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UN Calls for Human Rights Probe in Somalia

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Michael Onyiego

As fighting intensifies between the fragile Somali government and Islamist rebels, civilians are increasingly being caught in the crossfire.  The United Nations is calling for Somali authorities and African Union troops to investigate human-rights violations and punish those responsible, who have acted up to now with impunity, in the Horn of African nation.

U.N. Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Kyung-wha Kang is calling for the international community to combat the "culture of impunity" that has fueled more than two decades of war in Somalia.  Kang's comments followed an official two-day tour of the semi-autonomous Puntland region, in the northeast, and the self-declared state of Somaliland in northwestern Somalia.

Speaking late Wednesday in Nairobi, Kang told reporters that documenting human rights-abuses in the war-torn country would be critical to building a lasting peace.

"Even as conflict continues in some areas, we must begin the work of systematically documenting the most serious abuses throughout the years of conflict with the vision of one day holding perpetrators to account," said Kang.  "Addressing the continuing cycle of impunity and violence should be a cornerstone in the foundation of building peace in Somalia.  And it should be a deterrent  to would-be violators that they will be held to account."

The U.N.-backed Somalia government has been struggling to maintain control of parts of the capital, Mogadishu while battling Islamist insurgent group al-Shabab.  Just more than three weeks ago, the al Qaida-linked group launched an offensive to conquer more territory in the city.  The United Nations estimates more than 230 people were killed and another 23,000 were driven from their homes in the first two weeks of fighting.   

Al-Shabab forces often fire mortars at government controlled areas of the city, with government troops responding in kind.  Government forces, backed by 7,200 African Union troops, recently have been accused of indiscriminately killing civilians while firing on neighborhoods that harbor rebel forces.  

During her trip, Kang also visited refugee camps, where she said residents were suffering from neglect and mismanagement.  Kang urged the international community and the Somali authorities to "step up" their efforts.

"In my visit to the IDP camp I had a clear sense that much more needs to be done. They were not getting the sufficient levels of food assistance, health assistance, educational assistance that international norms require.  This is some of the worst situations that we find internally displaced persons in.  So, clearly, there is need for more support, more systematic support," said Kang.

Somalia has not had a functioning central government since dictator Mohammed Siad Barre was removed from power in 1991.  Government forces have been battling al-Shabab since 2007, but have lost control of much of southern Somalia, clinging to only parts of the capital.

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