Somaliland’s Broken Judicial System
OPINION | April 10, 2012
Recently Seychelles’ government transferred 17 convicted Somali pirates to prisons in Somaliland to complete their remaining sentences. We should applaud Somaliland government’s efforts to help international community to fight piracy that plagues in the Gulf of Aden and Indian Ocean; however, these new dangerous prisoners would put more burdens on Somaliland’s already overcrowded jails, and its broken judicial system. Close to half of the prisoners in Hargeysa’a Central prison—which would house the new prisoners, had never been convicted or charged, and are waiting for trials according to local defense attorneys. In addition, those who are serving their time, families have to bring the food they eat, have no access to medical treatment—-mental illnesses, as well as those with tuberculosis and other infectious diseases are routinely housed with the general prison population, and no rehabilitation program or training is available for them.
The detention facilities, courthouses, and police headquarters are largely in a state of total disrepair and needs rehabilitation. In this age of technology, I have seen court clerks using typewriter to type a judge’s order or decision. Somaliland courts need modernization in office equipment such as computers and word processors, and better record keeping.
However, backlog of cases, lack of separation between judicial and executive, and detention without trial, are hampering people’s access to justice. Majority of the population have lost faith in judicial system due to the costly and lengthy litigation. For example, for a court to conclude a simple dispute over land ownership could take years because of corruption and constant interference by the ruling party. Poor people particularly believe the decision of the courts favor those who are rich and have access to government officials.
Lately, the democratically elected President Silanyo has removed from the benches judges with decades of judicial experience. I support president to weed out corrupt and incompetent judges from our courts; however, our leader should not only rely on the judicial commission for the selection process of the judges. Because the commission is highly partisan and politicize, and it is a rubber stamp to whichever party running the country. In order to restore the credibility ,the independence of our court systems, and rights of our citizens to get a fair hearing in a court of law; changes are needed the way judges are chosen.
As independent judiciary is critical element for the rule of the law; an effective Attorney General office is essential as well for prosecuting and putting behind bars criminals and terrorists who are very determined harming our people, security and peace. Nevertheless, Silanyo administration sidelined the Attorney General office; instead made the highly corrupted Interior Ministry office to act as though it is the prosecutorial and investigative arm of our country
The current separation between the Attorney General office, the ministry of justice, and the criminal investigative unit of the police is hindering the investigation, and the prosecution of serious crimes such as murder and rape. How many murders are investigated and the criminals found? We only heard about the high profile murder cases like Gabiley_Dila Hwy murders, but there are also murders that never made news.
If we want the rule of the law to prevail; the Attorney General should have to become Somaliland’s chief law enforcer, with the ministry of justice, and the criminal investigative unit of the police (CID), should have to be under his or her jurisdiction. The individual who is going to be Attorney General must have 10 years of professional legal experience, and must have worked as prosecutor, judge or law practice. That person should have good judgment to protect our people while at the same respecting the rights of the accuser.
Not only the Attorney General is indispensable for prosecuting criminals but also it is also crucial to have a well-trained professional police force. For example, during the demobilization of local militia’s, anyone joining the police force was required to bring his own assault weapon. I think it was right policy and strategy during that time for recruiting police officers. However, right now, we should expect our government to provide our police force a distinct uniform and standard equipment such as Pistol, handcuff, baton, bulletproof vest, if possible, and two-way radio for communication. Because to rely on the highly politicized United Nations, to supply our police force for the basic equipment, would undermine the capability of our police forces. If the resources are very limited, at least, The Silanyo administration could auction Somaliland’s cellular communication bandwidth in order to raise money to provide Somaliland police, especially the criminal investigative unit, the equipment and the training they needed to fight crimes.
It has become a routine for the police to detain individuals, without the local prosecutor formally charging them a crime. Recently police arrested three high-ranking government officials including the governor of Hargeysa region, Mr. Hamarji, for allegedly stealing food aid intended for the poor families Up to now, there is no official court document stating their charges. These defendants have rights to know the charges against them in order to prepare for a defense or the government should release them.
Without accountability and the rule of law, the government would lose its authority and legitimacy to rule. Because of the failure of the broken Somaliland’s secular western style based legal system to deliver justice, as alternative, some people are settling their own disputes through Somali traditional arbitration mechanism or Sharia law, which is fairer and efficient. The sooner the west provides democratic Somaliland resources needed to fix its broken judicial system; the more chance the justice system would work for everybody.
Co-founder Growth and development club of Somaliland
Lewis Center, Ohio