Ama waa la muuqdaa, ama waa la maqnaada

Either be visible or be absent

We flew to Mogadishu International Airport (MIA) three weeks after Somalia suffered its worst terrorist attack on 14 October when a large truck bomb exploded in central Mogadishu killing at least 358 people. Somalia was once again back in the global headlines for the wrong reasons. After more than three decades of civil war, Somalia has suffered more than most – yet the people we met wanted us to send a message of optimism for Somalia.

One of the experts joining us had last arrived in the MIA by parachute when he was part of the force to liberate Somalia from General Aidid back in 1993. Our arrival was somewhat different this time as we landed for a four day workshop on mutual legal assistance.

It was of no surprise to learn that Somalia’s formal legal institutions are severely hampered by outdated legislation and a lack of resources. Legal institutions are beginning to rebuild their operational capacity, including the Office of the Attorney General, which now has more than twenty courageous and enthusiastic prosecutors.

Due to the state of Somalia’s legal institutions, nearly all cooperation with foreign actors in the fight against terrorism has been focused on military, rather than legal cooperation. The main threat is of course al-Shabab, which emerged as the radical youth wing of Somalia’s now-defunct Union of Islamic Courts and pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda. The threat of al-Shabab exists throughout the Greater Horn, but here the heightened risk is every minute of every day. Talking to the staff in our compound, they thought their building was going to fall down through the force of the blast on 14 October – even though they were two kilometres away. The situation is still tense, and those attending our course spoke about missing family members and being shot at by al-Shabab.

At present all terrorist trials are conducted in military courts – with the intention that the civilian prosecutors take over within three years. This workshop was a timely opportunity to focus on how to secure evidence from other jurisdictions and to build capacity. To enhance their knowledge of regional cooperation, the prosecutors completed the first draft of their International Enquiries Manual, which should be formally approved in the near future. This is the last Manual to be prepared in the region and all six (Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan and Uganda) are now available to the practitioners on their online platform.

This workshop was also an opportunity to brief the prosecutors on a MLA Bill. This  draft legislation provides a consistent process for sending and receiving MLA Requests, use of special investigation techniques in cross-border operations, preservation and collection of communications data and joint investigation teams. Through the trust developed, this Bill has now been presented to the Attorney General for his review.

Somalia is a country that has been ravaged by civil war and terrorist attacks. The Prosecutors here are young and dedicated to make Somalia a peaceful and prosperous State. As the diaspora returns to re-build – these prosecutors carry a burden to ensure the rule of law is protected. They want to be visible and not absent! Working towards greater international cooperation is an important step in this vision.

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