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All parties to Somalia conflict guilty of war crimes says Human Rights Watch

posted 15 Aug 2011, 05:34 by Sam Mbale   [ updated 15 Aug 2011, 05:37 ]
Human Rights Watch releases report on Somalia arguing that all parties to the Somalia conflict including the al-Shabaab insurgency, the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) have violated the laws of war, worsening the humanitarian crisis and deepening the famine catastrophe.

NAIROBI, KENYA (AUGUST 15, 2011) REUTERS -  A report on Somalia released by Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Monday (August 15) says that all the parties to the conflict, such as the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) the Islamist al-Shabaab insurgency, the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and proxy militias have violated the laws of war in the famine stricken failed state.

''All parties to Somalia's armed conflict have committed serious violations of the laws of war and these are contributing to the country's humanitarian catastrophe. Human Rights Watch is calling on all sides to immediately end abuses against civilians, hold those responsible to account, ensure access to aid, and to freedom of movement for people who are fleeing the conflict and the drought,'' said HRW Africa researcher Neela Ghoshal.

The 58-page report, titled, "You Don't Know Who To Blame: War Crimes in Somalia", documented abuses against civilians by al Shabaab, government forces, African Union peacekeeping forces, Somali militias backed by Kenya and Ethiopia, as well as abuses by Kenyan police and bandits.

The Horn of Africa drought has affected about 12 million people across parts of Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti.

Some 3.7 million people in Somalia are at risk of starvation, most of them concentrated in the south under the al Qaeda-inspired al Shabaab's control.

The report makes use of testimony from recently arrived refugees into neighbouring Kenya, which bears the brunt of the refugee influx in its overcrowded Dadaab refugee camp, home to more than 400,000 Somali refugees.

HRW said all sides used live ammunition in the capital Mogadishu, causing civilian casualties.

It said the government had largely failed to provide basic security and human rights protections for civilians and that a lack of transparency and accountability and rampant impunity from all sides is further destabilising the situation, adding a dangerous dimension to the conflict.

''There is on quick fix to Somalia's tragedy. But it's clear that impunity for serious abuses perpetuates insecurity. International pressure to bring an end to abuses by all sides is more crucial than ever. Human Rights Watch believes that a more secure and rights respecting Somalia would be less prone to violence and to famine. Escalation in fighting has resulted in massive displacement of the population in Mogadishu as well as from the border regions,'' said Ghoshal.

Conflict, drought and famine in southern Somalia have caused the exodus of hundreds of thousands to the neighbouring countries of Kenya and Ethiopia and to the capital Mogadishu where stories like the one of Geeday Mohammed Aden have become all too common.

''I lost three of my children in four days. They were dying of diseases and I do not have anything to give the rest of three others because I lost everything in the drought and I do not know anyone in this town," said Aden who now resides in an Internally Displaced Persons' camp in the Somali capital.

Al Shabaab withdrew from the capital earlier this month after waging a four-year insurgency against the Western-backed government, but there have still been outbreaks of fighting.

The militants also imposed a ban on aid agencies last year, then lifted it last month only to seemingly renege on it, making it a struggle for aid agencies to navigate and coordinate its operations within the anarchic country.

She added that while al Shabaab has left 95 percent of Mogadishu, HRW was now getting reports of government troops robbing civilians and abusing their authority over them.

The organisation in turn is calling for a United Nations inquiry to uncover Geneva Conventions transgressions.

''Human Rights Watch calls for a UN commission of inquiry to investigate violations of human rights and the laws of war since the beginning of the conflict and to lay the groundwork for accountability. We urge all parties in the conflict in Somalia to take concrete steps to protect civilians, respecting basic measures to protect civilians during attacks and insuring that humanitarian access is facilitated at all times,'' said Ghoshal.

HRW urged the Kenyan government to make more land available for camps, a controversial issue among some politicians in Kenya who want to resist taking on more refugees.

Kenya has proposed the creation of camps on the Somali side of the border and has been accused by the U.N. refugee agency of forcing Somalis back across the border.

HRW also held to account al Shabaab for daily repression and brutality and A.U. peacekeepers for grave violations by its soldiers who it said have largely not been held to account.

It said Ethiopia and Kenya provided military support to Somali government-backed militias but neither had held its troops or the militias they support to account for abuses.