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Briefing and Consultations on the Situation in Somalia

Tomorrow (20 August) Security Council members will discuss the situation in Somalia, meeting in person in the ECOSOC chamber. Special Representative and head of the UN Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM) James Swan and AU Special Representative Francisco Madeira are expected to brief.

This meeting takes place as the Council begins to negotiate a resolution on the UNSOM mandate, which is due to be renewed in just over a week following two technical rollovers on 30 March and 22 June. These rollovers were due to the impact of COVID-19 on Council working methods in March and, in June, a desire to wait to know more about the Federal Government of Somalia’s plans for upcoming elections. Negotiations on the current draft started on 13 August, and it seems that there have been some proposed changes regarding the length of the mandate, as well as election assistance modalities.

The situation in Somalia has been tumultuous in the past few weeks due to security, humanitarian and political challenges. The briefers are likely to express their concern about the recent violence perpetrated by Al-Shabaab against government officials and civilians. On 13 July, Al-Shabaab attempted to assassinate General Odowaa Yusuf Rageh, the head of the Somalia National Army, in a suicide car bomb attack in Mogadishu. Rageh survived, but one civilian was killed and several others wounded. On 8 August, a suicide car bombing at the front gate of a Somali military base in Mogadishu killed at least nine people and wounded around 20; Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility. On 11 August, several members of Al-Shabaab attempted to escape from a Mogadishu prison. The resulting shootout killed around 20 people, including both prisoners and Somali forces. Investigations are underway as to how the attempted escapees received weapons. On 16 August, Al-Shabaab orchestrated an attack on a popular beach hotel in Mogadishu. It began with a car bomb; then terrorists rushed into the hotel, resulting in a four-hour siege. In the end, 16 people were killed and 18 were injured, while more than 200 were rescued by Somali special forces. There have also been some smaller, deadly skirmishes throughout Somalia involving Al-Shabaab.

Council members are likely to highlight their concerns about the recent Al-Shabaab attacks, particularly at a time when the AU Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) is scheduled to be undergoing a technical review. They may want to learn from AU Special Representative Madeira about measures being taken by the AMISOM to curtail future attacks.

The severe humanitarian situation in the country is also likely to be addressed in tomorrow’s meeting. Weeks of rains led to severe floods that have caused around 100,000 Somalis to be displaced since the end of June, and more than 40 villages have been completely flooded in the Hirshabelle, South West, Jubaland States, and Banadir region. Thousands of acres of farmland have been destroyed. Meanwhile, as of 19 August, Somalia’s COVID-19 cases stood around 3,200 with 93 deaths. In a statement submitted to the Council in late May (S/2020/466), Ambassador Abukar Dahir Osman of Somalia noted that limited resources had hampered his country’s ability to address COVID-19 and that the virus “poses a serious security challenge in a context that is already marked by fragility”.

On 11 August Pramila Patten, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, released a statement criticising the “Sexual Intercourse Related Crimes Bill” currently being considered by the Somali Federal Parliament. Patten says that the bill breaches international and regional standards relating to rape and other forms of sexual violence. Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for human rights, released a similar statement. According to Bachelet and Patten, the bill is a step back from the 2013 joint communiqué in which Somalia committed to strengthening laws on sexual violence, because this new law does not adequately protect victims, witnesses and the accused and allows minors to marry based on reproductive maturity, independent of age. Several civil society groups in Somalia have been mobilising action against the bill, including a petition. The United Kingdom’s ambassador in Somalia tweeted his concern about the bill, calling it a “big moment for MP’s to decide Somalia’s future values”. Similar concerns are likely to be expressed by some Council members tomorrow as well.

In the political arena, after several weeks of delays, the chair of the National Independent Electoral Commission (NIEC), Halima Ismail, announced in a meeting with the Federal Parliament on 27 June that upcoming elections should be postponed because of logistical, financial, and COVID-19 challenges.

Council members are generally united in their belief that the upcoming elections are important for Somalia. High-level Somali officials have said that the elections will be one person-one vote, but such a poll takes longer to organise than the clan-based system of indirect voting Somalia has used in the past. In that model, clan elders vote in lawmakers, who then elect a president from a group of selected contenders. In her statement on 27 June, Ismail said that one person-one vote elections would take at least until March 2021 to organise and possibly longer if using biometric registration. (Before the announcement, parliamentary elections were tentatively scheduled for 27 November, and the president’s term ends on 8 February 2021).

Many Council members have repeatedly stressed the need for one person-one vote elections.  However, there appears to be some disagreement in the Council on whether or not to support delaying the elections, or supporting some alternative direct election model that could be proposed by Somalia, a compromise between the clan-based and one person-one vote systems that could allow elections to happen sooner. In tomorrow’s meeting, the divisions on this issue may be stark.

Council members are also likely to express their concern about the ongoing disagreements between Somali political stakeholders. The suggestion that elections could be delayed has set off a political dispute inside Somalia. Some members of parliament and the NIEC continue to support universal suffrage and therefore have supported the NIEC’s recommendation to delay elections. However, the recommendation to postpone elections was rejected by the presidents of Somalia’s federal states (Said Abdullahi Deni of Puntland, Ahmed Mohamed Madobe of Jubaland, Ahmed Abdi Karie Qoorqoor of Galmudug, Abdiaziz Laftagareen of South West and Mohamed Abdi Ware of Hirshabelle). They released a joint statement on 12 July calling for modified indirect elections that could be held sooner than the sought-after universal suffrage elections.

A series of meetings between federal states’ presidents and the Federal Government of Somalia took place in July and August to try to pave the way toward a solution. On 22 July, it was announced that the stakeholders had agreed to nominate a technical working group that would design a plan to hold “timely” elections. On 15 August, the leaders were to reconvene for further discussions; however, that meeting has been delayed.

Council members have consistently stressed the need for better relationships between the Federal Government of Somalia and Somali federal states, as there have been periodic flare-ups. Members are likely to voice the need for reconciliation in their statements tomorrow.

An additional political challenge likely to be discussed in the meeting is the 25 July removal of Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khaire through a no-confidence vote in Somalia’s parliament. According to the speaker of parliament, Khaire was removed due to the government’s inability to “fulfil its national promises, including holding one man-one vote elections, and establishing a national security force capable of tightening the security”. Khaire’s removal was criticised by both the EU and the United States.

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