Somalia Human Rights - History

Somalia Human Rights - History


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Killings: Conflict during the year involving the government, militias, AMISOM, and al-Shabaab resulted in death, injury, and displacement of civilians. State and federal forces killed civilians and committed sexual and gender-based violence, especially in and around Lower Shabelle. Clan-based political violence involved revenge killings and attacks on civilian settlements. Clashes between clan-based forces and with al-Shabaab in Puntland and the Galmudug, Lower Shabelle, Middle Shabelle, Lower Juba, Baidoa, and Hiiraan Regions, also resulted in deaths. According to the United Nations, killings by clan militias increased compared with previous years, likely as a result of increased tensions following flawed state formation processes.

For example, in April at least three persons were killed in clashes in Middle Shabelle when a dominant clan reportedly attempted to take over disputed land by force.

Civilians reported that many residences were burned down during the fighting, prompting displacement of village residents. Some marginalized communities, particularly the Somali Bantu/Jareerweyn, reported they were victims of attacks with no recourse since regional administrations characterized incidents as clan conflicts.

Somaliland used military force to suppress opponents of voter registration in contested regions (see section 1.a.).

According to UNSOM reports, between January and November security force attacks against al-Shabaab, other armed groups or individuals, and civilians resulted in civilian deaths, with casualties attributed to the SNA (107 deaths, 115 injured) and AMISOM (33 deaths, 60 injured). Al-Shabaab caused significant civilian casualties, including 880 deaths and 864 injured, during that period.

According to UNSOM reports, 2,785 cases of civilian casualties, including rape, were recorded during the year.

In April AMISOM troops were reported to have killed five civilians, including three children, in Lower Shabelle Region after a bomb blast targeted AMISOM forces in the area. African Union officials had not released a statement regarding the incident by year’s end.

Al-Shabaab committed politically motivated killings that targeted civilians affiliated with the government and attacks on humanitarian NGO employees, UN staff, and diplomatic missions. Al-Shabaab often used suicide attacks, mortar attacks, and improvised explosive devices (IEDs). It also killed prominent peace activists, community leaders, clan elders, electoral delegates, and their family members for their roles in peace building, and it beheaded persons accused of spying for and collaborating with Somali national forces and affiliated militias. Targeted assassinations, particularly of electoral delegates and elders, humanitarian workers, and civilians, increased in the first half of the year compared with prior years, as did violent punishments including amputations and stonings.

For example, on May 25, a female delegate involved in the 2016-17 electoral process for Galmudug was shot and killed by unknown assailants in Mogadishu. No arrests were made, but authorities believed al-Shabaab was responsible. This was the 23rd delegate killed since the February election. An unknown additional number of elders who participated in the electoral process were also killed.

On the same day, two female khat traders in Dirir-weyn village between Leego and Wanla-weyn towns in Lower Shabelle Region were abducted from their homes and beheaded. Their heads and bodies were found in the road thereafter. No one was arrested, but al-Shabaab gunmen were suspected, as the group was known to target khat traders who sold to government soldiers.

In May al-Shabaab stoned a man to death for adultery after a woman claimed he had raped her. On May 6, al-Shabaab publicly beheaded two men, deemed enemy soldiers by the militant group, in the village of Quar’a Madobe. On June 7, two suspected al-Shabaab gunmen killed the chairperson of the Diinsoor District Women’s Association in her home in South West State. On July 11, suspected al-Shabaab gunmen shot and killed a tax official in Mogadishu.

Abductions: Al-Shabaab frequently abducted AMISOM troops during attacks. For example, the Ugandan government confirmed seven Ugandan AMISOM troops remained captive from a 2015 attack on the AMISOM base in Janale. An unknown number of Kenyan and other AMISOM troops remained captive.

Al-Shabaab abducted 216 persons in the first half of the year and released 127, according to UNSOM. Between May 21 and May 24, al-Shabaab abducted approximately 70 persons, including women and children, burned numerous homes, and caused more than 15,000 persons to flee their homes during raids in Lower Shabelle, according to the United Nations. Some men who were abducted told human rights groups they were held in makeshift facilities in an al-Shabaab-controlled town for up to three weeks with scarce food and water and no opportunity to contest their detention. According to witnesses, one man died of dehydration while detained. The men were not allowed to pray and did not have access to water for ablutions. According to a Human Rights Watch report, at least two dozen were released following clan intervention, but an unknown number remained in detention.

Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: Government forces, allied militias, men wearing uniforms, and AMISOM troops used excessive force, including torture, and raped women and girls, including IDPs. While the army arrested some security force members accused of such abuse, impunity was the norm.

