Most readers of WDN would be aware that General Mohamed Ali Samatar has been for some time the targeted victim of a politically motivated vendetta being waged by the enemies of Somalia who rightly see him as the remaining living symbol of the soul of our country whose unity they had already shattered. He is presently being tried in a US high court for cases brought against him by plaintiffs hailing from the secessionist part of Somalia calling itself Somaliland. The General is being accused of human rights abuses going back to the 1980s such as torture on the grounds that he was responsible for the actions of the soldiers purported to be under his command as former Minister of defense.
Although I am not a lawyer, and General Mohamed Ali Samatar has competent legal advocates, one does not have to be a jurist to know that at the time when the alleged human rights abuses were said to have been committed, General Mohamed Ali Samatar was no longer chief of staff of the Somali armed forces nor the commander of the forces based in Hargeisa at the time. He was simply a Minister dealing with the overall defense of the country against its external enemies, namely Ethiopia, then under the Marxist Mengestu Haille Marian, and the Somali National Movement (SNM), a clan-based armed group supported by Ethiopia and sworn to break-up Somalia. The General could not have concerned himself with internal security for that was the responsibility of a different institution of the State (the NSS).
Putting isolated alleged human rights abuses aside, the core events that are at the heart of the complaints against the former government of Mohamed Siyad Barre, and now directed against his minister of defense, General Mohamed Ali Mohamed, go back to the time in the 1980s when the SNM decided to launch a major offensive in order to capture the towns of Hargeisa and Burco. If the objective of this adventure, which was never publicly stated, was to capture these towns from the Somali army, then it shows how utterly they were out of touch with military realities. As an outfit whose many of its armed insurgents were former senior Somali military officers, they would have been under no illusion of the might of the Somali army and that they would not be able to hold onto for long any initial gains they made following their surprise and coordinated attacks.
Clearly, the objective of the SNM was not to go for unattainable military goals but simply to provoke a bitter urban warfare in which the main victims will be their clan-related civilians but for which the blame will be put not on the attackers but squarely on the defenders - the Somali army and the Somali government. This strategy has worked to the extent that the suffering brought about by the fighting in these towns had forced the population, hitherto ambivalent about the SNM struggle, solidly behind the rebel cause. For the SNM, the human cost and suffering was a necessary price to pay for securing the population's full support.
As for the fighting between the Somali army and the rebels, it was one fought from fixed positions at arm’s length in which long-range artillery and mortars were used. As to be expected from such warfare, the combatants suffered relatively limited human losses with the brunt of the damage borne by buildings in Hargeisa. Most of the civilian population was forced to flee the town right from the start. The inevitable question though relates to the magnitude of civilian casualty. The SNM or the administration now in charge of the NW region (Somaliland) claim ad nauseam that a genocide portrayed as the Isaaq Holocaust was committed by the Somali army in which no less than 50,000 persons were killed.
All lives are important irrespective of the numbers involved. All the same, the 50,000 figure is not credible and it is one which is betrayed by the nature of the fighting in the city which was deserted by the population from the outset. Comparisons are pertinent and the case of the Israeli air, sea and land offensive against Gaza is telling. Despite one-month long indiscriminate carpet bombardment, in a city with over a million inhabitants who nowhere to run to, only just over a thousand people were killed. Hargeisa's population at the time of the fighting was less than 200.000. It is not credible that a quarter of the city's inhabitants were killed by the two combatants lobbing shells at each other from fixed positions.
It was important, and still remains so, to find the truth about the civilian losses of the fighting. One would have thought the SNM and its supporters would have campaigned for an independent, objective and impartial investigation, perhaps one under the aegis of a UN tribunal, to look into whether, under the 1949 Geneva Conventions, war crimes and crimes against humanity have been committed by any of the parties during the fighting in Hargeisa and to assess human casualties and apportion blame.
As the Geneva Protocol to the 1949 Conventions spells out, government forces were justified to respond in kind to the incursion of the rebels. It says:
"Nothing in this Protocol shall be invoked for the purpose of affecting the sovereignty of a State or the responsibility of the government, by all legitimate means, to maintain or re-establish law and order in the State or to defend the national unity and territorial integrity of the State".
The question is whether the actions of the Somali army had been consistent with this protocol or contrary to it. This is something which can only be ascertained by an independent enquiry.
And yet, ironically, it is the SNM and its successor, the Somaliland regional administration, who would have none of it for the obvious reason that such an investigation is bound to expose the SNM's culpability in starting the fighting in a city when the horrendous consequences of an urban warfare were predictable and crystal clear. A far weightier reason for the SNM and its Somaliland baby for being averse to impartial investigation is that it would have debunked and discredited its genocide mantra which underpins its propaganda for secession and its drive for recognition. Who would have thought 25 years ago that the SNM and its Somaliland adherents would disdainfully disown Somalinimo and proudly end up as pseudo-Flasha and Israel's bedfellow?
