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Aug 22, 2007 (070822)
(Reposted from sources cited below)
Based on dozens of eyewitness accounts gathered by Human Rights
Watch in a six-week research mission to Kenya and Somalia in April
and May 2007, plus subsequent interviews and research in June and
July, this [Human Rights Watch] report documents the illegal means
and methods of warfare used by all of the warring parties and the
resulting catastrophic toll on civilians in Mogadishu.
This AfricaFocus Bulletin includes a press release and summary of
the new report from Human Right Watch, Shell-Shocked: Civilians
under Siege in Mogadishu. Released just before the renewal of the
United Nations mandate for an African Union force in Somalia, the
report outlines the massive destruction in Mogadishu resulting from
the Ethiopian invasion and the subsequent urban warfare.
According to United Nations estimates, some 400,000 people have
fled the city in the past four months, and Doctors without Borders
reports that the number of doctors in the city's hospitals as
fallen from 53 to 13.
Nevertheless, the United Nations took no new action, despite the
ineffectiveness of the African Union force consisting of 1,700
Ugandan troops. The force is far short of its planned 8,000
strength and the terms of its mandate allying it with the unpopular
Ethiopian-backed Transitional Federal Government have been sharply
questioned by critics.
For earlier AfricaFocus Bulletins on Somalia, links to news, Human
Rights Watch reports, and other background information, visit
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Shell-Shocked: Civilians Under Siege in Mogadishu
Human Rights Watch
August 13, 2007
For a full copy of the report, please visit:
Ethiopian, Somali and insurgent forces are all responsible for
rampant violations of the laws of war in Mogadishu, causing massive
suffering for the civilian population, Human Rights Watch said in
a report released today. Human Rights Watch urged the UN Security
Council during its current deliberations on Somalia to include a
strong civilian protection mandate in any peacekeeping mission.
The 113-page report, "Shell-Shocked: Civilians Under Siege in
Mogadishu," is the first independent, on-the-ground investigation
of the fighting that wracked Mogadishu in March and April 2007,
resulting in the deaths of hundreds of civilians and the
displacement of 400,000 people. "The warring parties have all shown
criminal disregard for the well-being of the civilian population of
Mogadishu," said Ken Roth, executive director for Human Rights
Watch. "The UN Security Council's indifference to this crisis has
only added to the tragedy."
Human Rights Watch documented numerous war crimes among many other
violations of the laws of war by all parties to the armed conflict
Violations by the insurgency, a loose coalition of Somali armed
- the indiscriminate firing of mortar rounds into civilian areas;
- deployment of forces in densely populated neighborhoods;
- targeted killings of civilian officials of the transitional
Somali government; and
- summary executions and mutilation of the bodies of captured
Ethiopian forces backing the Somali transitional government
violated the laws of war by widely and indiscriminately bombarding
highly populated areas of Mogadishu with rockets, mortars and
artillery. Its troops on several occasions specifically targeted
hospitals and looted them of desperately needed medical equipment.
Human Rights Watch also documented cases of Ethiopian forces
deliberately shooting and summarily executing civilians.
Somali transitional government forces played a secondary role to
the Ethiopian military, but failed to provide effective warnings to
civilians in combat zones, looted property, impeded relief efforts
for displaced people, and mistreated dozens of people detained in
mass arrests. "The insurgency placed civilians at grave risk by
deploying among them," said Roth. "But that is no justification for
Ethiopia's calculated shelling and rocketing of whole
The launch of the report coincides with today's UN Security Council
deliberations on Somalia. The Security Council is due to discuss
the 1,500-member African Union mission in Somalia and proposals to
turn the mission into a UN force. The armed conflict in Mogadishu
has steadily escalated since the Ethiopian-backed Somali
Transitional Federal Government (TFG) established itself in
Mogadishu in January 2007. In December 2006, Ethiopian forces with
US support ousted the coalition of Islamic Courts from Mogadishu
and other areas of south-central Somalia in a lightning offensive.
