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Piracy: Operation Atalanta (EUC Report)
Motion to Take Note
Moved By Lord Teverson
To see the full debate:
Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, the whole House will want to welcome the 12th report of the European Union Committee entitled Combating Somali Piracy and the introductory remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson. The report is timely and urgent, and it is clear from the preceding speeches that those who served on the committee have done us all a great service in bringing this important issue before us for debate. I read the report against the backdrop of two public lectures I have chaired for my university over the past 12 months, and here I declare an interest. One of those lectures was given by the noble Lord, Lord Malloch-Brown, the former Minister for Africa, and the other by General Sir Mike Jackson, the former head of our Armed Forces. Both said that they suspected that if there was going to be the deployment of an international force anywhere else in Africa in the future, it would be in Somalia. Both pinpointed that country as being one of the most dangerous places in the world today.
I was also struck, when I was in Africa myself in September visiting southern Sudan, southern Ethiopia and Lake Turkana in the north-west of Kenya, by how frequently I heard the refrain that Somali insurgents had been responsible for often low-level crimes but also killings, cattle raiding and rustling, thus adding to the destabilisation of many parts of that already destabilised area of Africa. So I turned to what I think was the most important point made by the noble
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Lords, Lord Teverson and Lord Chidgey, about the root causes. The executive summary states quite baldly that:
“There will be no solution to the problem of piracy without a solution to the root causes of the conflict on land in Somalia”.
In her evidence, the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, confirmed that:
“the EU was pursuing a ‘very comprehensive strategy’ to tackle Somali piracy and its root causes, which were instability and lack of rule of law”.
Paragraph 61 of the conclusions states:
“It is clear that without addressing the root causes of the conflict in Somalia, piracy will continue to flourish”.
That was a point also made by the noble Lord, Lord Malloch-Brown, in his evidence:
“The real answer is that this is a product of conditions on land in Somalia and obviously what we have got to do is press on with our political-cum-development efforts to stabilise Somalia and to deal with the authorities in Somalia proper”.
“We are cautiously encouraged that we are finally getting some traction on a political strategy for the country”.
However, that evidence was given on 19 March 2009, and certainly the reports referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, in his speech and to which I will return later in my own remarks, do not demonstrate that any optimism about the situation in Somalia is called for at the moment. I shall be interested to hear what the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, has to say about his assessment of the current situation.
I want to talk about the root causes of this failed state. The United Nations independent expert on Somalia calls the situation,
“One of the most difficult humanitarian crises in the world”,
stating that Somalia’s human rights situation is “deplorable”.
Power over most of the country has passed into the hands of the Islamist group, al-Shabaab. As the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Swansea, said earlier, the transitional federal Government have neither the effective power nor the capacity to deal with many of the systematic abuses that are taking place. Somalis experience severe restrictions on freedom of opinion and press; they face capital punishment, human rights violations and gender-based crime-female genital mutilation is performed on 91 per cent of Somali girls. Children have been recruited and taught how to assassinate and how to plant bombs. In violation of both international and African regional human rights law, al-Shabaab threatens, unlawfully punishes and kills civilians, including journalists, who it sees as sympathetic to the transitional federal Government, or who do not conform to its interpretation of Islamic law. Almost no area of existence escapes al-Shabaab’s gaze.
A report compiled by the human rights group, Jubilee Campaign, which I helped to co-found, details how al-Shabaab has outlawed activities as trivial as dancing at weddings, playing football, watching television, storing pictures on cell phones and sporting western clothes or hairstyles. One report claims that a patrol even jailed a group of teenagers for playing Scrabble.
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Academic freedom is not respected and some schools have been penalised for teaching so-called “western” subjects, including English and science. The right to freedom of assembly is also denied. In many areas public gatherings are prohibited unless al-Shabaab has organised them, and those who protest al-Shabaab’s edicts are harshly punished. In 2009, al-Shabaab violently dispersed a peaceful protest against the outlawing of the chewing of khat, arresting 50 people in the process.
Most Somalis are too afraid to oppose al-Shabaab. Human Rights Watch aptly refers to a “climate of fear” prevailing in Somalia, citing one Somali who told it that,
“we just stay quiet. If they tell us to follow a certain path, we follow it … anybody who does not follow their beliefs they call a traitor and kill”.
While, in theory, Somalia’s transitional federal charter calls for freedom of speech and press, in reality these are very limited. Freedom House states that objective reporting in Somalia is a “rarity”. Somalia is regarded as the deadliest country for journalists in Africa. According to the National Union of Somali Journalists, nine journalists were killed in 2009 alone, and at least three of those killings were targeted. Al-Shabaab is also reported to have closed radio stations and occupied the offices of those it suspects of sympathising with its opponents. Many journalists have chosen either to leave Somalia altogether or to exercise rigorous self-censorship.
But if press freedom has been suppressed in Somalia, so has religious freedom. The majority of Somalis are moderate Sunni Muslims of a Sufi tradition. However, with the help of foreign jihadists, and often through violence, al-Shabaab has been forcing extremism on communities under its control. As for minorities, Somalia’s small Christian population has experienced discrimination, violence and detention because of its beliefs. In particular, those suspected of conversion face harassment and even death. In 2008, al-Shabaab beheaded 11 people accused of converting to Christianity, as well as killing one man for possessing a Bible. In 2009, the insurgents executed a clan leader for alleged apostasy and beheaded two sons of a Christian leader. The non-governmental organisation Open Doors’ World Watch List ranked Somalia number four on a list of countries with the worst records on Christian persecution in 2010, following Iran, North Korea and Saudi Arabia.
