Where is the Justice for Somalia?

Today, the Center for Justice and Accountability (CJA) filed a lawsuit against Colonel Abdi Aden Magan, former Chief of the National Security Service in Somalia under the military dictatorship of Siad Barre. Siad Barre's government was one of the most brutal in Africa. It engaged in widespread use of summary execution, rape, torture and imprisonment without trial of innocent civilians.

In this case, Magan is accused of torturing and imprisoning Mr. Abukar Ahmed, a former constitutional law professor in Somalia. Mr. Ahmed's only crime was his willingness to speak out against the abuses of the Barre regime. For that crime, he suffered horrific torture from which he still bears scars -- both physical and emotional.

This is the third lawsuit that CJA has filed against former Somali officials who were responsible for widespread human rights abuses in Somalia during the 1980s. To our knowledge, these cases represent the only effort to hold anyone accountable for the horrific crimes that were committed by Siad Barre and his cohorts. Indeed, while criminal prosecutions have been brought against former heads of Bosnia, Rwanda, Peru, and Chile - no one involved in the mass atrocities that occurred in Somalia has been held responsible.

That inaction is particularly remarkable given that Barre's regime started Somalia on a downward spiral from which it has yet to recover. Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced or killed by the chaos that was unleashed during the Barre regime. Those who remain, at least in the South around Mogadishu, face daily violence. Today, southern Somalia is a bastion of instability -- piracy is rampant and it has become home to terrorists who pose a serious threat of harm. And although the North -- known as Somaliland -- has been able to achieve a degree of stability, it too sill bears scars from the Barre regime.

Given that the world continues to face the legacy of the Barre regime, it is perplexing, and disheartening, that there has not been a serious effort to address some of the root causes of the problems that we confront today. Even in the United States, there are former Barre era officials living with impunity. For example, former Defense Minister Mohamed Ali Samantar, who is responsible for overseeing troops that raped, tortured, and killed thousands of innocent civilians, lives comfortably in a nice middle class neighborhood in Fairfax, Virginia. He and others are here enjoying all of the benefits and privileges of living in the United States. Yet they have not had to account for their past.

As in Bosnia and Rwanda, those who suffered must be afforded an opportunity to confront the individuals who perpetrated crimes against them, their families, and friends. Presently, there are over 150,000 Somalis living in the United States, many of whom came here as refugees after fleeing Somalia during the Barre regime. It is inconceivable that the United States should welcome as refugees those who were escaping human rights abuses as well as those responsible for the abuses.

CJA is committed to seeking justice for those who suffered so horribly during the Barre regime. As has been demonstrated with cases that have gone forward following atrocities in other countries, the truth telling that happens through the court process plays a powerful role in aiding a country's transition from a period of conflict and oppression to a period of calm and the rule of law.

In addition, these cases provide an opportunity for justice not only for CJA's clients but also for the many others who cannot come forward because of fear or because they lost their lives during the brutal Barre regime.

CJA is a San Francisco-based human rights organization dedicated to deterring torture and other severe human rights abuses around the world and advancing the rights of survivors to seek truth, justice and redress. CJA uses litigation to hold perpetrators individually accountable for human rights abuses, develop human rights law, and advance the rule of law in countries transitioning from periods of abuse.

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