Since January 2007, a coalition of insurgent groups, including the
Islamic Courts' militant Al-Shabaab militia, has waged almost daily
attacks on Ethiopian and TFG forces, including several suicide
attacks, and killed TFG civilian officials. The insurgency
repeatedly launched mortar attacks from densely populated
neighborhoods of Mogadishu, jeopardizing civilian security, in
violation of the laws of war. On March 29, Ethiopian forces
launched the first of two major counterinsurgency offensives in the
city. Ethiopian troops indiscriminately bombarded insurgent
strongholds with barrages of "Katyusha" rockets, mortars, and
artillery, making no apparent effort to distinguish between
civilians and insurgent targets.
A second Ethiopian offensive from April 18 - 26 targeted and
destroyed additional areas of the city and added several hundred
more civilians to the total death toll. While the precise number of
civilian casualties is not yet known, estimates range from 400 to
more than 1,300 deaths resulting from both rounds of fighting.
Ethiopia's intervention in Somalia is closely linked to regional
security concerns, including a proxy war with Eritrea and the
presence of two Ethiopian rebel movements in Somalia.
In January 2007, the United States launched several air strikes in
southern Somalia, and again in June in Puntland, in the northeast.
These attacks were the first US military interventions in the
country since its forces departed in 1994. The US alleged that
militants within the Islamic courts were sheltering individuals
connected to international terrorism networks, including people
wanted in connection with the US embassy bombings in Kenya and
Tanzania in 1998. "Since the major fighting ended in April,
Ethiopian and Somali government forces have routinely violated the
rights of civilians on the streets of Mogadishu," said Roth.
"Effective counterterrorism can only be built on respect for basic
rights and an end to impunity for serious crimes."
Human Rights Watch called on the UN Security Council and key
international actors to use their leverage with Ethiopian and
Somali government forces to end abuses and encourage respect for
international law. Concerned countries should also request and
support an increased UN human rights monitoring and reporting
mission in Somalia.
The year 2007 brought little respite to hundreds of thousands of
Somalis suffering from 16 years of unremitting violence. Instead,
successive political and military upheavals generated a human
rights and humanitarian crisis on a scale not seen since the
Since January 2007, residents of Mogadishu, the Somali capital,
have been gripped by a terrifying campaign of violence that has
killed and injured hundreds of civilians, provoked the largest
and most rapid displacement of a civilian population for many
years, and shattered the lives, homes, and livelihoods of
thousands of people. Although overlooked by much of the world, it
is a conflict whose human cost is matched by its regional and
The conflict in Mogadishu in 2007 involves Ethiopian and Somali
government forces against a coalition of insurgent groups. It is
a conflict that has been marked by numerous violations of
international humanitarian law that have been met with a shameful
silence and inaction on the part of key foreign governments and
Violations of the laws of war documented in this report include
the deployment of insurgent forces in densely populated
neighborhoods and the widespread, indiscriminate bombardment of
these areas by Ethiopian forces. The deliberate nature of these
bombardments, evidence of criminal intent, strongly suggests the
commission of war crimes.
Underpinning the developments in Somalia is the striking rise to
power and rapid collapse of the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), a
movement based on a coalition of sharia courts, in Mogadishu in
mid-2006. The Islamic Courts were credited with bringing
unprecedented stability to a city plagued by lawlessness and
extreme violence. Speculation about whether early indicators of
extreme and repressive action by the ICU would evolve into more
moderate policy was cut short by the events that followed.
The presence of some radical and militant Islamist elements
within the ICU and their belligerent statements stoked fears
within and outside the region. The ICU's dominance also
threatened the Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG),
which had little international support and minimal popular
legitimacy, particularly in Mogadishu. In December 2006 Somalia's
historic rival Ethiopia intervened in Somalia in support of the
TFG and with the backing of the United States government, and
ousted the ICU in a matter of days. Although the campaign was
conducted in the name of fighting international terrorism,
Ethiopia's actions were rooted in its own regional and national
security interests, namely a proxy war with Eritrea and concern
over Ethiopian armed opposition movements supported by Eritrea
and the ICU.
Following the establishment of Ethiopian and TFG troops in
Mogadishu in January 2007, residents of Mogadishu witnessed a
steady spiral of attacks by insurgent forces aimed at Ethiopian
and TFG military forces and TFG officials. Increasingly,
Ethiopian forces launched mortars, rockets, and artillery fire in
response. A failed March 21 and 22 disarmament operation by the
TFG resulted in the capture of TFG troops and - in scenes
evocative of the deaths of US soldiers in 1993 - the mutilation
of their bodies in Mogadishu's streets.
