Photographer:Fotograaf: Loraine Bodewes
An evening with Guleid
MAASTRICHT. What is more important: targeting poverty or human rights? This is the question that occupied Guleid, chairman of the Somali Human Rights Centre and participant in Maastricht’s Shelter Programme, at the Somaliland Human Rights Info Night last Tuesday.
Leonie Eilers, a first-year student of European Public Health, heard about the night through Amnesty International, whose student department organised the event. “I found the topic really interesting as I don’t know much about Somaliland, other than the fact that it had been through a long war. I hope to learn more.”
The evening started with a brief introduction to the country. Somaliland is not internationally recognised as an individual nation, but rather seen as part of Somalia. It was a British colony until 1960 and, after a great deal of conflict, declared independence in 1991. The country has a population of 3.5 million.
Then it was Guleid's turn on stage. A lawyer by training, he created the Somali Human Rights Centre to help the poorest of the poor in Somaliland. It is their rights, he believes, that are most often violated. He is also an outspoken opponent of the country’s death penalty, which he calls an “irreversible decision”. Tonight’s focus was on the importance of human rights in Somaliland. Somaliland’s constitution is “beautiful”, according to Jama. “However, most of it is theoretical and not often practised.”
The night concluded with a brief introduction to traditional Somali dance. Attendees were offered food as well as notebooks with important information for those wanting to know more about the country.
The evening was moderated by Jonas Neubert, a first-year student of European Studies and member of Amnesty International’s Lectures and Debates Committee. “It’s great that we could benefit from Jama’s presence in the country. He is currently here under political asylum until December, when he will return to Somaliland.”
Magali Mathar, a third-year European Law student, learnt a lot about human rights. She too was not familiar with Somaliland as a country. “It was an important night; more awareness needs to be spread about human rights not currently focused on in the media.”
UCM shelters Guleid
Guleid (1985) is a lawyer and human rights defender from Somaliland, a self-declared state in northwestern Somalia. He has been hosted by University College Maastricht since September as part of the Shelter City initiative, which allows human rights activists to spend three months working, lecturing and studying in a safe environment. Jama is the chairperson and founder of the Human Rights Centre, one of Somaliland’s few independent human rights monitoring organisations. When it comes to human rights, he says, the main problem in Somaliland is the limited freedom of expression afforded to the media: journalists are often prosecuted and critical media institutions shut down.
Jama was arrested on 18 April 2015, shortly after giving an interview to the BBC in which he suggested the need for reforms within the justice system. He was charged with disseminating ‘anti-national’ propaganda. He was released on bail on 6 May and, in late August, the regional court decided to close the case.
Jama is not the first human rights defender to be hosted by UCM; Richard Nimubona from Burundi was in residence last spring. The Shelter Programme is a joint initiative of Maastricht University, the municipality of Maastricht and the Dutch organisation Justitia et Pax.