Reports from Somalia suggest possible war crimes, says UN human rights chief

A family flees fighting in the Somali capital Mogadishu

10 July 2009 – It is clear that grave violations of international human rights and humanitarian law – possibly amounting to war crimes – are being committed in strife-torn Somalia, a top United Nations official said today.

Despite the signing of a peace accord last year and the formation of a new government this past February, ongoing violence has caused enormous suffering and massive displacement in the Horn of Africa nation.

More than 200,000 people have been forced to flee the capital, Mogadishu, since the latest round of fighting began in early May between the Government and the Al-Shabab and Hisb-ul-Islam groups.

“In this new wave of attacks, it is clear that civilians – especially women and children – are bearing the brunt of the violence,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said, noting that attacks against civilians have been one of the main features of the conflicts that have engulfed the country since 1991.

“There needs to be a much greater effort to protect civilians. Displaced people and human rights defenders, aid workers and journalists are among those most exposed, and in some cases are being directly targeted,” she added.

UN investigators who spoke with refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) that fled the recent surge in fighting were told that the Al-Shabab groups have carried out extrajudicial executions, planted mines, bombs and other explosive devices in civilian areas, and used civilians as human shields, according to a news release from the High Commissioner’s office (OCHA).

In addition, fighters from both sides are reported to have used torture, and fired mortars indiscriminately into areas populated or frequented by civilians. There has also been increasing evidence of child recruitment by various forces.

“Some of these acts might amount to war crimes,” Ms. Pillay said.

She added that the work of human rights defenders and journalists in Mogadishu has become “extremely precarious,” with six journalists having been killed in Mogadishu – four of them apparently victims of target assassinations – since the beginning of the year.

“It is vital that the fighting and violence stop as soon as possible,” the High Commissioner said, adding that once order has been restored, those responsible for human rights violations and abuses should be brought to justice.

“The gathering of evidence, by all who are in a position to do so, has to continue so that those committing these terrible crimes in Somalia will one day receive their due punishment before a court of law, and their victims will finally see justice being done,” she stated.

Meanwhile, in response to the displacement crisis facing many civilians from Mogadishu, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and its partners are working to address the needs of those uprooted from their homes.

They are distributing emergency supplies, including plastic sheets, blankets, jerry cans, soap and mosquito nets, for over 6,000 households – about 47,000 people – in and around Mogadishu.

The majority of the displaced persons have moved to the Afgooye corridor, a stretch of very densely populated displacement settlements, which is already hosting about 400,000 people.


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