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Ambassador Yusuf Mohamed Ismail “Bari Bari”: 1960-2015

A Somali Hero and Champion of Human Rights

The tragic death of an extraordinary and valiant diplomat who fought for numerous causes, including the rights of Eritreans and people with albinism.

On Friday 27 March, Somalia’s ambassador to Switzerland and the United Nations Yusuf Mohamed Ismail Bari Bari died along with at least 13 others from injuries sustained in a savage assault by Al-Shabab on his hotel in Mogadishu. The tragedy barely flickered on our news feeds, simply another terrorist episode in a country overly seasoned in such headlines.

Yet, the death of the Ambassador has sent shock waves through diplomatic and human rights communities. His absence is felt by everyone at the Human Rights Council, not simply due to the untimely and violent nature of his death, but also for the loss of a consummate diplomat who surpassed all expectations, who consistently fought the “good fight” by championing an array of human rights causes, and who lifted the international standing of his nation giving the Somali people a reason to raise their heads in pride at their presence at the UN.

Ambassador Bari Bari was born in 1960 in Garowe in north-eastern Somalia. He spent much of his youth outside of the country, particularly in Bologna in Italy, before entering the Somali state administration. It was in these formative years, in the cauldron of Somali politics, that he developed his persuasive skills and forthright attitude, and he would later comment that he was often compelled into leadership and into taking tough decisions at times when his superiors literally froze in the face of overwhelming events.

His aptitude, proficiency in languages and close relationship with key officials saw the Ambassador enjoy stints as government spokesperson and as an envoy to the EU, before being appointed Somalia’s Permanent Ambassador to the UN in Geneva in 2008. His first task was to handle Somalia itself being placed under the spotlight.

When a country is highlighted by the UN’s Human Rights Council for a “country mandate” and particular scrutiny, the usual response is to resist what is often interpreted as intrusive international criticism and exposure of its human rights issues. However, when Somalia came under focus, Ambassador Bari Bari guided his country towards open engagement, actively encouraging the adoption of a mandate, in an approach that is rarely seen. This also gained him credibility in speaking out on other issues.

Coming from one of the poorest, most war-ravaged countries in the world it would have been entirely understandable for a Somali diplomat to adopt an insular approach at the UN, remaining introspective and quiet on foreign affairs. Many larger, wealthier countries do just that. Ambassador Bari Bari did not. In 2011, after listening to the appeals of Eritreans and hearing of the gross human rights violations underway in Eritrea, he decided to act. He said at the time that it was important for Africans to stand up and show leadership on issues “in our neighborhood”, and tabled a joint statement at the Council calling on Eritrea to treat its citizens with dignity and respect. In an incredible show of humility, Ambassador Bari Bari told the UN that “Somalia will always stand by the people of Eritrea, and we do not want the Eritrean government to make the same mistakes that we have”. This was the first time Eritrea’s appalling human rights record had been addressed at UN level, and the first time an African nation had led on such an action at the Human Rights Council. That action was followed by the appointing of a Special Rapporteur on Eritrea in 2012; the renewal and strengthening of the mandate in 2013, and in 2014, the creation of a Commission of Inquiry (COI) to investigate the human rights situation there.

Similarly, when Ambassador Bari Bari heard of the plight of people with albinism he moved swiftly to take action. In some parts of the Africa albinos are murdered for their body parts, which are alleged to possess magical powers. Many have been killed in recent years, and their graves desecrated. Ambassador Bari Bari sought to raise the issue, again despite the anger and opposition of several fellow diplomats who felt he was embarrassing them by highlighting the problem. As a result of his persistence, the Council announced in March this year, just a day before his death, that it was appointing a UN Independent Expert to investigate and defend the rights of people with albinism around the world.

