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Somalia: Blind Alley, Mounting Casualties
Jun 24, 2007 (070624)
(Reposted from sources cited below)
"The current western-backed Ethiopian approach to Somalia will lead
to a mountain of civilian deaths and a litany of abuses. ...
Washington, London and Brussels are in a blind alley in Somalia.
They should rethink a policy which is encouraging serious abuses,
and come up with one which prioritizes the protection of
civilians." - Tom Porteous, Human Right Watch, London
The latest situation report from the United Nations (June 22)
estimates that as many as 117,000 of 400,000 people displaced from
Mogadishu earlier this year have now returned. The large
confrontations between February and April have been replaced with
intermittent bombings and clashes. The scheduled "reconciliation"
conference has been postponed again, now scheduled for mid-July as
a new curfew goes into effect in the Somali capital. But with
Ethiopian troops still the major support for the unpopular Somali
government, despite an announced withdrawal, the prospects are for
increased instability. The U.S.-backed Ethiopian military
intervention, as predicted by critics, has accentuated instability
and civilian suffering rather than promoting stability.
Ghanim Alnajjar, the independent UN expert on human rights in
Somalia, told the Human Rights Council in Geneva on June 12 that
the situation was much worse than when he reported in September
2006, before the Ethiopian invasion.
This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains several recent reports and
analyses on the situation in Somalia: one from the director of the
Human Rights Watch office in London, one from former UN official
Salim Lone, and a third from a presentation by former U.S.
Ambassador to Ethiopia David Shinn. References to additional recent
updates are also included. .
For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on Somalia, and related
background links, see
++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++++++++
Somalia: a failing counter-terrorism strategy
The west's policy in Somalia is fuelling rather than resolving a
By Tom Porteous, London advocacy director for Human Rights Watch
May 14, 2007
Human Rights Watch
[For additional HRW reports on Somalia see
http://www.africafocus.org/country/somalia_hrw.php This article
appeared in OpenDemocracy (http://www.opendemocracy.org]
When Ethiopian troops defeated Somalia's Islamic Courts Union (ICU)
in Mogadishu last December and January it looked like a cakewalk.
But since then the armed opposition to Ethiopia's presence in
Somalia - and to their Somali allies - has grown. In April 2007,
Mogadishu was hit by the heaviest fighting in fifteen years.
Getting reliable information from Somalia is difficult and
dangerous. But a clear pattern has emerged of serious violations,
including indiscriminate use of heavy weapons in densely populated
civilian areas and obstruction of humanitarian assistance to
displaced, injured and vulnerable civilians.
Since fighting dramatically escalated at the end of March, hundreds
of civilians have been killed and at least 300,000 displaced,
according to United Nations estimates. Many of those forced to flee
are living in desperate circumstances without sufficient food,
water, shelter or medical supplies, easy prey to extortion and
abuse by the warring parties.
Abuses have been being perpetrated by all sides in this complex
conflict: Ethiopian forces, Ethiopia's Somali allies in the
transitional federal government (TFG), and those resisting the
Ethiopian intervention, including militias loyal to the Hawiye clan
and groups aligned to the ICU. But it is the Ethiopians with their
superior weapons who are doing much of the harm in Mogadishu.
Ethiopia has also participated in a regional programme of arbitrary
detentions and unlawful renditions of individuals of interest to
Addis Ababa and their allies in Washington. With Kenyan
cooperation, Ethiopia has rounded up scores of "terrorism suspects"
who fled the initial Ethiopian intervention in Somalia in December
These "suspects" include many women and some infants as young as
seven months. Although Ethiopia recently admitted holding forty-one
people, mainly foreign nationals, and released five people, there
are many more individuals languishing in Ethiopian jails without
access to legal counsel or independent monitors.
