Rights Group Say All Warring Sides Culpable

All parties to Somalia’s armed conflict have committed serious violations of the laws of war, thus contributing to the Horn of Africa nation’s humanitarian catastrophe, Human Rights Watch said Monday. Mohammed Yusuf reports.

In a report entitled “You Don’t Know Who to Blame”, the campaigning group accuses militant Islamist group al-Shabaab, the Transitional Federal Government, the African Union peacekeeping mission (known as AMISOM), and pro-government militia trained by Kenya and Ethiopia of abuses.

The report also documents abuses by the Kenyan police against Somali refugees trying to cross the long, porous border between the two nations.

“Abuses by al-Shabaab and pro-government forces have vastly multiplied the suffering from Somalia’s famine,” Neela Ghoshal, a researcher with HRW, said. “All sides need to take urgent steps to stop these unlawful attacks, let in aid, and end this humanitarian nightmare.”

Ghoshal told reporters in the Kenyan capital Nairobi that there is daily repression and unrelenting brutality in areas under al-Shabaab control.

“Harsh punishment – notably flogging and summary executions including public beheadings – are common and meted out against those who violate the militants’ oppressive laws or who are accused of being traitors,” she said.

All sides have unlawfully used artillery in Mogadishu, causing civilian casualties, HRW said, while the TFG has failed to provide security and protection in areas under its control. The group says government-allied militias have also committed serious rights violations, including widespread arbitrary arrest and detention and restrictions on basic human rights.

Government Spokesman Abdirahman Omar Osman said in statement that the government rejected the accusations made against it, and said it was ready to meet HRW officials to discuss the concerns it the group raised at any time. He also criticized HRW for failing to do its research properly.

“Human Rights Watch stated in their report: ‘Reliable figures are hard to come by in Somalia’, which clearly shows that the information they have lacks credibility,” he said. “They are out of touch to the reality on the ground and they do not have offices inside Somalia.

Osman said that al-Shabaab were the real villains of the piece, and pointed out that those fleeing famine had come to government-controlled areas.

With only year left on the TFG’s mandate, Ghoshal said international actors should ensure that clear human rights benchmarks are established and achieved.

“If the TFG does not achieve these basic objectives, other governments and the UN should reconsider their support,” Goshal said.

The group reiterated its call for the establishment of a UN commission of inquiry to investigate violations of human rights and the laws of war by all sides since the beginning of the conflict in Somalia two decades ago and to lay the groundwork for accountability.

However, HRW said that foreign involvement so far had been “counter-productive” and had contributed to problems with security. It said the UN, US and EU have blindly supported the TFG without any effort to press it to curtail abuses.

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