World

Top Somali judge asks for help after judge deaths

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — About 10 judges have been killed in the last four years because of violence in Somalia or as a direct result of their jobs, the country's chief justice said.

Somalia's court system is being undermined by a lack of security, irregular financing and interference from top politicians, Mohamud Omar Farah told The Associated Press in a recent interview.

"Somalia needs an effective judicial system more than any time before to sort out the mess left behind by nearly two decades of conflict," said Farah, who took office as Somalia's chief justice in December. "We need the assistance of everyone. We have to turn a decayed system around, and to do so we need a money that we don't have right now."

Farah served as attorney general in the last central government in Somalia, which disintegrated in 1991. The current transitional government has been struggling to assert its control over the country since its formation in 2004.

Islamist insurgents control much of southern and central Somalia, including large swaths of the capital, Mogadishu.

The militants have a rough system of justice based on a conservative interpretation of Shariah law. The Islamists consider officials of the U.N.-backed government as legitimate targets because — they argue — they are part of a secular government.

The problems facing the approximately 70 judges who operate in the capital do not only come from Islamist rebels, but also from disgruntled civilians who sometimes take the law onto their own hands and attack judges, Farah said. Several months ago, for example, a judge ruled in a land dispute case and was attacked afterward, he said.

"After delivering the verdict, the judges — because they don't have official cars to take them to their homes or money to buy their own cars — use public vehicles with, perhaps, angry relatives of a convicted person," Farah said.

Benedict Goderiaux, a researcher with the advocacy group Amnesty International, said Farah's appeal for help merits support from the international community to restore the rule of law.

"The need for a proper justice system in Somalia cannot be underestimated. It is of immense importance. A lot of human rights abuses have been committed in Somalia. Impunity is rampant and perpetrators are not punished," she said.

Farah has accused some Somali ministers of interfering with the work of the courts and trying to turn judges pro-government.

"They are afraid of an independent judicial system that can hold everyone accountable for his action," he said.

Farah is in Nairobi to press U.N. agencies and diplomats to mobilize resources for Somalia to establish effective and reliable courts.

He said Somali judges "operate on a voluntary basis, and receive bonuses once in a blue moon."

Six district and regional courts and as well as an appeals court and the high court operate in the slice of the capital controlled by government forces and their African Union backers.