Somaliland launches new Juvenile law
By Priyadharshini Dias
9 October, 2008 - The administration of Somaliland (Northwest Somalia) officially launched the new Juvenile Justice Law at a national conference held from 28 to 31 August 2008. The occasion was organized by the Ministry of Justice in collaboration with UNICEF and UNDP. The primary aim of this Law is to provide fair justice system aimed at protecting and promoting the physical and mental well-being and personal development of child offenders while fostering the child’s sense of dignity and worth.
Participants in the conference included the Minister of Justice, Mr. Ahmed Hassan Ali and about 140 participants who are key actors in the Juvenile justice system - judges, prosecutors, police, custodial corps officers, officials from the Ministry of Justice, the Minister of Family Affairs & Social Development, parliamentarians, civil society representatives, traditional elders, religious leaders, academicians and regional justice for children committees. Several street children who have been in contact with the law and youth representatives also actively participated in the proceedings and shared their experiences.
The new law aims to achieve justice for children by introducing provisions protecting the rights of children in legal proceedings. It establishes various new institutions such as Children’s Courts, Children’s Police, Social Probation Office, Children Pre-trial Detention Centres, and Children Rehabilitation Centres in addition to various procedures and processes which are not yet in operation in Somaliland.
Presently around 80% of cases involving children are dealt with by traditional elders. In the case of this informal justice system practiced in Somaliland, it is designed to keep the peace. In this context the punishment is targeted towards the clan and not the individual perpetrator and compensation may not go to the victim but to the family or the clan of the victim. Therefore it is not victim or accused centred and understands that both offenders and victims are part of the community.
“The objective of this new law is to provide a fair and humane children justice system aimed at protecting and promoting the physical and mental well-being and personal development of child offenders while fostering the child’s sense of dignity and worth,” said Paul Fiszman, Child Protection Specialist with UNICEF. “It aims to protect the rights of children in accordance with International Conventions and International Human Rights Law and in a manner consistent with local, cultural and Islamic values. The law further harmonises the provisions of Secular, Sharia and Somali Customary laws relating to children in conflict with law.”
The new Juvenile Justice Law declares the age of criminal liability to be between 15 to 18 years, and requires the punishment to be imposed to be proportionate to the circumstances of the child, the gravity and nature of the offence. It limits maximum punishment to 15 years and prohibits corporal punishment, life imprisonment and death penalty. The law sets out protective measures relating to the child’s record and ensures clear child participation and child rights during proceedings.
A Child Welfare and Protection Committee and an independent Board of Directors are established to manage the Children Rehabilitation Centres and develop rules and procedures.
The Justice for Children office is set up as part of the inter agency cooperation between UNICEF and UNDP’s Rule of Law and Security (ROLS) Programme. The office is playing a catalyst role in collaborating with the administration of Somaliland to implement the new law by way of construction of buildings, institutional and capacity development and formulation of regulations and policies while keeping in mind the smooth transition from traditional law to the formal justice system in order to ensure effective continuity and sustainability in line with the Millennium Development Goals.
As declared eloquently by one of the children at the launch ‘‘we thank Allah for enabling us to be together and to discuss this law. Juvenile Justice is me and I want to be educated so that I will have a Ministerial position in the future’’.