The rule of law has not existed for many years in Somalia. Gun-toting men have tried their best to control the country through their bullets. Since 2012, Somalia has tried to get back on its feet with a federal government, though an endless culture of impunity has left 38 journalists dead in the past four years.
On 2 November, marking the annual International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists, I join forces with the world community of journalists in calling for an end to the impunity – official and otherwise – that is seen around the world, but especially in Somalia. The international community must get more involved.
As secretary general of the National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ), I know well that the Somali media community is the most persecuted part of civil society. They are arrested, threatened, beaten up and murdered more than any other group.
The blood of innocent journalists has been shed in almost each of the 17 districts of the capital city of Mogadishu, making Somalia the deadliest place to be a journalist in sub-Saharan Africa.
When such a heinous crime happens, all we hear is that a “nameless militia is responsible for the murder. Even if it is possible to identify the suspected killers, no one dares to point the finger at anyone, for fear of violent repercussions.
The government, especially the National Intelligence and Security Agency (NISA), has made several arrests of al-Shabaab members who confessed to be behind killings of journalists. In one high-profile case, a former al-Shabaab media officer was investigated, prosecuted, convicted, sentenced to death and eventually executed by firing squad.
But al-Shabaab are not the only ones responsible for the killings of journalists. It is widely believed and strongly suspected that powerful persons in a position of power or wealth use “guns for hire” to go after journalists and commit calculated killings with impunity.
Almost all journalists who have been murdered in Somalia reported on the kind of unpleasant stories that someone did not want to be told. Some journalists were also killed in order to send a message of fear and intimidation to a media outlet or another journalist covering a bitter or uncomfortable truth.
Impunity is also prolonged by state agents into two ways. The first is that they do not carry out their duties to protect journalists, or they do not conduct effective investigations when a crime against a journalist is committed.
The second is that state agents are committing violations against journalists and no one in government has ever been convicted of committing a crime against a journalist. State agents and their superiors do not believe they committed a crime at all. Some of them think journalists are enemies that need to be dealt with.
The federal government’s failure to investigate or establish accountability has reinforced a culture of impunity in the four years it has existed. And this has contributed to more killings of journalists.
In addition, the government has so far not faced stringent human rights conditions for international aid. Therefore, providing international assistance to a ministry or an authority in the government which has been accused of violating media freedom or journalists’ rights – without clear steps towards investigations or human rights safeguards - could run the risk of facilitating human rights violations.
Some members of the international community are preoccupied with security and the political process. But effective protection and the respect of the human rights of journalists cannot wait. The international community must therefore play an active role in bringing an end to this impunity.
Four years on, the federal government has shown itself unwilling politically to end the scourge of impunity by failing to hold to account all perpetrators of crimes against journalists, including those in government.
Post-conflict processes take time and Somalia has multifaceted and multilayered problems. But what matters is getting on the right path.
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