The African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) is set to commence the process of making amends to civilians who suffer harms as a direct result of its operations in the country.
The modalities for making such amends, which may include ex-gratia payments to innocent victims of AMISOM operations, should be completed within the next three months.
The move, the first of its kind in Africa, may see victims paid for damages caused by AMISOM personnel. This follows the drafting of Standard Operating Procedures (SoP), at a workshop in Nairobi, which will standardize approach and coordination among various AMISOM departments.
The two-day workshop, held in Nairobi on 6th and 7th October, agreed that a final document will be delivered to the African Union Commission (AUC) headquarters, in Addis Ababa, for approval within the next few weeks.
According to Jide Okeke, the Head of Policy Development Unit at the Peace Support Operations Division, African Union Commission, the move would help strengthen relations between AMISOM and the local population.
“We want to ensure that we bridge and strengthen the relationship between AMISOM and the local communities and this is part of our efforts to win the hearts and minds of the local communities, which is an important dimension for defeating the Al-Shaabab,” Dr Okeke stated.
He added that a structure has been put in place and personnel recruited to enable the program take off in the next three months.
The meeting, facilitated by the Centre for Civilians in Conflict (CIVIC), an organization that helped the United States develop a similar program in Afghanistan, brought together top AMISOM personnel, stakeholders from the Somali community, UN, policy experts, lawyers and compensation experts.
The Al-Shabaab in its propaganda war has often accused AMISOM of being a foreign force out to destabilize Somalia by killing innocent civilians. However, Dr. Okeke said the move to make amend to the victims will dispel such notions and reduce the number of people being radicalized into violent extremism.
In the proposed SoP, AMISOM will investigate all incidents of probable civilian harm and make amends in cases where there is credible evidence that the harm was occasioned by its personnel.
The Head of AMISOM Protection, Human Rights and Gender Unit, Adebayo Kareem, said the meeting fine-tuned several issues, which will be included in the final document that will spell out the guidelines for payments.
Adebayo said although AMISOM had limited funding, it was important to acknowledge instances where things go wrong, adding that civilian casualties are unavoidable during war.
He noted that AMISOM will determine the amount to be paid to individuals or families of innocent Somalis who sustain injuries or die in incidents where AMISOM is responsible for such harm.
“You cannot compensate for human life, thus any ex gratia payment made is just a token of our remorse that the incident happened,” Mr. Kareem noted.
The meeting proposed that the amends can be in monetary and non-monetary terms. Assistance in-kind will include livestock, food, medical triage and assistance in rebuilding homes among others.
Adebayo acknowledged that the implementation of the policy in Somalia will pose a challenge, given the asymmetrical nature of the war, coupled with poor infrastructure.
“AMISOM’s involvement in Somalia is a very complex one; we are fighting non-uniformed combatants who have a habit of ambushing our soldiers in densely populated areas. It is extremely difficult to ascertain who civilians are and who the combatants are in Somalia,” he added.
Marla Keenan from CIVIC lauded AMISOM for setting a precedent, saying the move will encourage similar programmes in other areas, especially where troops have been deployed.
“It is the first tracking cell on the continent. It is the first amends policy on the continent. So in many ways you guys are trail leaders and this is really something that we are proud to be part of because we see it as an example that can be held up across the rest of Africa,” Ms Keenan observed.