Somalia, The Gulf Of Aden, And Piracy

Author:Mr John Knott
Profession:Holman Fenwick Willan

This article looks at the recent

history of conflict within Somalia; the conditions in which its

people are currently living; humanitarian concerns and the efforts

of aid agencies; the role of the United Nations; international

naval action being taken against piracy; and a method of overcoming

legal and policy difficulties in prosecuting captured


Attention focuses on piracy

Two things are well known about

Somalia from recent newspaper reports, magazine articles, Internet

pages, and radio and television broadcasts. First, it is a

virtually lawless country which has been without proper government

since 1991. Secondly, a small number of its people have so

disrupted merchant shipping off its coasts that warships from

twenty or more nations have been mobilised at vast expense to try

to prevent vessels in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean from

being hijacked. Attacks by heavily-armed Somali pirates create

headlines, with sensational incidents such as the capture of the

Ukrainian ro-ro Faina (carrying 33 ex-Soviet battle tanks

and other weapons), and the recently released VLCC Sirius

Star, providing news for weeks on end. But in reports of the

intrigue surrounding the sale and the intended destination of

Faina's cargo of heavy weapons, and speculation as to

the value of the 2 million barrels of crude oil on Sirius

Star, what has often been under-stated is the cost in human

terms of the sufferings of the crews and the effect of their

capture upon their families. And even further away from those

headlines are the appalling conditions in which most of the Somali

people themselves have been living year after year.

Conflict and instability in Somalia

In 1992, the year after the fall of

the military dictatorship of General Siad Barre, who had ruled the

country since assuming power in 1969, the United Nations Security

Council by Resolution 751 (1992) established an operation in

Somalia ("UNOSOM"), and appointed a dedicated Security

Council Committee. The operation was to monitor the ceasefire then

achieved between warring factions in Mogadishu, while the Committee

was to monitor the embargo placed earlier in the year on the import

of weapons and military equipment. Later, from December 1992,

coalition forces led by the United States—a United Task

Force known as "UNITAF"—intervened under

UNOSOM, in a mission intended to create a secure environment for

the delivery of humanitarian aid to relieve starvation in Somalia.

Then, from May 1993 until March 1995 UNITAF was succeeded by UNOSOM

II, charged with restoring peace, stability, and law and order.

UNOSOM II was supported by troops of a United States' Joint

Task Force. Overall, however, the missions were failures, although

there were some humanitarian achievements.

There have followed years of

fighting throughout much of Somalia, with the country now

effectively divided into three main regions: since 1991 Somaliland,

a self-declared republic (but not recognised internationally)

occupying part of the northern coast adjoining Djibouti; since 1998

Puntland, a self-declared autonomous state that has not sought

independence, occupying the remaining part of Somalia's

northern coast and the northern part of the eastern coast; with the

remaining part of the country notionally under the control of the

Transitional Federal Government ("TFG"), established in

2004. In reality, however, the TFG is ineffective and power is

largely in the hands of local secular warlords and militant Islamic

groups (as is clear from, for example, the Report of the United

Nations Security Council's Monitoring Group on Somalia, dated

10 December 2008). Until recently, large parts of the south of the

country were controlled by the Islamic Courts Union

("ICU") and the US-proscribed terrorist organisation

Al-Shabaab. In 2006, armed forces of

Ethiopia—Somalia's main western

neighbour—entered the country to support the TFG. There

followed clashes with the ICU, which was routed in early 2007.

Subsequently, new Islamic militant groups have formed, and have

been in armed conflict with the TFG. The latest development is that

the Ethiopian force departed in January 2009; it has not been

replaced; and the few remaining African Union troops are

insufficient to ensure stability.

Life in Somalia

Meanwhile, the ordinary population

of Somalia, comprising 8-9 million persons, continues to suffer.

Less than 40 per cent of the adults are literate; with the

country's economy based largely on agriculture, including

livestock, the estimated gross domestic product is under £300

a head (the UK equivalent is about £20,000); and it is

estimated that nearly half of the population is starving. In a

report published in 2007, the Minority Rights Group

International—a non-governmental organisation working to

secure the rights of ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities

and indigenous peoples worldwide—identified Somalia as

the most dangerous country in the world for minorities, and

attributed the root cause of conflict within the country to

inter-clan rivalries.

Subsequently, Foreign

Policy magazine, in their 2008 report, ranked Somalia as the

most unstable country in the world (worse even than Afghanistan,

Iraq, Zimbabwe and Sudan). And the 2008 Ibrahim Index of African

Government—published by the Mo Ibrahim

Foundation—ranked Somalia as the clearly worst performer

in Africa judged in the categories of Safety and Security; Rule of

Law, Transparency and Corruption; Participation and Human Rights;

and Human Development. The December 2008 Displaced Population

Report, published by the United Nations Office for the Coordination

of Humanitarian Affairs ("UNOCHA"), put the number of

persons within Somalia who had been displaced as a result of

instability in the country at 1.3 million. Of these, an estimated

1.1 million are within south and central Somalia and around

Mogadishu, where the humanitarian situation continues to

deteriorate, and where there have been massive civilian casualties.

The UNOCHA reported that Ali Sheikh Yassin, acting chairman of the

Mogadishu-based Elman Human Rights Organisation, claimed that TFG

security forces had terrorised the population, and that his group

had verified 16,000 civilian deaths and 30,000 injuries during 2007

and 2008, with many more people unaccounted for. In addition, there

are weekly reports of aid workers being targeted and killed by


The food supply in Somalia has been

adversely affected by decreased rainfall in south-central areas

where, as reported in December 2008 by the Famine Early Warning

Systems Network—an organisation funded by the United

States Agency for International Development—both

commercial and humanitarian food imports have been disrupted by

civil insecurity and the activities of pirates, leading to

shortages and increased food prices. The World Health Organisation

has highlighted health problems associated with inadequate supplies

of drinking water and food, and has reported that 13 per cent of

children under the age of five suffer from acute malnutrition,

while 42 per cent are chronically malnourished. The International

Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, in their

December 2008 Report on the Horn of Africa Food Crisis, noted

hyperinflation in Somalia (the price of cereals having increased by

365 per cent in a year), and identified the situation in the Horn

of Africa, in terms of the number of people affected, as "the

largest humanitarian crisis worldwide." The International

Federation concluded their report by saying of the affected peoples

in the Horn of Africa: "Their suffering can no longer remain

silent. We can't just stand by and accept the unacceptable.

Hunger is not an option."

Human Rights

On 10 December 2008, the

60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human

Rights, Dr Shamsul Bari, the...

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