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Somalia: Escalation and Human Rights Abuses

AfricaFocus Bulletin
Apr 9, 2007 (070409)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

More than 100,000 Somalis have fled fighting in the capital area in the last two months, according to UN reports. As many as 400 civilians were killed in the most recent attacks by Ethiopian and Somali government troops on areas said to house insurgents, and a European Union observer has warned that "war crimes" may have been committed.

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch has reported the secret rendition and detention of Somali refugees, with the collaboration of Kenyan, Ethiopian, and U.S. officials. While U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Jendayi Frazer visited Somalia in a surprise visit on April 7, she did not reply to the charges of human rights abuses against U.S. allies. Instead, she accused "global jihadists" and Eritrea of fomenting destabilization, and said reconciliation talks should exclude "committed jihadists."

A national reconciliation conference is scheduled for April 16, but recent fighting raises doubts that any meaningful meeting can be held.

This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains several reports on recent developments from the UN's Integrated Regional Information Networks and from the UN News service, as well as a press release from Human Rights Watch and a commentary on the charges of "war crimes" from a blog on

For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on Somalia, see For a commentary by AfricaFocus editor William Minter on the U.S.-supported Ethiopian intervention in Somalia, "Don't Replay Iraq in Horn of Africa," see

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++++++++

Somalia: Locals mobilised to assist displaced civilians

Civil society organisations are stepping into the breach to help those displaced by the fighting in Mogadishu

UN Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN)

[This material comes from IRIN, a UN humanitarian news and information service, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies.]

Nairobi, 5 April 2007 (IRIN) - Civil society organisations in Somalia have launched a campaign to help thousands of desperate civilians displaced by the fighting in Mogadishu, the capital.

"We have been trucking water in the last three days," said Abdinasir Ahmed Usman, head of a civil society taskforce that is assisting the displaced.

Shortage of water is one of the biggest problems. Abdinasir said six tankers had been delivering water four times a day for displaced people camped between Mogadishu and Afgoye, south of the capital.

Other local groups, including the business community, had begun delivering water to people camping at Ceel Ade and Ceel Ma'an in the north of the city.

The taskforce estimates that more than 100,000 people have been displaced around the city. "From Bal'ad [north] to Merka [100km south], Ceel Ma'an [east] and Dayniile [west] people are living under trees or sheltering under whatever structure they can find," he said.

Against the backdrop of grim pictures of women and children living under trees or begging for food on the roadside, hundreds of ordinary Somalis and business people have volunteered their support, said Madina Muhammad Ilmi, deputy head of the taskforce.

"Everybody is giving what they can," she said. "This is our way of showing the world that we care for each other,
''We cannot wait for international agencies before we do something''
despite all the problems," she added, saying some owners of water tankers had provided them for free and were even driving them.

Mahamud Abdikarim, chairman of the Business Council, said his group was also participating in the aid effort. "We asked our members to contribute what they can in kind or in cash," he said. Ahmed Yusuf, chairman of Hormuud Telecommunication Company, said: "We are part of the community and we must participate. These are our people suffering and we cannot wait for international agencies before we do something."

Usman said the various groups had covered "almost all the water needs but we cannot cover the food and shelter needs".

Ilmi said conditions in the camps were deteriorating by the day. "The approaching GU rains [long rains] will make matters worse," she added. "We already have children dying of diarrhoea every day, and if the rains arrive and they are still living in these conditions many more will die."

She said some agencies, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross, Danish Refugee Council and Daryeel Bulsho Guud (a local NGO backed by German agencies) had also been supporting the displaced.

Fighting escalated in Mogadishu in December when Somali troops, backed by Ethiopia, fought to remove the Union of Islamic Courts from the city. Since then, violence has escalated, despite the presence of an African Union peacekeeping force. Nearly 400 people were killed in recent clashes.

Somalia: UN decries civilian deaths in Mogadishu

Nairobi, 4 April 2007 (IRIN) - The parties to conflict in Somalia must respect international law, protect civilians and allow humanitarian aid to get to those in need, a top United Nations official said.

"There is worry that civilians will bear the brunt of fighting if the ceasefire in place since Sunday does not hold," Louise Arbour, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said on Tuesday.

"Parties should respect international humanitarian law [and] remember their duty to protect the rights of civilians at all times, by granting civilians safe passage and allowing humanitarian aid to reach those who have been affected," she added.

Almost 100,000 people have fled Somalia's capital of Mogadishu over the past two months and there are growing concerns about the worsening humanitarian conditions for civilians still trapped in the city, Arbour said in a statement.

Heavy artillery and mortar shells rained on Mogadishu last week, hitting residential areas and causing a large number of casualties. A hospital was reportedly hit on 30 March, killing one person and injuring others, while other health facilities are saturated with patients.

