the case was sub judice.

"Since we have an independent judiciary in Somalia it is just as inappropriate for my government to interfere in the judicial process as it is in any other country in our modern world. In this instance the police has brought a case to the court and it is for the court - not the government - to establish the rights and wrongs of that case. I hope that at the end of this, we will be able to look closely at our system and see where we need to make improvements."

Rape and sexual violence against women were completely unacceptable in Somali culture, as well as the country's governing laws, Prime Minister Shirdon said. "The crime of rape is completely intolerable. We would encourage any victim of sexual violence to come forward and report such attacks, which must then be investigated and prosecuted. We are encouraged to see a sharp drop in incidents since our public appeal and engagement. My wife and I have personally met victims of rape in our residence, hours after they were attacked, and listened to their terrible stories. I have since urged the government in the strongest terms to be much more responsive on this question, to take proactive measures, prosecute any such crimes and provide all appropriate care to the victims."

The prime minister also stressed the government's support for press freedom and freedom of expression. "Journalists perform a critical role and we want them to be able to work without fear or favour," he said. "Last month, I visited Shabelle Media Network to pay my respects to the memory of its journalist Abdi Hared, who was killed in a barbaric attack in Mogadishu in January, and to express my condolences to his widow. I call on the police and courts to investigate and prosecute such attacks, which must not go unchallenged. A free press is at the heart of every democracy and is guaranteed under our new constitution."

Acknowledging the deep-seated problems with the Somali armed forces and judiciary, the Prime Minister reiterated his commitment to reform both institutions. Reform of the judiciary, which is under-resourced and lacking the needed capacity to meet today's challenges, is one of the government's six leading priorities.

"We have been clear from the beginning of this unfortunate case that no one should have been kept in detention without charge. We are working hard to uphold the rule of law in Somalia, a country that has been in the grip of terrible conflict for more than two decades. We recognise the concerns of our international partners and we are only too aware of the enormous challenges our nation faces. It is important to remember that we have come a long way in a very short time. Only a few years ago, justice in Mogadishu was a Kalashnikov."

The prime minister highlighted the government's ongoing success in improving the security situation and stamping out illegal activities in Mogadishu. "In December, my government removed over 60 illegal checkpoints that were extorting more than $1m a month from innocent people. We have successfully removed them and deployed a combination of police and security force checkpoints, which has been welcomed by the population of Mogadishu. Exercising the rule of law and demonstrating zero tolerance to illegal activities like this is exactly how we intend to put rape and the killing of journalists to an end."

The Prime Minister further stated that the government would be announcing the formation of a new Independent Task Force on Human Rights in the coming days. It will be investigating human rights violations, including attacks against women and violence against journalists. Its membership would come from diverse backgrounds, including the human rights, media, police and other sectors of society.

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