Donor countries and the United Nations should consider cutting military aid to Somalia’s transitional federal government unless it and allied militias stop violence against civilians, Human Rights Watch said.
Somali residents face arbitrary arrest, restricted freedom of expression and indiscriminate attacks by forces loyal to the government of President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, the New York-based advocacy group said in a report today.
Al-Shabaab, an Islamic insurgency that pledges allegiance to al-Qaeda, has been battling for four years to topple the Western-backed government in Somalia and impose Shariah law. The militant group pulled back its fighters from the capital, Mogadishu, on Aug. 6 following a series of military defeats.
Government troops in the city are supported by a 9,000- strong African Union peacekeeping force of mainly Ugandans and Burundian soldiers. Somalia hasn’t had a functioning government since 1991, when ruler Mohamed Siad Barre was ousted.
Ground fighting between rebels and the joint government and AU forces often crosses into residential areas, injuring or killing civilians, Neela Ghoshal, a researcher with HRW, told reporters in Nairobi, the capital of neighboring Kenya, today. “Civilians don’t know where to go for protection,” Ghoshal said.
Somalia’s government denies it’s involved in human-rights abuses, spokesman Abdirahman Omar Osman said in an e-mailed statement today. It is careful to ensure civilians are safe “under extremely difficult circumstances” during operations, he said.
“Al-Shabaab is responsible for most of the human rights violations that happen in Somalia,” Osman said.
The United Nations, the European Union, and the United States must go beyond condemning crimes and should cut assistance if authorities fail to improve their human-rights record, Human Rights Watch said.
They should “condition future financial and military support” to the transitional government on “clear benchmarks for the respect of international humanitarian and human-rights law and accountability for serious abuses,” it said. “Support and policies that fail to achieve these basic objectives should be reconsidered.”
The UN Security Council should also establish a commission of inquiry into Somalia, Human Rights Watch said.
Al-Shabaab maintains control over most of southern and central Somalia, where the worst drought in six decades has put 3.6 million people, or about half the country’s population, at risk of starvation, according to the UN.
While al-Shabaab is accused of recruiting child soldiers and beheading enemies, Somalia’s government is also allegedly responsible for violations of international law and has failed to keep citizens safe, HRW said. Since the end of last year, more than 1,000 civilians may have died in the fighting and 87,000 have fled across the border into Kenya due to war and drought, it said.
The report was based on dozens of interviews with Somali refugees in Kenya between November and April, as well as Kenyan police officers, diplomats, activists and Somali officials, HRW said. It focuses on two government-led offensives that took place in September and February in Mogadishu when gunmen trained in Kenya and Ethiopia joined the fight in the country’s south.
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