Amnesty International has released a new report describing widespread human rights abuses by all sides in the conflict in Somalia. As Derek Kilner reports from VOA's East Africa bureau in Nairobi, the report pays particular attention to abuses by the internationally backed transitional government and Ethiopian forces in the country.
According to Amnesty International, Somalia's Transitional Federal Government, the Ethiopian troops that are backing it, and the various Islamist and clan-based insurgent groups in the country, are all engaged in widespread human rights abuses against Somalia's civilian population.
The organization says civilians have little hope for reprieve from rights abuses, whether they are in the war-torn capital Mogadishu or have reached a displacement camp. Amnesty International's East Africa campaigner, Dave Copeman, says displaced Somalis fleeing on the road out of Mogadishu have been a particular target.
"On the road, the risk of attack is just routine," Copeland said. "It is so common that every person we spoke to spoke about vehicles being pulled over, being strafed, women being taken and being raped, and looting."
The bulk of the abuses described in the report, particularly in Mogadishu, involve the government and Ethiopian forces, who have been battling a growing Islamist-led insurgency since December, 2006. The group says the civilians it interviewed described numerous cases of rape, extra-judicial killing and looting by government forces.
The report also notes a growing number of charges against Ethiopian troops, who on several occasions are reported to have slit the throats of civilians.
But Copeman also pointed out that witnesses have appeared more concerned about retaliation by insurgent groups, and have appeared less willing to make accusations against them, in part because it can be difficult to identify who exactly is involved with such groups.
A leader of the Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia, Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, told VOA from the Eritrean capital Asmara, where the group's leadership is based, that the group's fighters do not threaten civilians.
But he says that anyone who facilitates attacks by enemy forces should be considered an enemy.
He also denied the accusation that insurgents, along with Ethiopian forces, knowingly fire shells into civilian areas of Mogadishu, saying only Ethiopian troops have done so.
The faction Aweys leads, which brought together many of the leaders of the Islamic Courts Union that was dislodged from Mogadishu by Ethiopian forces in December of 2006, is seen as more moderate than the Shabaab group, whose leader Aden Hashi Ayro was killed by a U.S. air strike last week.
Copeland urged the international community to exert more pressure on the transitional government and the Ethiopian forces.
"The international community has recognized the Transitional Federal Government and they have some level of influence and they need to use this influence to ensure that the people who are committing the crimes, particularly within the Ethiopians and the TFG are wary of the fact that they are going to be held to account, because at the moment they are not," Copeland said. "There is an absolute sense of impunity."
The United States has been a particularly strong backer of the Ethiopians and the transitional government, with some analysts and organizations saying that American cooperation with these groups on counterterrorism issues has come at the expense of pushing for improvements in humanitarian access and human rights.
More than one million people have been displaced by the conflict in Somalia, which U.N. officials have described as Africa's worst humanitarian crisis. Continued fighting, along with a current drought, have raised fears of famine. At least two people have been killed this week in riots over food prices in Mogadishu.