Traditional elders in Puntland firm up on human rights

Group of Somali elders

Monday, 09 August 2010

20-24 July, Garowe – Clan elders from Puntland as well as representatives from their communities held a state conference to review the progress in aligning customary law (Xeer) with international Human rights and the Shari’ah, to ensure that it protects the rights of vulnerable groups including women, children, the disabled, minority groups, internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees. The elders, as the guardians of customary law, had agreed to this major revision of Xeer in a February 2009 Declaration, which resulted from their first state conference.

Now, 18 month later, the same elders reviewed the challenges they encountered while implementing the declaration. In particular, they discussed the issues of revenge and intentional killings, standard blood compensations, the rights of women and children including the fight against Sexual Gender Based Violence (SGBV), rights of the minority groups, rights of IDPs and refugees, dealing with traffic accidents, human trafficking and piracy.

Besides the representatives from the elders of the seven regions of Puntland, the conference was attended by more than 100 participants including government authorities, the ministries of Family Affairs and Women Development, Justice, Security and members of the civil society.

This conference has, for the first time, brought together the traditional leaders and their followers and gave the followers the opportunity to ask questions on human rights and the roles and responsibilities of the informal system on the dispensation of justice in Puntland.  For the first time, the elders were held accountable to their communities.

The traditional system of governance and conflict resolution in Somalia has survived the civil war in many areas, and particularly in Puntland. The community in Puntland has a strong traditional law and leadership, which manages conflicts through consensus or mediation, open dialogue and sometimes a ruling by the Heer Beegti (experienced judges). The traditional leaders have the trust and respect from the members of their communities. The leaders believe that given the necessary support and facilitation, they will be able to do much more for the development of peace and security in Puntland. At the end of the 5 day State conference, the traditional leaders have made and signed a common declaration that enhances their commitment on the protection of human rights in their respective communities all over Puntland. They requested more logistics and management support to make this human rights, dispensation of justice and peace building initiative a reality on the ground.

This initiative is part of UNDP Somalia’s Access to Justice project and is funded by USAID. UNDP Somalia has been supporting the informal justice system in Puntland since 2006 to strengthen access to justice for vulnerable group in the zone. In particular, UNDP is providing technical assistance and financial support to establish the Puntland Elders Network, implement the Declaration that resulted from the First State Conference of Traditional Elders, develop the capacity of informal justice actors in mediation, conflict prevention and resolution, peace building and international human right standards and develop a referral system between the formal and informal justice systems.