Fourteen years of arms embargoes and sanctions against Somalia have done nothing to stem the unending flow of arms into the country, fuelling the internecine conflicts that have caused so much destruction and humanitarian agony.
According to the most recent report from the Monitoring Group charged by the United Nations Security Council to document sanction-busting and illegal arms transfer in Somalia, the violations have been blatant and persistent involving businessmen, militia leaders, members of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), as well as neighbouring countries.
The report is a revealing account of piracy, militarisation, regional interests, the war economy and warlordism, as well as the rise of the ‘third force’ – the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC). Since the release of the report in May 2006, the Monitoring Group’s predictions have been realised, with the UIC sweeping to power in the major cities of Somalia, seeing off the largely ineffective TFG.
The Sanctions Decade
According to ‘The Sanctions Decade: Assessing UN Strategies in the 1990s’, by David Cortright and George Lopez, more than 50 new sanctions were imposed during the 1990s, including 12 instances of UN Security Council sanctions, with the rest being imposed primarily by the United States and the European Union.
Under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, the Security Council can enforce measures to maintain or restore international peace and security. Such measures include economic or other sanctions so long as they do not involve the use of armed force or international military action.
The use of mandatory sanctions is aimed at putting enough pressure on a member state to coerce that state into complying with the Security Council’s wishes, without resorting to armed force. Sanctions therefore offer the Security Council what it regards as an important instrument to enforce its decisions.
The range of sanctions can include economic and trade sanctions and/or more targeted measures such as arms embargoes, travel bans, financial or diplomatic restrictions. The Council normally resorts to mandatory sanctions as an enforcement tool when peace has been threatened and diplomatic efforts have failed. However, the sanctions have t times proved ineffective, attracting criticism of their use.
According to the UN Sanctions Organisation, countries currently under sanction are Afghanistan, The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Lebanon.
Cortright and Lopez claim that conventional wisdom, supported by scholarly research, proves that sanctions are ineffective and merely serve to placate public demands for action. The authors conclude that the limits of the effectiveness of sanctions are due less to inherent shortcomings in the instrument itself than to flaws in the design, implementation, and enforcement of specific sanctions. The experience of Somalia overwhelmingly backs this conclusion.
Specific sanctions have been imposed on Somalia since 1992, one year after the collapse of the Siyad Barre regime. The intervening 14 years have been marked by civil war and no central government. Despite repeated review of the sanctions and the establishment of sanction committees and monitoring groups, life in Somalia has grown increasingly violent and bloody.
Security Council resolution 733 (1992), adopted in January 1992, imposed a comprehensive arms embargo against Somalia. Resolution 751 (1992) called for the establishment of a Committee of the Security Council to monitor the implementation of the arms embargo. Resolution 1356 (2001), adopted in June 2001, provided for exemptions to the measures imposed in resolution 733 (1992) by allowing the import of non-lethal military equipment intended solely for humanitarian or protective use.
On 22 July 2002, the Security Council, adopting resolution 1425, established a three-member panel of experts who were given six months to study the violations of the Somalia arms embargo imposed in 1992. The panel, based in Nairobi, submitted its first report to the Security Council in March 2003.
From December 2003, the Security Council agreed to set up a Monitoring Group consisting of four experts who, since early 2004, have had their six-monthly mandate and reporting period renewed. Following their report in May 2006 and with resolution 1676 (2006), the Security Council decided that the Monitoring Group should continue its work for another six months with the mandate as established through resolution 1587 (2005).
Apart from monitoring the situation and reporting on the extent of sanction-busting, the Monitoring Group is mandated to recommend ways of strengthening the implementation of the arms embargo, and to suggest improvements that neighbouring states may make to meet the challenges of implementing the sanctions.
The May report
The May report concludes that the security situation in central and southern Somalia remains highly unstable and increasingly volatile, resulting in violent confrontations between and among different main factions. The Monitoring Group identify six main actors in central and southern Somalia: the TFG, the Mogadishu-based opposition alliance, the militant fundamentalists, the business elite, pirate groups and feuding sub-clans.
All of the six main actors are heavily armed, organised and are aggressively keen to protect and ensure the survival of their respective vested interests, be they fundamentally economic, as in the case of the local administrations run by warlords and the huge and powerful business cartels of the business elite, or ideological, as in the case of the militants.
The report documents considerable detailed evidence and knowledge of the sources of revenue for the strongmen and power groups in Somalia today. The report explains how they derive the means to purchase illegal weapons through the control of seaports, airports, roads, organised piracy and business cartels, both inside and outside the country. The annexes illustrate specific details of selected arms shipments and revenue flows.
"It is the view of the Monitoring Group that economic vested interests, and now the ideological interests of the militants, are the driving forces behind the opposition to the establishment of a central government in Somalia. The pirate groups and the feuding clans operate on the margins of the main contest between TFG and the principal antagonists. But they add immeasurably to the lawless trauma and widespread instability in today’s Somalia," the report said as part of the conclusions of the investigations.
The Monitoring Group claims that the sanctions, once again, appear to be irrelevant with arms, military material and financial support continuing to flow "like a river" to the different players, in violation of the arms embargo.
According to the report "three fundamental sources feed this flow: a widening circle of states - each with its own agenda, arms-trading groups, and economically powerful individuals and the business elite".
While states tend to be the main suppliers of the full range of military support, including finances, there are powerful individuals and businesses that also channel arms, military equipment and financial support to the faction of their choice.
The report identifies the principal antagonists opposed to the establishment of the central government as the Mogadishu-based opposition alliance, the militant fundamentalists and the business elite. The militant fundamentalists - the UIC - have driven out or co-opted various warlords and so-called local administrators since early June.
Nevertheless the conclusions of the report remain correct, that together these three groups are economically and militarily strong, are well-organised and have demonstrated their intent to use deadly violence to protect their interests and pursue their respective agendas. Their collective and, in certain cases, individual strength, resources and capabilities are greater than those of TFG.
The ‘Third Force’
The latest report from the Monitoring Group has not so much been overtaken by recent events in Somalia as proved correct. It warned that the continued militarisation of all factions - in particular the UIC’s aggressive drive to win power - could be the ‘third force’ that would escalate violence in Somalia. According to this report, the UIC’s main objective is to create an Islamic state ruled by Shari’ah law. They say they will "oppose the establishment of a central government in Somalia unless they are an integral part of it or they are the government."
It remains to be seen whether these predictions will define the future of Somalia. If they do, the implications for peace within Somalia, and with the international community may be more elusive than ever.
When sanctions are ineffective, and when member states of the United Nations themselves are found to be violating arms embargoes and sanctions, the question must be raised as to whether sufficient political will or interest exists to prevent the inevitable humanitarian crisis that results from the lawless militarisation of a people.
It is the ongoing task of the Somali sanctions Monitoring Group to observe and report information of arms embargo violations and related matters.Their latest 70-page report, as well as previous reports, can be found on the webiste of Selected Documents Related to the Security Council Committee Established Pursuant to Resolution 751 (1992) Concerning Somalia: www.un.org
Select document S/2006/229 of the 4 May 2006.