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Somalia: Blind Alley, Mounting Casualties

AfricaFocus Bulletin
Jun 24, 2007 (070624)
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

"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 devastating conflict.

By Tom Porteous, London advocacy director for Human Rights Watch May 14, 2007

Human Rights Watch

[For additional HRW reports on Somalia see This article appeared in OpenDemocracy (]

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 2006-January 2007.

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 terrorism.

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 violations?

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 standards.

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. 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 Yusuf.

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 from Somalia."

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; and
  • 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 international partners."

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 whole."

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 Ethiopia.

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 a decade.

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% per year.

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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