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All sides to blame in Somali disaster, says human rights group

In its latest report, Human Rights Watch says that government troops,

Amina Salah Ali sits by the body of her son who died at a Mogadishu camp on 10 August 2011.
Amina Salah Ali sits by the body of her son who died at a Mogadishu camp on 10 August 2011.
Image: AP Photo/Farah Abdi Warsameh

AN INDEPENDENT human rights organisation says “all sides” have contributed to Somalia’s humanitarian crisis in which millions are at risk of death due to malnutrition.

In a 58-page report, Human Right Watch says all parties involved in the country’s 20-year-long conflict have played a role in creating the current crisis, and it accuses militant groups and government forces of causing civilian casualties by firing indiscriminately in Mogadishu.

One 37-year-old woman who fled fighting in the capital told HRW that neither side cares if civilians are caught up in the shelling, saying: “Both sides don’t spare the public.”

The organisation’s Africa director Daniel Bekele said that “all sides need to take urgent steps to stop these unlawful attacks, let in aid, and end this humanitarian nightmare.”

According to Somalis interviewed by HRW, al-Shabab’s severe punishments including summary executions and floggings are not uncommon. HRW also says that the militants recruit children and use citizens as human shields.

Al-Shabab also deprives inhabitants under its rule of essential aid, including food and water, and prevents them leaving for safer areas, HRW says.

Failure to protect

The report also says that the transitional government’s forces have failed to protect people living in the areas under its control. However, it says that outside agents, such as the EU, African Union and the US, which support that government financially, should direct it towards clear human rights goals.

It says that given the military support offered by these agents to the transitional government, they have a greater responsibility to push for basic human rights.

HRW also criticises Kenya over its apparent attempts to distinguish between refugees fleeing famine, and those fleeing militant control and violence. HRW’s report says:

Human Rights Watch is concerned by statements from Kenyan government ministers and officials encouraging the setting up of internally displaced persons (IDP) camps in Somalia, presumably in the buffer zone of Jubaland. Jubaland was until very recently an active conflict zone. It is a narrow strip: al-Shabab positions are only 80 km from the border of Kenya.

Creating an artificial distinction between those fleeing conflict and those fleeing drought, as the Kenyan government has tried to do, is disingenuous. Famine always has complex political as well as environmental causes.

The organisation acknowledges that Kenyan authorities are under serious pressure with an influx of around 700,000 Somali refugees, but says that does not excuse police from committing a number of abuses, including rape and unlawful deportation.

Daniel Bekele says there is “no quick fix” to Somalia’s crises, but called for international support in pushing for greater human rights and civilian protection:

International pressure to bring an end to abuses by all sides is more crucial than ever­­ – a more secure and rights-respecting Somalia would be less prone to violence and famine.

John O’Shea of Irish aid agency GOAL has repeatedly called on the UN to provide security for aid agency staff. Al-Shabab forced international humanitarian workers out of Somalia two years ago and has threatened agencies who enter Somalia to provide aid during the current food crisis.

Read the Human Rights Watch report on Somalia in full >

Read: Second airlift of Irish aid reaches the Horn of Africa >

Read: Somali children reportedly recruited by extremists >

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