A new report says civilians in Somalia are being subjected to indiscriminate killings, cruel punishments and repression.
The Human Rights Watch report is called Harsh War, Harsh Peace: Abuses by Al-Shabaab, the Transitional Federal Government and AMISOM. The more than 60 page report is based on interviews with over 70 “victims and witnesses.”
Tom Porteous, HRW’s London Director, says, “Essentially the situation in Somalia presents a very stark choice to the civilian population depending on where they live.”
“Somalis,” he says, “are either faced with the prospect of indiscriminate fighting between the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), the African Union force (AMISOM) and opposition fighters. That continues to frame the day to day reality of life in Mogadishu and some other parts of the country.”
Al-Shabaab controls large areas outside of the capital
“These regions have enjoyed relative peace and stability, but those people living in those regions are subjected to new patterns of human rights abuse, repression and social control,” says Porteous.
He says al-Shabaab has an “extreme Islamist ideology.”
“They’ve subjected the inhabitants of those areas to killings, very cruel punishment, extreme forms of social control, much of which is justified as a strict interpretation of Islamic law,” he says.
The report says women are bearing the brunt of the repression.
“The Shabaab have insisted that women should wear, in what is a very hot country, a particularly thick and bulky form of covering (abaya). And any woman who goes out in the street or in the countryside and not wearing this covering can find herself subjected severe beatings,” he says.
The report quotes one woman as saying, “A young man gave me ten lashes with the whip. He beat me so much that I felt heat and pain throughout my body…It felt so painful that if I had a gun I would have killed that man.”
Human Rights Watch also accuses al-Shabaab of the forced recruiting of child soldiers, which, if true, would be a violation of international law. Porteous says those children are subjected to beatings and humiliation if they don’t also follow the militia’s strict code.
In the capital, civilians are often caught in the middle of almost daily fighting. HRW has in recent years done reports on the effects of the fighting on civilians.
“The patterns remain very much the same. For this report we were actually unable to visit Mogadishu, but we managed to collect information nonetheless from refugees, who fled from Mogadishu into neighboring Kenya,” he says.
The report, he says, blames all the warring parties for “indiscriminate attacks in which civilians continue to die. And this is in clear violation of the laws of war. When I say all sides, I mean not only the Shabaab and their affiliate groups, but also the Transitional Federal Government and the African Union.”
Porteous says al-Shabaab uses civilians as “shields to fire mortars at TFG and AU positions, which of course then attract fire from the AU and TFG forces into civilian areas,” he says.
Human Rights watch also says people accused of being government sympathizers face execution or assassination “often on flimsy pretexts.”