If the Somali army ever used torture in Hargeisa, it could only have been against captured SNM prisoners of war. To the best of my knowledge, there had been none. But even if, for the sake of argument, individual soldiers of the Somali army have committed crimes against the Geneva Conventions, it is something they and/or their commanders in the field are responsible. The fact of the matter is that General Mohamed Ali Samatar has never adopted torture as an instrument of policy against the enemies of the State let alone against innocent individuals caught up in the armed conflict.
Having said that, it does not follow that torture, inhuman and degrading treatments were not been committed against civilians during the 21 years of Mohamed Siyad Barre's rule. On the contrary, these were part and parcel of the prevailing internal repressive regime but for which General Mohamed Ali Samatar had no direct role to play other than that he was a member of that government which is not a crime. He is no more culpable than are President Obama, former President Bush and their Secretary of defense Robert Gates culpable for the countless abuse and torture of Iraqi prisoners at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base or at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, or the displacement of millions, or the death of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis.
It is very difficult to amend for the past when one party, such as the SNM and its Somaliland baby, is suffering from persecution complexes and perceive themselves self-righteously as always the victims but completely oblivious to the wrongs they did to others or doing to the present day. During its campaigns against the Somali State, the SNM rebels have indeed committed crimes against civilians as bad as those they routinely accuse of the General or the government of Mohamed Siyad Barre.
Their plundering and pillaging of Awdal, and their atrocities in Sanaag and Buhodle against non-Isaak clans as punishment for refusing to join the rebellion or secessionist cause are still fresh in many people's memory. The SNM political and military leaders of the perpetrators of these crimes should equally be indicted if General Mohamed Samatar can be blamed and tried for alleged crimes he neither personally committed nor sanctioned as a minister.
If the crimes of the SNM and its Somaliland baby against other Somalis in the north were something of the past, many of their victims would have been magnanimous, forgiving and let bygones be bygones. But these crimes continue unabated to the present day at a time when the SNM's adherents are no longer underdogs fighting against perceived injustices at the hands of the Somali government. Today, they are the top dog in their secessionist enclave and their excesses against peace loving people in the region would pale those committed by Siyad Barre against them. Those who refused to be part of a Somalia, in which they felt dominated but wanted to be the dominant, are imposing their will on other clans by force thanks to their military advantages and inflicting heinous human rights crimes in the process.
The flagrant trampling on the SSC regions' inalienable rights to remain part of Somalia, the consequent invasion and occupation of Lascanod and other parts of Sool and Sanaag, the enforced displacement of over 100,000 of the city's inhabitants, the collective punishment imposed on the occupied population intermittently for refusing to submit to the occupation, the detention and imprisonment of teachers, students, women and children, the economic squeeze are some of suffering inflicted on the SSC population and together they constitute crimes against humanity.
Though other Somalis from the south are treated as undesirable aliens in Hargeisa, and are subject to arbitrary detentions and deportations from what is legally their own country, it is the Ogadeni refugees in Hargeisa who are singled out for what amounts to be vendetta. Kidnapping these refugees and handing them over to the Ethiopian security authority, most of them facing outright extra-judicial killing or prolonged torture and imprisonment, is the fate that awaits most Ogadenis in Hargeisa who are stuck there as sitting ducks because they have nowhere else to turn to. What is worse is that few people in Hargeisa if at all raise an eye brow against these shameful crimes against fellow Somali brethren. It is clear that yesterday's alleged victims have become today's heartless tormentors.
These actions against the Ogadenis are in violation of the UN 1951 Convention on the Status of refugees. Article 33 on the prohibition of the expulsion or return of refugees to their country against their will states: "No Contracting State shall expel or return (" refouler ") a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion". Lest the Somaliland authority consider themselves as a non-Contracting State, and persuade themselves that the above provision does not apply to them, they should know that Somaliland part and parcel of Somalia as far as the international community is concerned. And since Somalia is a Contracting party to the Convention, it is hence applicable to every region and authority in the country. Even if no functioning government is in place, the Somali State does exist much as the secessionists may wish it was otherwise.
The pernicious campaign against General Mohamed Ali Samatar is not one being waged against the General per se as an individual. He is being targeted for what he represents as the embodiment of the Somali State and nation: A great military strategist who masterminded the defeat of the Ethiopian occupation forces in 1977 war, he rises head and shoulders above all his colleagues in the successive governments of Siyad Barre in terms of patriotism, probity, integrity and vision. As long as his around, he would keep alive the soul of Somalia and enliven the nostalgia for our glorious golden era and could act as a force for the revival of our country. That is why he is the secessionists' number one target. Since they cannot have him dead, their second best course of action is what they are doing now: humiliate him and drag him in front of a court and hope they get him behind bars. Unfortunately for them, and happily for the rest of us, they will fail. The result of their action will be to encourage other clans and regions in the north they wronged to take legal action against the former SNM leaders as well as the bunch who rule now rule Somaliland. As they say, what is sauce for the goose is also sauce for the gander.
By Ali Geeleh
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