Al-Shabaab also committed sexual violence, including through forced marriages.

The United Nations documented reports of an April 17 sexual assault on a 21-year-old woman who was beaten and raped at gunpoint by three uniformed men in North Galkayo; their affiliation was not known. The police opened an investigation, but no arrests were made.

According to UN Mine Action Service, IEDs killed 152 persons and injured 226 in the first half of the year, with civilians constituting 57 percent of casualties. Lower Shabelle and Banadir Regions were the primary regions affected by IEDs.

Child Soldiers: During the year there were continued reports of the SNA and allied militia, the Ahlu Sunna Wal Jama (ASWJ), and al-Shabaab using child soldiers.

UN officials documented the recruitment and use during the year of 1,744 children (1,679 boys, 65 girls), including by al-Shabaab (1,091), the SNA (169), clan militia (415), the ASWJ (67), and other armed elements (two). There were children abducted: 584 by al-Shabaab and 15 by clan militia; figures were unknown for the SNA, AMISOM, AWSJ, or other armed elements. More than half of the children al-Shabaab abducted were used to increase its numbers before joint SNA/AMISOM operations, including the March attack in Puntland. The number recruited during the first half of the year equaled the total number recruited throughout 2015, demonstrating an increase in al-Shabaab recruitment. Children abducted by AMISOM were typically released unharmed within a couple of days. The reason for the abductions remained unclear.

Implementation of the government’s 2012 action plan with the United Nations to end the recruitment and use of children by the national army remained incomplete.

The SNA’s Child Protection Unit (CPU) reported it conducted training awareness campaigns in February during inspection visits in Kismayo and Dhoble, Interim Jubaland Administration, and in Baidoa, Interim South West Administration in May on the importance of preventing child recruitment into the security forces. The CPU and regional focal points continued to monitor the SNA, including conducting inspections of the main SNA training center in Mogadishu and several subnational military recruitment and stipend payment locations in Mogadishu, Baidoa, Kismayo, and Dhoble. During the February screening of SNA military training centers in Dhoble and Kismayo, 1,670 43rd Brigade SNA soldiers and 550 Jubaland Security Force members were screened, and all were determined to be at least 18 years of age. In May the CPU screened 287 police officers from a Somali Police Force unit in Berdale, Interim South West Administration. The CPU did not identify any child soldiers during the year but conducted several individual interviews and medical inspections of individuals who appeared to be underage.

Due to the absence of birth registration systems, it was often difficult to determine the age of national security force recruits.

Al-Shabaab continued to recruit and force children to participate in direct hostilities, including suicide attacks. Al-Shabaab raided schools, madrassas, and mosques to recruit children. Children in al-Shabaab training camps were subjected to grueling physical training, inadequate diet, weapons training, physical punishment, and religious training. The training also included forcing children to punish and execute other children. Al-Shabaab used children in combat, including placing them in front of other fighters to serve as human shields and suicide bombers. In addition, al-Shabaab used children in support roles, such as carrying ammunition, water, and food; removing injured and dead militants; gathering intelligence; and serving as guards. The organization sometimes used children to plant roadside bombs and other explosive devices. The Somali press frequently reported accounts of al-Shabaab indoctrinating children at schools and forcibly recruiting students into its ranks.

Authorities transferred children separated from armed groups to UNICEF.

In March 2016 government forces in Puntland and Galkayo captured 108 children fighting alongside al-Shabaab in Puntland and Galkayo. Of the 108 children in Puntland, soldiers transferred 70 to Mogadishu to receive reintegration support from an NGO supported by UNICEF. Although the president of Puntland expressed his commitment not to execute any of the 108 children, 10 received death sentences and 28 received prison sentences ranging from 10 to 20 years, based on age. UNICEF continued to advocate for the reduction of sentences and for the transfer of the remaining 38 children for integration support. On April 8, five of the boys were executed by firing squad. Family members of the boys told human rights groups that the boys confessed only after being subject to electric shocks and burned with cigarettes on their genitals.

Also see the Department of State’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.

Other Conflict-related Abuse: Armed groups, particularly al-Shabaab but also government forces and militia, deliberately restricted the passage of relief supplies and other items indispensable to the survival of the civilian population as well as access by humanitarian organizations, particularly in the southern and central regions.

Humanitarian workers regularly faced checkpoints, roadblocks, extortion, carjacking, and bureaucratic obstacles.