The violence increased after the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), backed by Ethiopian forces, dislodged the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) from Mogadishu in December.

Separately, the International Contact Group on Somalia (ICGS) called on all parties to immediately cease all hostilities, ensure the protection of the Somali population, and guarantee the security of humanitarian and relief workers.

At a meeting held on Tuesday in the Egyptian capital of Cairo, the ICGS said it was paramount that an inclusive and genuine political and reconciliation process that reaches out to Somalis be established. It also stressed the need for disarmament within the context of this process.

A ceasefire between pro-government troops and insurgents was holding for a third day on Wednesday. People who were trapped in their homes had begun to come out to count their losses, said a local journalist, and some businesses that had closed had now reopened.

Hawiye clan elders and Ethiopian commanders have set up a joint committee to collect the dead and wounded. The dead are being buried, and those who had been trapped and wounded in some neighbourhoods are now being brought in, said Ahmed Abdisalam, the managing partner of HornAfrik radio and television, and the facilitator of the talks.

The committee is also expected to go to areas where the fighting forces are deployed to help reduce tensions. "These are confidence building measures and we hope to begin more substantive discussions tomorrow [Thursday]," he added.

UN Envoy Cautions Against Forced Disarmament Before Somalia Reconciliation Congress

UN News Service (New York)

April 4, 2007

Welcoming plans to convene a national reconciliation congress for war-ravaged Somalia, the senior United Nations envoy to the country has cautioned against forced disarmament to facilitate holding the meeting in the capital, Mogadishu.

Addressing a meeting of the International Contact Group in Cairo, the Secretary-General's Special Representative, Fran‡ois Lons‚ny Fall, said recent fighting in Mogadishu "clearly brings in sharp focus the differences between the views of those who want to carry out forced disarmament to secure the capital and those who believe that genuine reconciliation must precede any form of disarmament."

He noted plans to establish a National Governance and Reconciliation Committee consisting of six imminent Somali personalities and to convene a congress in Mogadishu in mid-May, but pointed out that the security of the venue remains an issue.

The Transitional Federal Government (TFG), backed by Ethiopian forces, dislodged the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) from Mogadishu and much of the rest of the country at the end of last year.

"From our contacts, it was clear that the TFG wants to secure the city by disarming the insurgent forces before the convening of the planned National Reconciliation Congress," Mr. Fall said. "However, the UIC leaders doubt whether genuine reconciliation can be achieved through this Congress. They oppose any forcible disarmament in Mogadishu, and they have stressed the need to have an agreed venue and agenda, and a neutral mediating body for the dialogue."

The UN welcomes the TFG's initiative to convene the Congress, which should receive international support, he said. "However, we are concerned about the security of Mogadishu as venue. We believe that providing security through forcible disarmament may not be the best approach may undermine the efforts undertaken by the African Union (AU) to stabilize the country and subsequently affects efforts for a sustainable peace and reconciliation."

Those who have influence with members of the former UIC should encourage them to "renounce violence and extremism and participate in the planned Congress, or otherwise open a dialogue with the TFG, without preconditions for the sake of national unity and reconciliation," he said.

The International Contact Group on Somalia includes Italy, Kenya, Norway, Sweden, Tanzania, the United Kingdom and the United States, together with the AU, European Union, Intergovernmental Authority on Development, League of Arab States and the UN.

People Fleeing Somalia War Secretly Detained

Kenya, US and Ethiopia Cooperate in Secret Detentions and Renditions

Human Rights Watch

(New York, March 30, 2007) - Kenya, Ethiopia, the United States and the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia cooperated in a secret detention program for people who had fled the recent conflict in Somalia, Human Rights Watch said today.

In a March 22 letter to the Kenyan Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Human Rights Watch detailed the arbitrary detention, expulsion and apparent enforced disappearance of dozens of individuals who fled the fighting between the Union of Islamic Courts and the joint forces of the Transitional Federal Government and Ethiopia from December 2006 through January 2007.

"Each of these governments has played a shameful role in mistreating people fleeing a war zone," said Georgette Gagnon, deputy Africa director of Human Rights Watch. "Kenya has secretly expelled people, the Ethiopians have caused dozens to 'disappear,' and US security agents have routinely interrogated people held incommunicado."

Human Rights Watch's recent research in Kenya indicates that since late December 2006, Kenyan security forces arrested at least 150 individuals from some 18 different nationalities at the Liboi and Kiunga border crossing points with Somalia. The Kenyan authorities then transferred these individuals to Nairobi where they were detained incommunicado and without charge for weeks in violation of Kenyan law.