In late March Ethiopian forces launched their first offensive to
capture Mogadishu's stadium and other locations, which met with
resistance from a widening coalition of insurgent groups.
Ethiopian forces used sustained rocket bombardment and shelling
of entire neighborhoods as their main strategy to dislodge the
mobile insurgency and then occupy strategic locations. Hundreds
of civilians died trying to flee or while trapped in their homes
as the rockets and shells landed. Tens of thousands of people
fled the city.
Four days of intense bombardment and fighting was ended by a
brief ceasefire negotiated by the Ethiopian military and Hawiye
clan elders. The ceasefire faltered and then broke in late April,
when Ethiopian forces launched their second major offensive to
capture additional areas of north Mogadishu. Again, heavy
shelling and rocket barrages were used against insurgents in
densely populated civilian neighborhoods. Hundreds more people
died or were wounded. On April 26 the TFG, which played a nominal
role supporting the Ethiopian military campaign, declared
victory. Within days, insurgent attacks resumed, increasingly
based on targeting Ethiopian and TFG forces with
remote-controlled explosive devices.
Based on dozens of eyewitness accounts gathered by Human Rights
Watch in a six-week research mission to Kenya and Somalia in
April and May 2007, plus subsequent interviews and research in
June and July, this report documents the illegal means and
methods of warfare used by all of the warring parties and the
resulting catastrophic toll on civilians in Mogadishu.
The insurgency routinely deployed their forces in densely
populated civilian areas and often launched mortar rounds in
"hit-and-run" tactics that placed civilians at unnecessary risk.
The insurgency possibly used civilians to purposefully shield
themselves from attack. They fired weapons, particularly mortars,
in a manner that did not discriminate between civilians and
military objectives, and they targeted TFG civilian officials for
attack. In at least one instance, insurgent forces executed
captured combatants in their custody, and subjected the bodies to
Ethiopian forces failed to take all feasible precautions to avoid
incidental loss of civilian life and property, such as by failing
to verify that targets were military objectives. Ethiopian
commanders and troops used both means of warfare (firing
inherently indiscriminate "Katyusha" rockets in urban areas) and
methods of warfare (using mortars and other indirect weapons
without guidance in urban areas) that violated international
humanitarian law. They routinely and repeatedly fired rockets,
mortars, and artillery in a manner that did not discriminate
between civilian and military objectives or that caused civilian
loss that exceeded the expected military gain. The use of area
bombardments in populated areas and the failure to cancel attacks
once the harm to civilians became known is evidence of criminal
intent necessary to demonstrate the commission of war crimes. The
Ethiopian forces also appeared to conduct deliberate attacks on
civilians, particularly attacks on hospitals. They committed
pillaging and looting of civilian property, including of medical
equipment from hospitals.
The Transitional Federal Government forces failed to provide
effective warnings when alerting civilians of impending military
operations, committed widespread pillaging and looting of
civilian property, and interfered with the delivery of
humanitarian assistance. TFG security forces committed mass
arrests and have mistreated persons in custody.
Reaction to these serious international crimes has been muted to
the point of silence. Despite the scale and gravity of the abuses
in Mogadishu in 2007, there has been no serious condemnation by
key governments or institutions. The human rights crisis that has
permeated Somalia for years, now significantly amplified in the
past six months, has yet to even reach the agenda of many
international actors. Easing the suffering of Somali civilians
and building a stable state cannot be accomplished in a human
Key governments and international institutions such as the United
States, the European Union and its members, the African Union,
the Arab League, and the United Nations Security Council must
recognize the urgent need for human rights protection and
accountability in Somalia.
International donors and actors must take immediate action to
condemn the appalling crimes that have been perpetrated and send
a clear signal to all the warring parties that impunity for these
crimes will not be tolerated. The United States and the European
Union provide significant financial, technical, and other
assistance to both Ethiopia and the Somali Transitional Federal
Government and should use their leverage to press for respect for
human rights and international humanitarian law.
Independent human rights monitoring and reporting must be
increased and international donors should encourage, assist, and
finance efforts to make those responsible for abuses accountable
for Somalia's latest cycle of violence.
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