Somalia’s Islamist armed group the Al-Shabab has subjected people in the south of the country to killings, cruel punishments, and repressive social control, a rights group said Monday.
Human Rights Watch new report called “Harsh War, Harsh Peace: Abuses by al-Shabaab, the Transitional Federal Government, and AMISOM in Somalia”.
“While al-Shabaab has brought stability to some areas long plagued by violence, it has used unrelenting repression and brutality,” said Georgette Gagnon, HRW’s Africa director.
The report also details killings, repression, and harsh sharia law punishments, including amputations.
Human Rights Watch also criticized both the transitional government in Mogadishu and the African Union peacekeepers there of indiscriminate attacks that had killed and wounded civilians.
Al-Shabaab has subjected young men and boys to abuses that include forced military recruitment and strict social control.
Beatings or public humiliations are commonly meted out to men for a broad range of offenses such as failing to go to mosque, having long hair, or wearing clothes that al-Shabaab considers Western.
Last week, al-Shabab banned teachers in one town from using bells in school as they sounded too much like Christian church bells.
The hardline Islamists also disapprove of music and have shut down cinemas and banned the watching of football matches.
“Alongside abuses in al-Shabaab-controlled areas, all sides are responsible for laws-of-war violations that continue unabated in Mogadishu,” Gagnon said. “Many Somalis confront indiscriminate warfare, terrifying patterns of repression, and brutal acts of targeted violence on a daily basis.”
In Mogadishu, the transitional government and the 5,300-member African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) are squared off against a powerful opposition dominated by al-Shabaab.
Al-Shabaab and other opposition fighters threaten and kill civilians they see as sympathetic to the transitional government. Al-Shabaab has also carried out devastating suicide attacks against civilians, including one at a university graduation ceremony in Mogadishu that killed at least 22 people in December 2009.
The intervention of outside powers in Somalia has often proved counterproductive to restoring security. The strong backing for the transitional government by the US, the EU, the AU, and the UN Political Office for Somalia has led these actors to quickly condemn serious abuses by al-Shabaab, but effectively turn a blind eye to abuses by transitional government and AU forces.
The US government has sent mortars to transitional government forces in Mogadishu even though no party to the fighting has used the weapons in accordance with the laws of war.
Neighboring Kenya has under false pretenses helped recruit Somali youths from refugee camps to be fighters, contravening the humanitarian status of the camps. Eritrea, in an effort to undermine the regional interests of its political foe, Ethiopia, has helped al-Shabaab procure weapons.
Human Rights Watch urgently calls on foreign actors to re-evaluate their policies toward Somalia and help end the impunity that fuels the worst abuses.
“There is no easy, obvious way to solve the crisis in Somalia,” Gagnon said. “But outside powers should address abuses by all sides instead of ignoring those committed by their allies.”
Somalia has been plagued by armed conflict since the collapse of its last functioning government in 1991.
But the situation dramatically worsened in late 2006, when Ethiopian military forces intervened to smash a coalition of Sharia (Islamic law) courts that had taken control of Mogadishu.