Ethiopia is also using the crisis as a pretext to clamp down on its
own domestic insurgents, lumping together its armed opponents in
Somalia and Ethiopia alike in the convenient catchall basket of
A blind alley
So why didn't Ethiopia's allies - the European Union, Britain and
the United States, who provide Ethiopia with millions of dollars'
worth of development assistance each year and who are also
providing substantial support to the TFG - do more to stop these
The answer is as depressing as it is obvious. Ethiopia and its
Somali proxies, including a large number of warlords with notorious
records of abuse from earlier conflicts, are perceived by the EU
and US government as key allies in the "war on terror" and are
doing the west's dirty work against Somalia's Islamists. Behind the
scenes the US has been helping the Ethiopian military effort and
interrogating suspects in Ethiopian detention.
The "realistic" rationale of western policymakers goes like this:
some of the Islamists, whose power the Ethiopians say they are
seeking to destroy in Somalia, are aligned with al-Qaida; unless
they are defeated the country will be "Talibanised". The apparent
conclusion of such reasoning is that rights abuses and violations
of the laws of war are regrettable but unavoidable.
This "realistic" approach is dangerously simplistic and
shortsighted. There may well be some Al-Qaeda element active in
Somalia: that needs to be dealt with. But Somalia is essentially a
country of clan politics and the war that Ethiopia and its backers
have now precipitated is rapidly evolving into a clan war - broadly
pitting the Darod clan which dominates the TFG, against the Hawiye
clan which supported the Islamic Courts Union.
There is now a lull in the conflict and Ethiopia claims that its
opponents have been defeated. But the armed opposition to Ethiopia
and the TFG gains greater support from Somali nationalists and
Islamists alike with every day the Ethiopian troops remain on
Somali soil. Branding them all as terrorists is inaccurate and
misleading. Before they were dislodged by Ethiopia, the Islamists
were widely seen by Somalis as having brought more peace and
stability to Mogadishu than it had seen for over fifteen years.
The current western-backed Ethiopian approach to Somalia will lead
to a mountain of civilian deaths and a litany of abuses. The policy
risks precipitating exactly the sort of human-rights disaster in
Somalia as the one the west rightly condemns in Darfur. This
approach will only strengthen the hand of the extremist minority in
Somalia, handing al-Qaida another potential theatre of militant
action, and another opportunity to present themselves
internationally as defenders of Islam against western aggression.
Washington, London and Brussels are in a blind alley in Somalia.
They should rethink a policy which is encouraging serious abuses,
and come up with one which prioritizes the protection of civilians.
They should start by issuing a clear call to all sides in this
conflict to observe and uphold the rules of war and human-rights
Inside Africa's Guantanamo
30 April 2007
By Salim Lone
Salim Lone, who was the spokesman for the UN mission in Iraq after
the 2003 invasion, is a columnist for the Daily Nation in Kenya.
AllAfrica.com Guest Column
This commentary was published originally in The Guardian (UK) on
April 28, 2007.
This is the most lawless war of our generation. All wars of
aggression lack legitimacy, but no conflict in recent memory has
witnessed such mounting layers of illegality as the current one in
Somalia. Violations of the UN charter and of international
humanitarian law are regrettably commonplace in our age, and they
abound in the carnage that the world is allowing to unfold in
Mogadishu, but this war has in addition explicitly violated two UN
security council resolutions. To complete the picture, one of these
resolutions contravenes the charter itself.
The complete impunity with which Ethiopia and the transitional
Somali government have been allowed to violate these resolutions
explains the ruthlessness of the military assaults that have been
under way for six weeks now. The details of the atrocities being
committed were formally acknowledged by a western government for
the first time when Germany, which holds the current EU presidency,
had its ambassador to Somalia, Walter Lindner, write a tough letter
- made public on Wednesday - to Somalia's president, Abdullahi
The letter condemned the indiscriminate use of air strikes and
heavy artillery in Mogadishu's densely populated areas, the raping
of women, the deliberate blocking of urgently needed food and
humanitarian supplies, and the bombing of hospitals. This is a
relentless drive to terrify and intimidate civilians belonging to
clans from whose ranks fighters are challenging the occupation.
