Published On: Mon, Apr 9th, 2012

Somaliland’s Broken Judicial System

OPINION | April 10, 2012
By:Ali Mohamed

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.

Ali Mohamed
Co-founder Growth and development club of Somaliland
Lewis Center, Ohio
aliadm@aol.com

  • Abdi2

    Ali Mohamed you provided a very constructive criticism and analysis. You had also highlighted very essential areas that I've had major concerns. Our president stands for change and in such short time he managed to accomplished a lot, for which he deserves credit, however a lot remains to be done and it is not time to be complacent, but he needs the public's support for this, particularly to put forward their concerns, help establish priorities and maybe provide essential advice concerning areas that need immediate attention. We need judiciary system that is totally independent & capable and now is the time to act before a tribalist maniac comes along and ruins everything we worked hard for and given the real threat from a power hungry politicians and political parties that would be contesting for future presidential elections this is even more important than ever.

  • osman5

    I can't fathom all these deficiencies exist in Somaliland judiciary system. It's incomprehensible to say the least. I'd assume he's a mouth piece for one of the emerging political parties, or perhaps he's a politician
    want-be himself.

    Osman Qaal

  • inayuusuf

    Wow! The Co-founder of exile G & D club is fairer this time; exaggeration can be sensed, though.

    A fully independent judiciary system is a necessity and I do agree fully with the co-founder on this point but one has to consider available resources as well as time constraint and should not expect Somaliland to simulate first-world countries overnight. Things are much better since Silanyo came to power and still prgoressing.

    In addition, the delayed issue of the three government officials started irritating me and I believe there’s something fishy there. The government has to be come clean in this issue.

  • M. Khalid

    I agree with the originator of the above topic in that Somali land's judiciary system is not at the level we all want it to be, but it cannot blamed on the new government. It has been deteriorating since the advent of the military coup in 1969. Now that the independent judiciary system of the colonial era is being reinstated, we need to be patient and the government is required to implement it. As far as the three arrested government officials, they are waiting for their case to be brought before the court and nobody is above the law. We should follow government system instead of tribalism.

  • Madar

    Brilliant article i must say, fully summerises the current state of Somaliland judicial system. This current administration is guilty of some of the worst injustices ever seen, they are arresting people without following proper judicial procedure. Some well known individuals are currently languishing in jail, without them knowing what it is they are supposed to have commited through the court system, this smacks of dictatorship or in competence of the highest order.

    In my opinion this government is an unmitigated disaster and the blame lies firmly at the table of thes president, after all this is the same preident that was complaining when he was in opposition of the injustices and corruption of the previous regime and yet does the same if not worse then them when he is in power.

  • Ahmed

    Our government is making a stead progresses, it will take years before one can compare Somaliland to the rest of western world. I wish Somaliland develops the justices system which is base on the Islami rule of law. Keep in mind western justices system has huge problems it only works best of the rich folks. Also remember America which the author lives had to two hundreds of year’s slavery after the Declaration of Independence which states: “ We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,[75] that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Yet with this wonderful words only apply to few white men.

  • osman5

    Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are the fundamental rights for all mankind. It' doesn't benefit for a certain groups or individuals. Being wealthy is't not the amount of toys one possess it's what's in the hearts and minds. Granted, it's good to have a wealth to be able to do what ones desires but won't make one a perfect human being.

    White folks had struggled for centuries in search of a basic standard living, and a set of common rules for all. The hardship and the uncertainty they endured had inspired them the current self-reliance they enjoy today. The democracy is one of the segments the white recorded as a fair system that meant to enhance lives during their dark days.

    We borrowed a page from the white's system in conjunction with the our beautiful Muslim faith, and
    grand-fathered Somalilander traditional legacies. If our new our hybrid system is applied correctly it could be an good example to follow for Africans, new Arab world and some South east Asian populations.

    Osman qaal

  • HMObsiye

    Somaliland judicial system is not broken now, it has been the weakest link since it was founded 21 years ago. It needs to be reformed and revamped in order for the court to work for all Somalilanders equally.

    The judicial system has to be totally independent from any breach of government whether it's an executive or legislature. As far as I know Somaliland judiciary system is too weak to be an Independent organization.
    In order to be free the government and the people of Somaliland has to see this branch of government to be unique and free from the influences of other government branches.

  • Teta

    judicial body must obtain high salary, not to depend on defenders.

  • Weerar

    I appeal to all Somaliland intellectuals wherever they might be, to fully support Xaqsoor political Party in order to straighten our judicial system in a manner unlike never before with the right leader Muj Hassan Ciise Jama who is professionally a lawyer from Cambridge and a diehard reformer. It is about time to look seriously where Somaliland is heading and who is the right candidate needed to lead this time and why justice is so crucial. Somaliland success rested on two premises thus far, Peace and stability. If we fail to address justices now and not deal with it ethically and wisely, let it be known that the “dreadful Square one” is imminent. As Somali put it” Maalkaga waa lagu ciyaara laakiin meheradaada laguma ciyaaro” Somaliland is our sole business for all of us.

    It is Time to unleash Xaqsoor to blaze the inadequate justices system of Somaliland and build a solid foundation for prosperity which is the natural follower where justices reign. Think deeply, reflect the past honestly and the challenge a head! You will find Muj Hassan Esse Jama is the best candidate. Allah(swt) knows the best.

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