Boosting The Criminal Justice System Through Forensics Expertise
Migration for Development in Africa (MIDA) is a capacity-building programme implemented by IOM to strengthen the institutional capacities of African governments to manage and realize their development goals through the transfer of knowledge, relevant skills and financial resources of African diaspora members. The MIDA initiative started in Somalia in 2008 with the first diaspora experts deployed in 2009.
The day that Yasin Farah arrived to Bossaso he didn’t know that his visit to Somalia would turn his life around. Yasin, who left the country in 1991, decided to take a break from London at the start of 2018 and visit his relatives in the Somali countryside. But what started as a short family trip became an unexpected long-term stay.
After attending to his family commitments, he visited the city of Garowe, in Puntland, and accidentally found a newly established forensic centre. Yasin, an experienced analytical chemist, couldn’t contain his curiosity. “As someone who all his professional life has been working in scientific laboratories, I became instantly curious about the forensic centre.” He then met Dr. Abdirashid M. Shire, a Somali British-American who is the Chancellor and Chief Scientific Officer of the Garowe Bureau of Forensic Science (BoFS). Dr. Abdirashid Shire and Yasin spoke at length about the application of scientific methods in solving criminal and civil cases and realized that their combined experience could play a major role in Somalia’s development. Yasin’s enthusiasm and commitment to support the development of his country of birth drove him to propose himself as a candidate to work at the BoFS.
“As someone who all his professional life has been working in scientific laboratories, I became instantly curious about the forensic centre.”
At that time, a growing number of sexual assault crimes in Somalia were reported to be drug-related. To address the situation, Dr. Abdirashid was looking to add a chemist to the team and Yasin perfectly fitted the bill. There was only one challenge: the funds were limited, and the centre could not afford to have a new staff member on board.
Soon after, they became aware of the IOM MIDA programme operating in Somalia and its mission to support the temporary return of qualified Somali diaspora to contribute to the capacity-building of Somali institutions. The conversations started between the centre and the IOM team and by August of 2018, Yasin was the new head of the Forensic Chemistry and Toxicology department. Married with two kids living in the UK, it was not an easy decision to move, but he felt his expertise could bring positive changes in his country.
Combating sexual offenses
The BoFS was established in Garowe in September 2017 and was funded by the Swedish Government and supported by the UN Population Fund. The centre opened less than a year after Puntland endorsed its Sexual Offenses Act, the first law in Somalia to criminalize sexual offenses. Rape and sexual assault are prevalent in Somalia, where decades of conflict have created persistent instability and made justice inaccessible for most people. The BoFS is the first centre of its kind in the country and it hopes to be an example for how other institutions in the Horn of Africa are tackling widespread sexual violence; utilizing toxicological forensic analysis to aid crime investigators and the judiciary system and thereby helping victims/survivors and their families.
Since Yasin joined the team the centre has boosted their operations. With his help, the bureau has the capacity to perform forensic toxicology analysis, “this is crucial as it will help the bureau to solve drug facilitated sexual assaults - and it will enable for the first time to collect evidence against offenders who committed heinous crimes”, he explained. The practice will enable a more effective prosecution of sexual perpetrators. As part of Yasin’s duties he also works tirelessly to acquire essential equipment and chemical reagents to perform toxicological testing, and he conducts trainings for the bureau’s junior scientists to impart knowledge transfer.
Thanks to the hard work of Yasin and the Chancellor in securing external forensic training the institution was sponsored to send staff to several training programmes in forensics and crime scene investigations that were held in Seychelles, Kenya, Tanzania and Mauritius. These training programmes improved the team’s practical skills on how to properly and meticulously collect forensic evidence to solve criminal cases.
“It was a historic moment and an extraordinary mark in Somalia’s history in the area of forensic science and criminal justice system. This young forensic bureau and its team were key in solving the case.”
As a result, some of the knowledge gained by the forensic team was critical to solve the rape and homicide of a 12-year-old girl in Galkayo in 2019, which received a lot of media attention. This was a crime that mobilized the entire city and pressured authorities to work against the clock to solve it. For the first time in Somalia, a court used DNA evidence to convict the offenders and established the importance of forensics to pursue criminal justice. Yasin remembers this with pride, “it was a historic moment and an extraordinary mark in Somalia’s history in the area of forensic science and criminal justice system. This young forensic bureau and its team were key in solving the case.”
However, not everything has been easy. The limited transportation of chemicals to Somalia and the difficulties to find reliable suppliers makes it challenging for the forensic team to efficiently conduct their tasks. But despite the obstacles, Yasin aims to continue his labour in the BoFS and he is determined to continue ensuring the fully operation of the forensic chemistry and toxicology section. When he has a bad day, he reminds himself that “If I am not contributing to the rebuilding efforts of my mother country with my skills and expertise, who should be doing it!”
Yasin Farah left Somalia in 1991 and established with his family in Sweden in 1993. He holds a Bachelor in Chemistry from Lund University and a Master in Analytical chemistry from London Kingston University. Before joining the Bureau of Forensics Science (BoFS) he worked for 12 years in the chemistry and pharmaceutical sector between Sweden and the UK. He is married and has two young kids in the UK. His assignment with the MIDA programme was possible thanks to the funding of the Swedish International Cooperation Agency (SIDA).