Members of other Muslim groups were also targeted by al-Shabaab. The UN Security Council’s Monitoring Group on Somalia reported that al-Shabaab has,
“attempted to ban Sufi Religious practices”.
Since 2008, al-Shabaab has destroyed a number of graves belonging to Sufi saints and clerics, as well as banning the traditional Islamic celebration of Maulid and arresting 50 Sufi clerics for breaking the ban. Al-Shabaab is also reported to have killed Sufi clerics, officials and civilians in acts of targeted religious violence. For example, in 2009, members of al-Shabaab gunned down Sheikh Mohammed Ibrahim “Elbuur”, a prominent religious leader, allegedly for his moderate Islamic views and his condemnations of violence.
Al-Shabaab’s fanatical religious agenda has also led to the implementation of a crude version of Sharia law, resulting in the cruel and degrading treatment of countless Somalis. All activities considered immoral
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or contrary to Islam are targets for corporal and capital punishment. Amnesty International reports, for example, that, in 2009, members of al-Shabaab flogged women for wearing bras, claiming that it was against Islam. Attention is directed particularly towards extra-marital sex, punishable by flogging or execution. Theft is punished by amputation, and the renunciation of Islam is punished by execution on the grounds that certain texts prohibit such activities and endorse their corresponding punishments. The level of abuse is staggering. In contempt of international law, al-Shabaab is reported to have carried out numerous amputations and other forms of violent punishment, often in front of community members whom they force to attend. In 2008, for instance, al-Shabaab gathered hundreds of spectators in a football stadium to watch a stoning for alleged adultery, imposing the death penalty for actions such as extra-marital sex. That is clearly contrary to international law. UNICEF reported that the girl in question was only 13 and had been sentenced to death after being gang-raped.
Women suffer deplorable treatment. While all society has been affect by al-Shabaab’s repressive measures, women have been hit the hardest. Reports of sexual and gender-based violence are widespread. I have mentioned female genital mutilation, but domestic violence is reported to be a major problem. There are reports of rape being on the increase in some areas. The key issue is that there is no functioning judicial system to which women can turn, and victims of rape are often stigmatised as impure. Law is enforced by the demand of payment of blood money or forced marriage between the victim and the perpetrator.
Somalia has also generated human trafficking, child soldiers and refugees. There are reports of systematic forced recruitment of civilians, including children, into insurgent ranks. All warring parties are accused of swelling their ranks with child soldiers. UNICEF has expressed concern that the recruitment and use of child soldiers in Somalia is rising, with widespread recruitment from schools and madrassahs and among street children. Al-Shabaab recruits children deliberately and systematically. In March 2009 alone, it was reported to have recruited 600 children. The insurgents train and use those children to carry out assassinations and to plant bombs. As the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, said, they are also now recruited to join pirate crews.
As for refugees, today’s November update from the UNHCR gives a glimpse of the situation. It has issued an urgent appeal to Kenya to halt the refoulement of Somali refugees. It states:
“UNHCR remains very concerned over the fate of the more than 8000 Somalis who were ordered out of the Mandera area of northeast Kenya at the start of November. Initially most moved into the no-man’s land between Kenya and Somalia and refused to go further. As of 5th November it appeared however that some have dispersed, while others are believed to have fled into neighbouring Ethiopia”.
What can the Minister tell us about their fate? The update continues:
“In his speech to UNHCR’s executive committee, in October, UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres, appealed for Somalis to receive international protection in line with the updated eligibility guidelines that UNHCR issued earlier this year. Those guidelines point to the very substantial risks for anyone being returned to central or southern Somalia”.
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Are we assisting in that process?
The situation inside the country fuels the exodus of refugees. In Mogadishu, civilians suffer from repeated, inaccurate and indiscriminate exchanges of mortar fire between warring parties. Numerous civilians have been killed and many injured, and their homes, hospitals, schools, mosques and marketplaces have been destroyed. In a recent report, Human Rights Watch highlights the use of improvised explosive devices and indiscriminate firing of mortars into densely populated civilian areas without regard for either civilian lives or the international law that seeks to protect them.
Lest the House imagines that Somalia’s violence is simply an internal matter, let us recall that Somalis are increasingly responsible for terror attacks in other countries. On 12 July, 74 people died in a bomb attack in Uganda believed to have been orchestrated by Somali terrorists. Piracy, which has been a serious problem since 2005, has fuelled the terrorism and the criminality. Somali piracy now looks like a sophisticated and organised multi-million pound industry. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime considers Somali piracy,
“a serious organized crime problem”,
and warns that it has been,
“feeding national organized crime networks”.
In addition to piracy, Somalia has reportedly become a “free economic zone” for all kinds of smuggling and trafficking: drugs, arms, natural resources, hazardous waste as well as people. The same boats used for piracy are used to smuggle migrants from Somalia to Yemen and to bring arms and ammunition on their return journey to Somalia. The United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Somalia suggests that the smuggling of migrants, especially across the Gulf of Aden to Yemen, has resulted in numerous casualties. Smugglers pack hundreds of Somalis and Ethiopians into small vessels, throwing tens of people overboard when they enter troubled waters. In 2006, the Independent newspaper reported that dozens of corpses were found floating in the Arabian Sea every month, often with gunshot wounds and hands tied behind their backs.
This is not a marginal issue to be wished away or ignored. As the Committee rightly recognises in its timely report, unless the root causes that destabilise the country and degrade Somalis are tackled, we can expect to see more acts of piracy-acts which are simply a manifestation of something far more fundamental, a deadly dangerous internal situation in Somalia, which the international community cannot afford to ignore.