10 July 2014

Somalia: Somalis Struggle for Justice, Citing Rampant Corruption and Bribes

Photo: Xinhua
Hassan Sheikh Mohamud

Mogadishu — Mogadishu residents are complaining of rampant corruption at police stations and courts, claiming their cases remain unresolved for months despite having paid bribes requested by officials.

Outside the Benadir regional court on June 25th, Safia Sheikh Abdi, a 35-year-old mother of seven who lives in Yaqshid district, told Sabahi she was following up on a property dispute she filed in January against a man who claimed ownership of land she inherited from her father.

She said the man has been unlawfully holding her 300 square-metre parcel of land since the civil war began in 1991.

"When the man claiming ownership of my land and I went to the court, the court found out that he did not have any proof of ownership and that my land title documents were the correct ones," she said. "Instead of ordering the transfer of my land back to me, the court failed to administer justice and I have not been able to regain my land."

Abdi says she has spent about $2,000 on bribes paid to senior court officials since the case began and she has now stopped pursuing the matter in court after the officials demanded more money.

"Whenever you need a signature from anyone who works at the court, that person will tell you, 'I will do the work for you so make a deal with me and tell me how much you will pay me,'" she said. "The $2,000 I spent on this case was a loan from friends and I told all of the court officials that I could not afford to pay additional money."

Abdi said she has written a letter to the land disputes committee, which was formed by Benadir Governor General Hassan Mohamed Hussein Mungab in May, and she is awaiting a response.

Salah Muse, a 28-year-old wholesale food store owner in Hamar Weyne district, is also seeking an alternative path to justice after he said police demanded bribes from him to process his case.

Muse said he filed a case against one of his customers who has owed him $500 for over a year.

"I thought I should take my complaints to the law so that I could get my money, but I felt that the law was dependent on money because when I went to Hamar Weyne police station I was told that I had to pay $20 for the form to file the case," Muse told Sabahi. "I was then told to pay $50 to the three officers who would arrest the man I accused and to bring food for the accused three times a day while he was in custody or pay [more] money instead."

"I ran away from them and decided to look for relatives of the man I was complaining about so that they could make him give me my money since the law that would have settled disputes among the people has become about money," he said.

Salah called on the Somali Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs to address the rampant corruption that has taken over police stations and the courts.

Mohamed Omar, 54, told Sabahi that he lost the property dispute case for his five-bedroom house in Dharkenley to someone else who claimed ownership because he could not afford the $500 bribe the official handling the case asked him to pay when he filed the dispute in May 2013 in order to rule in his favour.

When he declined to pay, he was told to wait for the ruling, which he received in April 2014.

Omar said he fled to Kenya with his children during the civil war and remained there as a refugee until 2013, when they returned after the permanent government was established with the election of President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud.

"I sought justice from the Benadir regional court for nearly a year in order to get my plot of land in a just way without paying any money, but that was not possible," he said. "My house was transferred to the person I was in a dispute with as I watched. This person had fake documents and has been holding my house unlawfully since 1992 when I fled [Somalia]."

Despite his troubles, Omar says he remains hopeful about judicial reform in Somalia after the parliament approved the formation of the Judicial Service Commission.

In an interview with state-run Radio Mogadishu on July 4th, Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs Farah Sheikh Abdulkadir Mohamed said the formation of the commission was the first step to reforming the justice system and ensuring Somalis have access to a reliable and fair judicial system.

The biggest objective for reforming the system is to create an environment that will promote justice, including hiring people with knowledge and ethics, building their capacity, and ensuring their safety so they can carry out their work without fear, he said.

Benadir spokesperson Ahmed Osman Muhidin Showqi would not comment on the allegations of corruption and bribery, but he said citizens should bring their complaints before the land disputes committee established in May.

"The [committee] has solved a lot of cases that the court and justice systems could not solve," he told Sabahi. "We encourage anyone who is complaining of injustice to contact the committee, and as an administration we will not tolerate someone to take another person's property unlawfully."

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