FACT CHECK: Why Somalia’s UN ambassador’s case is different in diplomatic manner  

Abukar Dahir Osman, Somalia's new ambassador to the United Nations

In recent years, Somalia which is recovering from decades of war has been trying to make a diplomatic come back across the world and already restored normal diplomatic relations with numerous countries.

By Jeff Mwaura, jeff@alleastafrica.com

NAIROBI – At the United Nations, there are dozens of foreign diplomats who are dual nationals for both U.S and their countries of origin, however, questions remain as to why the dual citizenship of the new Somali ambassador to the United Nations is far removed from other dual nationals in a diplomatic procedure.

This week, Alleastafrica has reported that Mr. Abukar Dahir Osman, Somali-American, who will lead Somalia’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations is currently operating without a diplomatic passport, a scenario which may deprive him his legal diplomatic immunity and thus making him susceptible to lawsuit or prosecution under the host country’s laws, unlike other diplomats.

However, Alleastafrica has since received hundreds of emails, largely from Somalis and East Africans, seeking further information on what makes the ambassador’s case is unusual in a diplomatic manner. As a result, Alleastafrica sought answers from public diplomacy experts and officials at Somalia’s foreign ministry to give a quick explainer in relation to the issue.

Following are excerpts of an Alleastafrica  Q&A interview with a Somali foreign ministry official in Nairobi, conducted by John Thiongo by email on Wednesday.

Question: What makes ambassador Osman the only diplomat in New York with no diplomatic immunity since there are other diplomats who are dual nations of US and their countries of origin?

Somali FM official: When a diplomat does enter the United States with a diplomatic passport from another country he’s secured a diplomatic immunity, and the host country would have to grant a diplomatic ID, and that’s something Mr. Abukar has failed to do because the US embassy in Nairobi has declined to grant him a diplomatic visa for a reason only the embassy can explain, hence, Mr. Abukar travelled to New York using his American passport instead. In that regard, there’s a Somali diplomat by the name Mohamed Rabi who is the second secretary of Somalia’s permanent mission to the United Nation who unlike the ambassador has a diplomatic immunity because he was granted visa by the U.S embassy in Nairobi and he has entered the U.S with his Somali diplomatic passport along with a diplomatic ID from the embassy.

Question: So, under the diplomatic law, does that mean that the ambassador cannot have any diplomatic immunity as a result?

Somali FM official: Yes, to have a diplomatic immunity, one must have all necessary diplomatic documents and meet requirements.

Question: Is this the first diplomatic challenge Somalia has seen in the recent years?

Somali FM official: No, there was another similar case in which a woman who is also a dual American and Somali nation and appointed as the first secretary of the Somalia’s permanent mission to the UN by the current foreign minister last year. Yasmin Samatar’s case had a correspondence to that of the ambassador. She had her diplomatic visa application rejected by the US embassy in Nairobi, as a result, she travelled to New York using her American passport. At that moment, she has submitted an application seeking permission to use her American passport to do the diplomatic work from the then Somali ambassador to the UN Yusuf Garaad Omar who is the current Somali foreign minister to continue her work using her American passport. However, Mr. Garaad who was subsequently promoted to the foreign minister’s position has promptly rejected her application in accordance with the international law, but instead approved a similar application by ambassador Abukar Dahir Osman. I don’t know the reason behind it, but this is quite understandable since the ambassador is close to the president, and that’s apparently a diplomatic oversight.

Several public diplomacy experts interviewed by Alleastafrica have also confirmed that foreign diplomats who are dual citizens must secure diplomatic visas from the host countries’ missions before entering the country of which they hold its passports.

A Somali official who contacted Alleastafrica by email has called for either the country’s Parliament Committee on Foreign Affairs or the foreign ministry to clear up confusions surrounding the matter and clarify whether the ambassador should continue using his ordinary American passport or issue him a diplomatic passport.

In the meantime, Mr. Abukar Dahir Osman who spoke to the Voice of America’s Somali Service Thursday denied that he is operating without Somali diplomatic passport, dismissing the report confirmed by several diplomats who spoke to Alleastafrica as ‘false’.

Appointed last month, Mr. Osman, a close ally of Somali president has been the state house’s chief of staff until recently before he was appointed Somalia’s ambassador to the United Nations.

His appointment comes following a recent diplomatic reshuffle by Somalia’s new government which sent ambassadors to several countries that in turn sent their respective ambassadors to Somalia.

In recent years, Somalia which is recovering from decades of war has been trying to make a diplomatic come back across the world and already restored normal diplomatic relations with numerous countries.

Many countries including the US that severed diplomatic relations with Somalia after a civil war broke out in 1991 that saw warlords fighting for the control of the country have resumed their diplomatic ties with the horn of Africa nation.

The new diplomatic exercise comes following the ouster of Islamist insurgents from the capital and surrounding regions since 2011, a development which allowed partner countries to start a diplomatic presence in the seaside capital, Mogadishu.

 (Editing by John Thiongo).

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