Author, Abdighani Hirad provides indepth analysis of the Conflict in Lasanod.
I. Summary: The Lasanod conflict entered its second month. This report covers the trajectory of the conflict when the people of Lasanod rose against a secessionist entity denying their political identity based on a territorially and politically united Somalia. First, the report contextualizes the conflict in the occupation of Lasanod by the Somaliland administration in 2007 and attendant problems ranging from extrajudicial killing and economic marginalization to securitization for political problems. The report highlights how leniency of the Federal Government of Somalia and the International Community towards Somaliland, whose transgressions, such as the forced displacement of Somali citizens in Lasanod and the violent enforcement of secessionist ideology, resulted in the indiscriminate shelling of residential areas, hospitals, schools, and business premises in Lasanod. Finally, the report calls for accountability for crimes committed against the people of Lasanod, represented in the federal institutions based in Mogadishu.
On February 6, 2023, the Traditional Leaders of Sool, Sanag, and Cayn (SSC or Khaatumo Region) and the 33 Consultative Committee (33-Committee) Somalia issued a declaration stating that they are not part of the Somaliland Administration and have never agreed to or participated in the secession program. The declaration also asserted that the Somaliland Administration is attempting to force its secession upon them, violating international norms and laws.
The resulting humanitarian crisis in Lasanod, Sool, Somalia, has persisted for over a month, resulting in the deaths of 250 people and injuries to over 1,000 by the forces of the breakaway region of the Somaliland Administration. Despite the severity of the situation, the response from the international community has been muted, with many offering only vague expressions of concern. Juerg Eglin, head of the ICRC delegation in Somalia, remarked, “people in Las Anod urgently need humanitarian assistance, and we are operating as rapidly as possible to get it to them.”
Since February 6, 2023, Somaliland Administration forces have engaged in indiscriminate attacks on the people of Lasanod. As a result of this conflict, nearly 200,000 people were displaced, hundreds of Somalis were killed and wounded, and 60,000 fled to neighboring countries as refugees.The violence perpetrated by Somaliland is a culmination of the international community and the Federal Government of Somalia’s (FGS) late and inadequate response to holding Somaliland accountable. The question then arises: what should the international community do to hold Somaliland responsible?
This article will lay out the background of the conflict, dispel the recent propaganda by the Somaliland Administration, and evaluate the tepid international response and the role of and of FGS. The last section will delve into the global legal framework regarding war crimes, evidence of war crimes committed in Lasanod, and the application of international law to the ongoing conflict and Lasanod. Furthermore, the article will examine the mechanisms by which Somaliland can be held responsible to demonstrate the significance of holding violent actors like Somaliland accountable.
III. Background of the Conflict Between SSC and Somaliland
The Somali people and most of the International Community are aware that over the last 15 years, the SSC-Khatumo regions have encountered numerous problems caused by the presence of the Somaliland Administration. These problems resulted in an uprising known as the “Blue Uprising,” in which the people in these regions stood up against the secession of Somaliland by raising the blue Somali flag.
They protested the agenda that targets prominent citizens, the economic embargo that prevents the presence of development agencies in these regions, and the violation of their inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The secession is the fundamental difference between the SSC region and Somaliland Administration. As others pointed out and the Somaliland Administration attempted to portray it, the difference is neither exclusionary political nor economic grievances. Nonetheless, as shown in the following subsections, Somaliland presence in the SSC areas has caused upheaval for the community.
The SSC regions in Northern Somalia, bordering Somaliland and Puntland, have a rich and contrasting history. The clans inhabiting these regions refused British colonial rule and fought against the British presence during the Darwish liberation movement, losing hundreds of thousands of their people. Today, however, the same people who fought for the liberation of Somali people are fighting for their existence against Somaliland forces.
People of SSC-Khaatumo believe that any political solution in Somalia must respect the people’s will, history, and traditional political organization. A stable Somali polity can be created by working together and utilizing these potent factors.
Standing with the people of the SSC regions and supporting their fight for justice and self-determination is the right course for finding a lasting solution.
a. Somaliland Occupation
In October 2007, Somaliland seized the capital of the Sool region, Lasanod. This Occupation resulted in the displacement of tens of thousands of people, the exile of all traditional leaders, academics, businesspeople, and prominent politicians, and the cessation of investment and visits from the diaspora. With the arrival of Somaliland, inter-clan feuds intensified, and a campaign of assassinations began in the city, targeting what was left of Lasanod’s elite. To date, over 150 people have been murdered, and all of these cases remain unsolved. As Dr. Hoehne pointed out, “… who was driving the assignation campaigns induced insecurity in the area, creating tensions between residents….”
There have also been a handful of extrajudicial murders, which Somaliland has described as collateral damage, in addition to the assassinations.
Also, for the past 20 years, unprovoked and excessive force was utilized whenever there was a demonstration, which resulted in the deaths of innocent and nonviolent protestors. The further point is that even though Lasanod has facilities, anyone detained there is sent to Mandera, Hargaisa, or Burco. Many conflicts have occurred in areas of the SSC regions, such as Kalshale, Boame, Taleh, Sahdher, and Buhodle, in addition to Lasanod’s experience. While Somaliland attempted to seize the city of Buhoodle, hundreds of people perished in Kalshaale.
b. Human Rights Violations
In areas of the SSC controlled by Somaliland, there was no freedom of speech, no right to assembly, no freedom of expression in free media, nobody was allowed to question Somaliland’s rights to be in these regions, it was criminal to express unionist beliefs, and anybody who exhibited their unionist political views was criminalized. For example, anyone seen with a Somali blue flag was arrested and taken to jail.
