|Country Report Somalia - ICRC Worldwide Consultation on the Rules of War (International Committee of the Red Cross , 1999, 54 p.)|
|Protection of civilians|
The widespread influence of religious and cultural norms in Somalia is revealed when respondents are asked why combatants should not take actions that threaten civilian lives and property. Sixty-one per cent of those surveyed base their beliefs on respect for these norms, saying that violating limits on wartime behaviour is "wrong". Only half that many (31 per cent) justify their beliefs on more practical grounds ("it just causes too many problems").9 The percentage of those who believe "it's wrong" rises with age - from 55 per cent among 18-29 year-olds to 74 per cent among 40-49 year-olds.
9Seventy-five per cent of these respondents say the primary problem is that such actions generate "too much hate and division", while 45 per cent say "it produces too much destruction" and 29 per cent cite "psychological damage".
Among those who say "it's wrong", the majority (53 per cent) say attacks on civilians and other prohibited acts violate their "personal code", with another 10 per cent saying they are "against what most people here believe". Significant numbers also justify their position by saying such actions are against human rights (39 per cent); against their religion (39 per cent) or culture (31 per cent); or against the law (27 per cent). (See Figure 4.) One doctor's explanation offers a succinct summary of why civilians should be protected:
It is against humanity. Islam forbids it. It results in psychological problems that continue long after the war is over. It is against our culture and tradition to abuse helpless people. (IDI, doctor, Boroma)
Question: When you say it's wrong, is it primarily wrong because it is...?
In focus group discussions and in-depth interviews, combatants demonstrate a clear understanding of the cultural norms and religious teachings that underlie Somalia's traditional wartime code of conduct - and the shame associated with violating it.
To attack civilians is unlawful according to traditions and religion. (FG, militiamen, Kismayo)
It's traditionally and religiously unlawful to attack and kill civilians, but it's allowed according to the traditions of today. (FG, militiamen, Kismayo)
It is incorrect to do what the laws prohibit. They shouldn't kill since they are Muslims. (FG, militiamen, Kismayo)
Somalis are a hundred per cent Muslim. They also have traditions. It is very shameful to do something that is forbidden as taught by our forefathers. (FG, militiamen, Kismayo)
The focus group discussions and the in-depth interviews provide a much clearer picture of the traditional Somali wartime code of conduct and the unprecedented nature of the past decade of conflict. Tribal elders and religious leaders offer detailed explanations of the rules of war and lament their demise. The in-depth interviews reveal a strong historical understanding and appreciation of the rules of war among a wide range of people.
This is not the only war that has taken place in Somalia. In the previous war fighters used to fight but never harm the children, old people, innocent people and even prisoners. Today everyone is killed. The old are killed, the young who have not even matured. (FG, elders and religious leaders, Belet Huen)
According to Somali tradition, combatants should not kill the religious elders... They should not kill the captured heroes who are well known - and protect the people in the future - because if they are killed war increases. They are not allowed to kill civilians, women and children, to break into personal houses, loot property, kill captured prisoners. This is how our traditional wars used to be... During our ancient times people used to make appointments and agreements on time or days when they would fight. There was nothing like tricking or hunting of one another. Although it is a part of war, it is something I have never known since I was born. (IDI, elderly male, Mogadishu South)
Nowadays people write down laws but previously during our time those ancient days, people used to pay 100 camels for the life of one man in compensation. Then they pay for other abuse and mistreatments. If a person is tortured, you cut the ears and nose in the payment of compensation. (IDI, elderly male, Mogadishu South)
Somalis had a tradition which prohibited all bad things. If the war became too long, there was an exchange of girls and horses so the long-lasting enmity would finish there. (FG, displaced women, Bardera)
For example the northern Somalis never used to kill women and children when they went for animal raids, but during the last civil war it was done. (IDI, nomad, Boroma)
[Moderator question: Previously was it easy and simple to shoot a person?] To compensate a person was 1.2 million shillings. I witnessed a man who was shot with ten bullets. The man who killed him took his gun and sold it. Hence he got the money to pay for compensation of the life of that person he had killed. (FG, militiamen, Kismayo)
As you know, Allah gave man a sensible mind and understanding other than animals, and from time immemorial, the Somalis used to fight against each other from generation to generation, but they were safeguarding the human rights according to our culture. (IDI, journalist, Mogadishu)
When discussion turns to protection afforded by human rights and international law, respondents define these largely in terms of Somali cultural norms and the tenets of Islam. Where participants cite international law, for example, their language unconsciously creates a hierarchy of justification that places their traditional customs and religious beliefs above international norms. Several tribal elders and religious leaders explicitly reject a Western definition of these rights, saying that the powerful nations violated human rights while the "Third World countries care about humanity".
The impact of a decade of war becomes clear when respondents are asked to define and explain the role of human rights. While a handful of those questioned cite freedom and property rights, most focus on their role in conflict and define human rights as a protective shield10 Islam and tradition dominate definitions.
10 "I have heard of it on the radio, and I think it is meant to protect people's lives." (IDI, nomad, Boroma) "It protects people from harm." (IDI, displaced woman, Bardera) "...for the protection of the weaker people" (IDI, woman artist, Bardera) "Mistreating the poor" (FG, militiamen, Mogadishu).
...Human rights are how Islamic religion states. But not how the powerful countries assume. (FG, elders and religious leaders, Hargeisa)
One should be given peace. One should not claim that one is more powerful than another. All people should be equal. None should undermine the other. Everything should be shared equally. As stated in the Islamic religion, that is the meaning of human rights. (FG, elders and religious leaders, Hargeisa)
It is the right to refuse to do what is bad, just as our religious leaders and elders tell us. (FG, women, Bosaso)
The "human rights" that I know of are governed by the Holy Quran [Koran] and they are better than the ones you are talking about. (IDI, doctor, Boroma)
The Somalis know what human rights are. Our culture instructs us to be mindful of the weak people and this is what human rights are all about. (IDI, journalist, Mogadishu)