There was a time when security council resolutions were hallowed in
most of the world, as for example resolution 242 demanding the
return of occupied Palestine territory in exchange for peace. But
in our new world order, the powerful decide which UN resolutions
are passed, and whether they need to be honoured. So the United
States, which was violating the UN arms embargo on Somalia, rushed
through another resolution in December that it thought would better
serve US goals - and then proceeded to violate that one as well.
The new resolution forbade neighbouring countries from being part
of the regional peacekeeping force the security council authorised
for Somalia; but Ethiopia went much further and unilaterally
invaded, with the covert assistance of the US - which also joined
the war by bombing Somalia.
This December resolution actually contravened the charter itself,
because it made the security council the aggressor and turned a
clearly peaceful situation into war. The resolution linked the
Islamic Courts government to international terrorism and mandated
peacekeeping force, on the basis of chapter VII of the UN charter,
to address the "threat to international peace and security" that
Somalia posed - when every independent account, including Chatham
House's on Wednesday, indicated that the country was experiencing
its first peace and security since 1991.
The resolution paved the way for the Ethiopian invasion that has
led to the bitter conflict that many independent analysts,
including those at a meeting in Addis Ababa organised by Ethiopia's
Inter-Africa Group, had warned would be the inevitable result. A
government imposed through force by arch enemy Ethiopia was never
going to hold sway.
The long silence and the refusal even now to announce measures that
might arrest this slaughter mark the lowest point in the big
powers' abdication of the "Responsibility to Protect" mandate -
adopted, with British leadership, at a summit-level meeting of the
security council two years ago. The world's most impoverished
people are now being ripped to shreds with no effort whatsoever to
get the perpetrators to desist.
A huge campaign must be launched to press western governments to
end this slaughter, which is almost entirely the work of those in
control of the country. The European Union warned a month ago that
war crimes might have been committed in an assault on the capital
last month - in which the EU could be complicit because of its
large-scale support for those accused of the crimes. Human Rights
Watch has documented how Kenya and Ethiopia had turned this region
into Africa's own version of Guant namo Bay, replete with
kidnappings, extraordinary renditions, secret prisons and large
numbers of "disappeared": a project that carries the Made in
America label. Allowing free rein to such comprehensive lawlessness
is a stain on all those who might have, at a minimum, curtailed it.
Work must begin to derail the astounding proposal from the United
Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-Moon, which is to be discussed by
the security council in mid-June. He would like to mount a
UN-sanctioned "coalition of the willing" to enforce peace and
restore order in Somalia - in other words, the UN would help
Ethiopia and the United States achieve what their own illegal
military interventions have failed to accomplish: the entrenchment
of a client regime that lacks any popular support. Such an
operation is unlikely to succeed in any event, but it could further
threaten the turbulent Horn of Africa, which is already teetering
on the brink of chaos.
The Somali government is busy crying "al-Qaida" at every turn and
offering lucrative deals to oil companies, in a bid to entice
greater western support. But this war was lost long ago. In turning
to the arch enemy Ethiopia, the transitional government's fate was
sealed: the nation will not abide an Ethiopian-US occupation.
Only a political solution will resolve this crisis. Africa must
step up to the plate and show spine and leadership in a drive to
protect its civilians, and work with Europe and the UN to convince
the US to swiftly terminate its latest destabilising adventure.
Country Needs Power-Sharing, Expert Tells U.S., EU Lawmakers
19 June 2007
By Jim Fisher-Thompson, Washington, DC
United States Department of State
The main hope for a nonmilitary solution to the Somalia crisis is
for the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) to share power with
moderate opposition groups, making national reconciliation a prime
goal, a former ambassador told U.S. and European lawmakers.
Former U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia David Shinn, now an adjunct
professor at George Washington University, spoke June 8 at a
meeting with members of the European Parliament and the U.S.
Congress, sponsored by the House Subcommittee on Africa.
