News / Africa

Civilians Bearing Brunt of Somali Conflict


Joe DeCapua

Amnesty International says the human rights situation in Somalia continues to deteriorate, with more and more civilians falling victim to the conflict.

“Amnesty’s main concern is obviously the dire human rights situation and the lack or protection for civilians in Somalia,” says Benedicte Goderiaux, Amnesty’s Somalia researcher.

Tuesday’s attack on the Muna Hotel was a direct attack on civilians, she says, and should be classified as a war crime.  More than 30 people died in the suicide bombing and attack.

“And then you have all the people who are killed and injured in the fighting between both sides to the conflict, who use indiscriminate weapons, such as mortars, in densely populated areas.  And these are obviously indiscriminate attacks, which are also forbidden by the Geneva Convention,” said Goderiaux.

All sides to blame

Transitional Federal Government (TFG) forces, AU (African Union) troops, al Shabab and other militias have all been blamed for civilian casualties.

“It is very difficult, of course, to get armed groups like al Shabab and Hisbul Islam to agree and to recognize the importance of respecting international law,” she says.

But as for TFG and AU forces, she says, “who are accused of using some of the methods that the arms groups are using, then I think the international community, which gives them support… there is a case… to put a lot more pressure so that, one, they respect international law and [two], when there are credible accusations, that a mechanism is put in place to make those who are accused of doing such things…accountable.”

Hold your fire

Asked how government and AU forces should respond if shelled by militias hiding in residential neighborhoods, Goderiaux says they should use restraint.

“When you have one party to the conflict which is committing abuses and violations of international law, that doesn’t justify the other side from also committing violations of international law,” she says.

She says AMISOM, the AU mission in Somalia, should respect international law at all times and assess the likely consequences of its counter attacks.

“If they are in a situation where they are being attacked by al Shabab and they see that in their response they are going to shell on civilian neighborhoods, then they shouldn’t shell,” she says.

Al-Shabab recently declared an all-out war against AMISOM forces.

Earlier this year, the force commander, Maj. Gen. Nathan Mugisha, said the terrorism triggered by the alliance between al Shabab and al Qaida was like “a virus.”

“Unless dealt with decisively, with all possible resources,” he added, “it spreads quickly. That is why it is vitally important to defeat the extremists who hide behind the perverted banner of religion and offer nothing but repression, violence and bloodshed to the people of Somalia and the entire region. Extremism has nothing to do with Islam and everything to do with indiscriminate murder and carnage.”

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