The Ambassador’s dogged advocacy for human rights in Eritrea earned him the enmity of that regime. He was threatened; on one occasion an Eritrean diplomat approached his table at a restaurant in the UN, pointing his finger in his face and cursing him. He probably would have hit Ambassador Bari Bari had he not been intercepted and led away. On several occasions the Ambassador’s unwavering commitment even caught seasoned human rights NGOs by surprise. At the time the Commission was being mooted, some worried it was too soon; they feared a call for a Commission would fail and would even endanger the special rapporteur’s mandate. They sought to persuade him to delay the initiative by a year. However, the Ambassador insisted, adding with an eerie prescience: “You do not know what could happen next year,..even I may not be here next year.” The Commission is due to report back on its findings in June 2015, allowing some of the world’s most victimized and abused people to be heard at the UN for the first time. As he predicted, he will not be there to witness it.

But perhaps most memorable of all for those who knew Ambassador Yusuf was his warm demeanor. He always smiled, his eyes always twinkling, despite often being under immense pressure from other states, and even sometimes from his own government, which sometimes felt that he was acting outside of Somalia’s interests. In all the years he worked in Geneva, he never received his full salary and had traveled to Somalia at the time of his assassination to ensure its payment. Nevertheless, he worked without complaint and was always ready to take on an additional fight, particularly if it meant securing justice for vulnerable people on the African continent. On several occasions he would say to others who were also under pressure: “Leave it to me, my shoulders are broad, I can take that burden.”

His shoulders were broad indeed. We deeply mourn his passing. Somalis, UN diplomats, activists, and the victims that he championed will miss him greatly.

Ambassador Yusuf Bari Bari is survived by his wife and two children

Elsa Chyrum
Dr Khataz Gondwe
Matthew Jones

About Elsa Chyrum

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  • said

    EULOGY: for the Eclipse of a Great somalin Ambassador Mohamed Ismail.It is with great sadness that one learned of the passing away this week .

    ( Inna Lillahi wa Inna ilaihi Rajioon, ) (we belong to Allah and to Him we should return) a great man and a common good doors passed way horribly , to Allah what He gave, to Allah what He took, and may Allah Taala grant him Janat Alfirdous,Amen, May Allah strengthen everyone in the family to bear the unbearably loss.

    Who worked tirelessly and Abided by the International Law; the World International Conventions and the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

  • selam

    How is this news ? Well because you want it so.who in his right mind will believe such story to be important to Eritreans. This man yes this man is not a value of great time of any eritrean unless the Eritrean happens to be some how related in any case. Do you have any sense that our great great father , i mean one of the mahber 7 is dead and you have the courage to tell us story about some one very very less than the man we honer. May your god knows what you want to sell about this man any way?

  • T..T.

    Hi L.T

    Instead of condolence and an expression of grief, you posted a statement of ruthlessness on the victim of terrorism.

    And, if your posting is intended to provoke Elsa on to more condemnation of those behind the heinous crime or pointing finger, make no doubt about what’s coming forth because all fingers are pointing at the boss suspect. Very soon the UN will join the pointing fingers.

    For now, you and the Somali group got your wishes. Again, make no mistake that getting rid of this revolutionary and courageous ambassador does not free Isayas govt. from the ongoing UN investigations. For sure, ties with UN will suffer worse tangles rather than the unraveling process to start soon as expected. Once again the boss suspect and his group proved that they are hostis humani generis enjoining what they can produce best.

  • T..T.

    Hi all,

    R.I.P. Ambassador Yusuf Mohamed.

    One who falls for a just cause is a proof of his respect for others’ freedom and rights. And those who have appetite for carnage and deaths are always in love with bloodshed and are in the business of blood slaughtering those who stand for justice and rights.

    The video below is a witness as to you Isayas got the country stuck and stopped time in Eritrea.

    Indeed, one who is against human advancement finally finds himself forced to make use of human advancement. And, when compelled to make use of others’ advancement, the lack of own-advancement holds him back from making any step forward.

    Even as simple as crossing the street, without a good knowledge of the traffic nature and self-trust, one will find it hard if not impossible. But, unfortunately Isayas discovers that it is impossible to learn anything when you make everything uncertain. Not only that, Isayas tries to copy others in his attempts to cross to the other side of the street and again finds himself incapacitated to replicate others’ crossing strategies.

