News / Africa

Rights Group: Protect Somali Civilians, Civil Society, Journalists

Kenyan soldiers climb into a truck as they prepare to advance near Liboi, Kenya, near border with Somalia, October 2011. (file photo)
Kenyan soldiers climb into a truck as they prepare to advance near Liboi, Kenya, near border with Somalia, October 2011. (file photo)
Joe DeCapua

Amnesty International said this week’s international conference on Somalia in London should add human rights abuses to the agenda. The group said much more needs to be done to protect civilians and restore the rule of law in the country.

Benedicte Goderiaux, an Amnesty researcher on armed conflict, said, “The UK conference…is significant for a number of reasons because it will…mainly discuss the future and the stability of Somalia. However, it is less significant in some ways for us, a human rights organization, because human rights specific concerns have not made it on the agenda.”

Other issues in the forefront

“We believe the international community is more interested in discussing piracy, counter terrorism (and the) political process. And what we are concerned about is that if human rights and the protection of civilians are not addressed, this will also have an impact on the effectiveness of future plans on Somalia,” she said.

Amnesty agrees the agenda does contain important issues, but said the topics should be broader.

Dire Situation

The Amnesty researcher described the human rights situation in Somalia as “dire…particularly in south and central Somalia. Particularly, also, at a time when military operations have increased.”

Kenya’s military is waging an offensive against the Somali militia group al Shabab, which recently formally aligned itself with al Qaida. Al Shabab is blamed for a number of terrorist attacks inside Kenya. The militia is also battling Transitional Federal Government (TFG) forces as well as AMISOM, the African Union military mission.

Goderiaux said the fighting between Kenyan forces and al Shabab has caused further displacement of civilians, hindered humanitarian aid and brought a further influx of weapons “in a country already awash with arms.”

Amnesty called on the international community to do a better job of monitoring and recording alleged human rights abuses. It said civil society representatives and journalists have “paid a heavy price” trying to report on rights abuses. Two journalists were killed in Somalia in December and January.

Arms Embargo

“The international community doesn’t really have an effective way to monitor whether the forces that it supports tacitly or actively are actually forces for good in Somalia,” she said.

Amnesty has called on the international community to respect the U.N. arms embargo on Somalia, adding it should be strengthened.

“The arms embargo notably allows for exemptions for weapons and security assistance to be sent to the transitional government forces, and that presumably includes TFG allied militia, as well. We think that these exemptions take place when the U.N. Security Council and the international community do not really have a mechanism to ensure that the assistance given does not contribute to further fueling human rights abuses,” said Goderiaux.

Amnesty also wants the issue of child soldiers addressed on the conference agenda. What’s more, it said long term plans should be made to return the rule of law in Somalia, including rebuilding the judicial system and police force.

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