- In a letter dated on February 26, 2013, the Prime Minister of Somalia, Abdi Farah Shirdon, requested US Secretary of State, John Kerry, to “ use your good offices to obtain immunity for Mohamed Ali Samatar, the former Prime Minister of Somalia, from 1987-1990, and the Defense Minister and the First Vice President of Somalia from 1982-1986”. The rationale the Prime Minister offers in seeking immunity for Mohamed Ali Samatar is: (1) “ Mr. Samatar’s acts in question were all undertaken in his official capacity with the government of Somalia and … that the Federal Republic of Somalia rejects the notion that Mr. Samater’s action were contrary to the law of Somalia or the law of nations …” and (2) that litigation is harmful to the reconciliation of the Somali people.
Neither of the two arguments has a merit. That Mr. Samatar was simply acting in his official argument is the same legal doctrine that was employed, without success, to defend Eichmann who was charged with the killing of millions of Jews during the World War II – that Eichmann was but a bureaucrat merely acting on the orders of Fuehrer based on the law of the land. As for the other argument that the request for immunity will strength the reconciliation of the Somali people: nothing could be further from the truth- this request rubs painfully on a festering sore wound and will make rapprochement between Somaliland and Somalia very difficult.
(It is not under any dispute that during the decade that Mohamed Ali Samatar served as Defense Minister or Prime Minister, the Somali national army committed crime against humanity against the Isaaq people in Somaliland by employing its firepower – combat aircraft, tanks, artillery etc- against the population centers in Hargeisa, Berbera and Burao resulting in the death of tens of thousands and driving the rest into refugee camps in Ethiopia).
The legal arguments in the letter and counterarguments aside, it is the politics surrounding the statement that is most confounding. About the time of the request, the Prime Minister was quoted in the media as saying UN troops should be sent to Somaliland. He later denied saying that. Was the President, Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud, a party to, and did he and approve, the letter?.
What about the Foreign Minister, Fozia Yusuf Haji Adan? Communicating with foreign powers is the jurisdiction of the Foreign Minister. Was she consulted on this move or was she kept in the dark? Wasn’t there some body in those offices who could counsel and say” Hey, it is morally wrong and politically dumb to approve a letter like this; we can’t do this.” If there were few people of Somaliland origin who were inclined to support talks between the two countries, this letter will give them second thoughts-if they can do this, what will they do next time? This letter will be an addendum to the chapter on the atrocities in 1980s. Granted that no action will be taken in the US on the letter, but if the objective was to create a wedge between Mogadishu and Hargeisa, that goal was achieved.
Since the new Somali President came to power, the new administration has been misreading the support they have been getting from the Western leaders. There were celebratory fire works and ululation in Mogadishu. An idea that there is no new sheriff in the region became embedded in the minds of the new leadership. But frankly, what is there to celebrate about when there nearly 20,000 African troops stationed there and there are over 600,000 Somali refugees languishing in camps in Kenya. The hubris and over reaction have produced a reckless attempt to undermine victims of crimes against humanity who are seeking justices in a court of law in the United States, a misstep that has further aggravated the division and mistrust between the two peoples. This a cautionary tale for the British government and the other western powers that their diplomatic initiative and new policy towards Somalia may result in unintended consequences for the region.
By Adan H Iman