    Soon, after repeated attempts to cross to the other side of the street, Isayas gives up conceding that if one is not equipped with the necessary means is not expected to achieve even a step forward. Indeed, it is not about shifting gears, nor it is about having two legs. Poor Isayas, he just lacks self-trust besides non-trusting of others to make his way to the other side of the street.


  • tes

    Dear george,

    From your post here anyone can read a lot. You could simply have nullified my hypothesis instead you preferred to attack the departed man with your arrogant words. Yah, this is what PFDJ does.

    First of all, GoE is not PFDJ. We have a government by default but a mafia group through hujacking. I am therefore talking about the later.

    PFDJ involvement??? and need to be investigated.


  • Kim Hanna

    Selam George,
    George, George. …The man is dead.

    • George

      Dear Kim…..his patetic action embolden the shortsighted woyane….to continue its distractive policyies

  • Amanuel Hidrat

    Rest in peace – a staunch fighter for Human right and an ally of justice seekers . We will miss him.

  • Kokhob Selam

    Thank you,
    When you fight for the right of people, it is normal to pay such wonderful souls. We Eritreans have long experience in history before even it was recognized internationally – the act of terrorists. The mafia killer group in our own revolution has killed a lot of heroes out side the country. Few stop and think about it at that time. Few care and make investigation without support of any institution. when the hero was fighting against Derg and Haileslase, there were killers who had higher position in our fronts like EPLF. I still doubt PFDJ has hand on the coward action taken on this gentle man. Horn has to work hard investigate and bring for justice all PFDJ leaders as soon as possible.

    • george

      Dear Kokhab Selam, could you please tell us what mafia group you know in the history of humanity that was able to wipe a country with almost 100 million people and liberate a country. What mafia group do you know that built under group schools so freedom fighter kids can get education. Or keep detail recorded of dead freedom fighter and notify the family after 20 years. Could you enlighten us? Could you please?

      • Kim Hanna

        Selam George,
        You are right. It is the first one of its kind.

        • Abi

          Hi Kim
          Funny, some governments count the dead not the living. In eritrea , if you want to be counted you have to die.
          Yemotut keminorut yemikeberubet zemen meTa !
          Yemotutin quTer yalutin tewachew
          Memot alebachew meqoTer kashachew

        • Kokhob Selam

          Dear KH,
          it is strange experience. But it is since to long we mix this irresponsible group called PFDJ with our national fighters. still we have convinced people that PFDJ is a representative of Eritrean freedom and all fighters. the more we delay to understand the fact PFDJ don’t represent Eritrea the more the nations becomes failed and the more we suffer.

      • Kokhob Selam

        Dear george,

        I think your questions is answered if you read what I said. I didn’t forget to put that the hero was doing his job paying his soul. back before the Eritrea is called a nation, a lot of crime has taken place by the coward leaders of EPLF. it is because we didn’t correct that era we still suffer. PFDJ is just the dirty part of EPLF. again, If we don’t want to see the death of our young, nature, truth or God (call it what ever you want) is asking us to bring the criminal group.

        by the way, the question is shall we continue with this group and destroy what is achieved or shall we clean it and go, see what this man has to say about what is going on.


  • tes

    Dear Elsa,

    I read about his death news on time; What shocked me is that he became a victim of terrorists directly after he finished a meeting at UN human Rights report hearings. In his presentation, he stood with Eritrean people and pledged for the end of deteriorating human rights condition in Eritrea.

    Cross-checking many scenarios, the Ambassader is a direct victim of PFDJ mission to hult his move. Those who attacked the hotel are just messengers of the evil mission. I hope therefore his tragic death to be investigated further.

    Condolence to his families, the Somali people and for Eritrean people who darely wanted his brtherly voice.


  • Abel

    Thanks to the relentless effort, vision and sacrifices by people like Yusuf Mohamed Ismail Bari Bari , Somalia is no more a failed state.

    May his sole rest in peace.