Shinn said most observers agree that power-sharing is the key to
sustainable peace in Somalia, and therefore "political
reconciliation ... is the most urgent task." The question, he said,
is how to achieve that reconciliation.
Finding a satisfactory solution to the current crisis in Somalia,
where Ethiopian peacekeepers battle insurgents in the streets of
Mogadishu, "will not be easy, even if all the major Somali parties
finally agree to act in the best interest of the Somali people and
put their personal ambitions aside," Shinn told the lawmakers.
But a good result is not impossible, he added. "The first step
should be the immediate initiation by the TFG of serious
power-sharing with elements now excluded from power," he said.
As soon as that process has begun, the retired diplomat said, the
Ethiopians quickly should begin their "final and complete departure
The TFG is the only Somali government recognized by the United
Nations, the African Union, the Arab League and the international
community, Shinn said, so it is important to help it "succeed, so
long as it is willing to become a truly inclusive government."
The diplomat said the only groups that should be excluded from a
Somali government are those that:
- urge war or support terrorist acts against neighboring countries;
- have indisputable links with terrorist or criminal organizations;
- hold views so extreme that they would prevent a national
government from functioning successfully and peacefully.
Shinn stressed that "plaintive calls for political dialogue ...
will not result in a solution." Somalis, he added, "will dialogue
the process to death."
While conferences and months of discussion are part of Somali
culture and tradition, Shinn said, the current situation calls for
something different. "Time is running out," he said, "and I doubt
that anyone has the patience to wait for a reconciliation
conference that may never happen anyway."
He repeated that it is time for the TFG, instead, to reach out to
its moderate opponents and bring them into the government. "It may
be possible to convince enough of them to accept responsible
positions so that the political factions in Mogadishu can then
begin the real process of reconciliation and the isolating of
hard-line spoiler groups."
Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer
touched on the reconciliation process at a Cairo, Egypt, meeting of
the Somalia International Contract group in April, when she warned
"spoilers" not to interfere in the Somali peace process.
Referring to upcoming reconciliation talks in Somalia, she added
that they should not exclude Islamist groups that recently fought
the TFG. "There are many ways in which individuals who are
Islamists or militias could be part of the process," she explained.
In May, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice highlighted her concern
over Somalia as she announced the appointment of Ambassador John
Yates as special envoy for Somalia. She said he would work with
"the Transitional Federal Institutions and other key Somalia
groups, as well as coordinate on Somalia with our regional and
Rice stressed that the United States is "committed to helping
Somalis develop their national institutions and overcome the legacy
of violence and disorder of the past. By supporting the people of
Somalia in this effort, we are also contributing to the peace and
stability of the Horn of Africa, and to the African continent as a
To meet the humanitarian challenges posed by the incessant clan
fighting that stepped up in 2006, the U.S. government, through the
U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and the
Department of State, has provided more than $135 million in
emergency assistance since October 2006.
During that period, the State Department's Bureau of Population,
Refugees and Migration provided almost $7 million to assist
refugees in Somalia as well as in camps in Kenya, Yemen and
Additional Links and Updates on Somalia
The Rise and Fall of Mogadishu's Islamic Courts, by Cedric Banres
and Harun Hassan, April 2007
An extensive background report, Its conclusions include:
- "The Transitional Federal Government [backed by Ethiopia] is
simply not trusted by the populace, nor does it represent the
powerful interest groups in Mogadishu."
- "while warlords and secular governments have come and gone, the
Islamic Courts have enjoyed relatively consistent support for over
Internal displacement reports
Somalia was one of the last African countries to get connected to
the Internet after the country established its first ISP in 1999.
But today the country has internet connectivity to almost 53% of
the whole area of the country and the Internet business is
mushrooming in the country and becoming one of the fastest growing
services along with telephony. ... by the end of 2005 there were
more than 0.5 million users of Internet services in the country
with 22 established ISP and 234 cyber cafes with growth of 15.6%
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