Human Rights Watch recognizes that Kenya may have valid security concerns regarding people seeking refuge within its borders. Nonetheless these concerns must be addressed through a fair process in accordance with international law, not arbitrarily at the expense of fundamental human rights.

US and other national intelligence services interrogated several foreign nationals in detention in Nairobi, who were denied access to legal counsel and their consular representatives. At least 85 people were then secretly deported from Kenya to Somalia in what appears to be a joint rendition operation of those individuals of interest to the Somali, Ethiopian, or US governments.

Human Rights Watch obtained the flight manifests for three flights from Kenya to Mogadishu and Baidoa, Somalia in January and February 2007. Each manifest listed the names of several Kenyan police officers who accompanied the detainees.

Many of the people expelled from Kenya were later transferred from Somalia to Ethiopia, but their exact locations in Ethiopia are unknown. Several detainees managed to briefly contact relatives prior to or following their transfer to Ethiopia, and said they were being held with numerous other people who had been deported from Kenya and Somalia.

"Dozens of people have effectively disappeared into Ethiopian detention facilities," said Gagnon. "It's imperative that the Ethiopians acknowledge the people they are holding and permit independent international access to them."

War crimes in Somalia by Ethiopia and the AU

Blog by Joshua Wanyama on

April 07, 2007

[Joshua Wanyama is a Kenyan living in Minnesota is the developer of the AfricanPath website.]

Today's Washington Post carries an article in which it reports that there are possible human rights violations occurring in Somalia right now. This comes in the wake of heavy fighting in Mogadishu last week where Somali's transitional government backed by Ethiopian troops attacked military insurgents. The result from this offensive was heavy casualties amongst local residents and the fleeing of up to a hundred thousand civilians from the bloody coastal city.

The story broke after an urgent e-mail was sent to Eric van der Linden, the chief E.U. official for Kenya and Somalia. It was sent by a senior E.U. official whose identity is being kept secret. It states:

I need to advise you that there are strong grounds to believe that the Ethiopian government and the transitional federal government of Somalia and the African Union Force Commander, possibly also including the African Union Head of Mission and other African Union officials have through commission or omission violated the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court There arise urgent questions of responsibility and potential complicity in the commission of war crimes by the European Commission and its partners.

This raises some serious questions. What is happening in Somalia? I know that during war time people resort to their base instincts. If the African Union troops who were supposed to ensure a safe return to a peaceful Somalia get attacked, what do they do? Most peacekeeping missions involve training, disarmament, organizing the democratic process, providing security for civilians and establishment of social services that attempt to bring back normalcy to a country. This has not been the case in Somalia.

Before the African Union peacekeepers landed in Somalia, the ousted Islamists had already vowed to attack and kill them. One AU plane landing in Mogadishu Airport was shot at but managed to land safely. Clearly, the situation on the ground is more than just training, security and social service. These AU troops will actually have to secure the peace. A mandate that Yoweri Museveni said was not part of what his troops would do in Somalia.

As for the Ethiopian army occupying this country, they came in to help the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia take over the country. Ethiopia has never had warm relations with Somalis so already they are an unwanted occupying army with a natural dislike for Somalis. According to UN resolution, a bordering country can't occupy its neighbor as a peacekeeper.

Wikipedia notes:

According to UN Security Council Resolution 1725, states bordering Somalia would not be eligible to deploy troops under IGASOM. The remaining (non-bordering) IGAD member nations include Sudan, Eritrea, and Uganda. Because of the objection of the burden falling on these three nations alone (and the rivalry between Ethiopia and Eritrea), the mission was expanded to include other African Union nations.

So Ethiopia's army needs to get out of Somalia otherwise the situation keeps getting worse for both them and the Somalis. The transitional government doesn't have the mandate of the people and this makes it harder for them. Since the ouster of the Islamists, they have come under moderate attacks until last week's offensive where they attempted to crush the insurgency.

It will only be a matter of time before we get the full story of what is happening in Mogadishu. If war crimes have been reported, then all three bodies have been doing more than just fighting the Islamists. They could have targeted civilians under the assumed position of going after insurgents or tortured them while looking for collaborators. Until the whole truth comes out, all we can do is wonder.

I find it hard to imagine the situation the Ugandan peacekeepers find themselves in. They went in knowing they were going to help the Transitional Government ensure peace but discovered a guerilla war instead. Once the first Ugandan troop was killed last week, I am sure the gloves came off and it became a "Survival for the fittest" type of assignment. A soldier is not trained to police a citizenry, they are trained to kill and defend their countries. Currently, the Ugandan peacekeepers are caught between a rock and a hard place. More has to be done from both the African Union leadership and the commitment of the nations that promised to provide troops to ensure this situation is remedied. John Kufuor, please step up to the plate and lead your people.

AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

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