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2014 | HRW Report The Courts of Absolute Power

Since 2011 the government of Somalia has relied heavily on the military court to try not only members of the armed forces but also police and intelligence agents and ordinary civilians. The court has filled a vacuum left by barely functioning civilian trial courts. It operates without judicial review from the Supreme Court, and conducts proceedings that fall far short of international fair trial standards.

The military court, consisting of serving military officers, does not meet the fundamental requirement under international law of being a competent, independent, and impartial court. Trials have violated the basic fair trial rights of defendants to obtain counsel of their choice, prepare and present a defense, receive a public hearing, not incriminate themselves, and appeal a conviction to a higher court. More than a dozen of those convicted over the last year have been sentenced to death and executed, magnifying the harm to basic rights.

This report is based on over 30 interviews conducted in Somalia and Kenya between April 2013 and March 2014 with defendants and defendants’ relatives, as well as military court officials, lawyers, and legal experts. It documents a range of human rights violations that require urgent attention by the Somali government and its international donor partners as part of the broader justice reform effort in Somalia.