Before the Somaliland RRU forces started killing peaceful demonstrators and shelling residential neighborhoods and public facilities, they committed blatant human rights violations in October 2021. The Somaliland administration in Lasanod illegally uprooted Somali citizens who had lived in the city for decades. It was a blatant clan cleansing that targeted anyone originating from the Southwestern region of Somalia with immediate deportations and expulsions, creating hostilities between the people of SSC and their fellow Somalis. Somaliland’s security-related justifications for these clan-based expulsion acts can only be taken as scapegoating communities from the Southwest State of Somalia as the perpetrators of the targeted assassinations.
c. Economic Blockade
Investment in Lasanod has decreased as a result of Somaliland’s arbitrary Occupation; entrepreneurs have moved their capital out of the area and into other parts of Somalia, stunting the country’s economic growth.
As a result, the SSC region is among Somalia’s most economically challenged regions. In addition, a political tactic Somaliland used to compel people to adopt the Somaliland political identity is aid from foreign donors. Finally, to keep INGOS and other international monitoring organizations out, the region is also portrayed as a hotspot of radicalism. For example, “when NGOs do manage to travel to Las Anod, they are officially advised to stay in Aynabo, a nearby Isaaq town, and to only travel into Las Anod during the day,” as Jetro Norman pointed out in his article.
The people of the SSC regions have not received any critical services from Somaliland in the past 20 years. As a result, only local residents can work to provide basic human rights like primary healthcare and education. As a result, the city has some of Somalia’s highest newborn death rates, lowest doctor-to-population ratios, and lowest rates of school enrollment.
IV. Propaganda by Somaliland Administration in Lasanod
Early on, during the uprising of the Lasnod residents, SL tried the divide-and-rule strategy by attempting to buy favors from certain sections of the SSC population. Divide-and-rule was SL’s best strategy; however, after several years of unresolved assassinations of nearly 150 prominent people from SSC, which have caused an imaginable upheaval and embittered the SSC community, this strategy collapsed. The back-and-forth shuttling by the Minister of Interior, Mr. Kahin, the Minister of Communication, Mr. Kore, and the Speaker of the House, Mr. Khalif, did not create fissures amongst the SSC people. On the contrary, it galvanized the SSC community.
Throughout the war, the Somaliland Administration has been fully engaged in a propaganda and disinformation campaign to mislead the concerned international community, turn away their attention and focus on the atrocities and mass displacement in Lasanod, the bombardment of the Somaliland militia. Unable to defeat the SSC defense forces, SL resorted to propaganda. Before the propaganda, it tried to create cleavages within the SSC community, but when that tactic did not work, it attributed the conflict to a disaffected population.
When these tactics did not work, SL started calling SSC people terrorists aided by Puntland forces working with FGS and Puntland Special Forces (PSF). When this did not work, the SL Minister of Foreign Affairs, E. K. Mohamud, said, “Somaliland is a buffer zone for Ethiopia,” The use of the word “buffer zone” to describe the relationship between Ethiopia and SL, a region that claims to have broken away from Somalia, is peculiar.
All the above propaganda results from an administration succumbing to a siege mentality in the fog of war. However, clear evidence is that SL Administration has shown no coherent strategy as it issues disjointed messages in every press release. After their false narrative did not work, Somaliland started deploying its lobbyists (i.e., Tibor Nagy, Michael Rubin, and J. Peter Pham) who have been helping Somaliland with the dream of secession in the last 30+ years and have been acquiring profits. Mr. Rubin’s recent article on the 19fortyfive website was the most disjointed propaganda, blaming many actors. The article “…oscillates between baseless allegations of Chinese involvement, and a highly reductionist claim that the current fighting can be explained by Darood/Dhulbahante power loss in 1991.” The article attempts to combine SSC elders, Puntland forces, Danab Brigade, Liyu police, and al-Shabaab militants to see what sticks. The article throws China into the mix and accuses several officials who were or are in FGS from the SSC regions of being in the mix. Nonetheless, the propaganda did not appear to dissuade the world from the war crimes committed in Lasanod.
 “SSC Clan Leaders’ Summit Release a 13 Point Declaration – Somali Dispatch,” Somali Dispatch (blog), February 6, 2023, https://www.somalidispatch.com/latest-news/breaking-news-ssc-clan-leaders-summit-release-a-13-point-declaration/.
 Ahmed Mohamed, “Over 200 Killed in Fighting in Disputed Somaliland Town,” VOA, March 6, 2023, https://www.voanews.com/a/over-200-killed-in-fighting-in-disputed-somaliland-town/6992190.html.
 “Somalia : ICRC Urges Quick and Unimpeded Humanitarian Access to Victims of Violence in Las Anod,” News release, International Committee of the Red Cross, February 22, 2023, Africa/Somalia, https://www.icrc.org/en/document/somalia-icrc-urges-quick-and-unimpeded-humanitarian-access-victims-violence-las-anod.
 Kaamil Ahmed, “Tens of Thousands of Refugees Flee from Somaliland Clashes,” The Guardian, February 22, 2023, sec: global development, https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2023/feb/22/tens-of-thousands-of-refugees-flee-from-somaliland-clashes.
 Mohamed Haji, “What’s Driving Conflict in the Disputed Somali City of Las Anod?,” February 20, 2023, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2023/2/20/whats-driving-conflict-in-the-disputed-somali-city-of-las-anod.