Humanitarian organizations faced rising levels of violence during the first half of the year, compared with the same period in 2016. The upsurge was mainly attributed to an increase in targeted attacks on humanitarian organizations by nonstate armed actors and increased violence at aid distribution sites. Between January and June, more than 90 violent incidents impacted humanitarian personnel, facilities, and assets, leading to the deaths of four humanitarian workers, injury to nine, arrests and temporary detention of six, and abduction of 13. Seven humanitarian workers were expelled from Somalia by authorities in the first half of the year. There was also an increase in the number of violent armed incidents associated with relief aid distributions. By the end of August, nearly 30 incidents accounted for the deaths of 32 civilians and injury to 38 others, with the majority associated with food distribution conducted by local authorities.

For example, on May 29, at least four civilians were killed when an SNA soldier began shooting at a feeding center in Mogadishu.

Al-Shabaab seized relief supplies. Conflict in contested territories of Sool and Sanaag, between Somaliland and Puntland, restricted humanitarian access. NGOs reported incidents of harassment by local authorities in both Somaliland and Puntland.

Al-Shabaab restricted medical care, including by impeding civilian travel to other areas to receive care, destroying medications provided by humanitarian agencies, and closing medical clinics.

International aid organizations evacuated their staff or halted food distribution and other aid-related activities in al-Shabaab-controlled areas due to killings, extortion, threats, harassment, expulsions, and prohibitions by al-Shabaab.

Because of fighting between al-Shabaab, AMISOM, and the SNA; al-Shabaab’s humanitarian access restrictions and taxation on livestock; and the lack of security, many residents in al-Shabaab-controlled areas fled to refugee camps in Kenya and Ethiopia and IDP camps in other areas of the country. ASWJ militias and federal forces skirmished throughout the year, displacing civilian populations.

On July 27, al-Shabaab issued a statement forbidding civilians in areas under its control from taking assistance from humanitarian organizations and threatening to execute as spies anyone who contacted aid agencies.


Somalia

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Somalia, easternmost country of Africa, on the Horn of Africa. It extends from just south of the Equator northward to the Gulf of Aden and occupies an important geopolitical position between sub-Saharan Africa and the countries of Arabia and southwestern Asia. The capital, Mogadishu, is located just north of the Equator on the Indian Ocean.

Somalia is a country of geographic extremes. The climate is mainly dry and hot, with landscapes of thornbush savanna and semidesert, and the inhabitants of Somalia have developed equally demanding economic survival strategies. Apart from a mountainous coastal zone in the north and several pronounced river valleys, most of the country is extremely flat, with few natural barriers to restrict the mobility of the nomads and their livestock. The Somali people are clan-based Muslims, and about three-fifths follow a mobile way of life, pursuing nomadic pastoralism or agropastoralism.

The Republic of Somalia was formed in 1960 by the federation of a former Italian colony and a British protectorate. Mohamed Siad Barre (Maxamed Siyaad Barre) held dictatorial rule over the country from October 1969 until January 1991, when he was overthrown in a bloody civil war waged by clan-based guerrillas. After Siad’s fall from power, warfare continued and the country lacked an effective centralized government—problems that persisted into the 21st century. Moreover, a de facto government declared the formation of an independent Republic of Somaliland in the north in 1991. Similarly, in 1998 the autonomous region of Puntland (the Puntland State of Somalia) was self-proclaimed in the northeast.

Decades of civil hostilities have virtually destroyed Somalia’s economy and infrastructure and split the country into areas under the rule of various entities. When Somalia’s tenuous transitional administration handed power to a new government in 2012, the newly declared Federal Republic of Somalia had only limited control over the country. There was, however, hope that the new government would usher in a new era, one in which peace would be achieved and Somalis could focus on rebuilding their country.

Somalia is bounded by the Gulf of Aden to the north, by the Indian Ocean to the east, by Kenya and Ethiopia to the west, and by Djibouti to the northwest. Somalia’s western border was arbitrarily determined by colonial powers and divides the lands traditionally occupied by the Somali people. As a result, Somali communities are also found in Djibouti, Ethiopia, and Kenya, and the border remains a source of dispute.


Background

Political tensions intensified throughout 2018 and 2019. The Somali federal and regional authorities, along with their international partners, focused on fighting Al-Shabaab and on managing elections including the South West regional presidential elections in late 2018, Puntland parliamentary and presidential elections in early 2019 and Jubaland parliamentary and presidential elections in August 2019. The elections were marred by political infighting and allegations of rigging, and authorities muzzled freedom of expression and assembly, in some instances using excessive force which resulted in civilian casualties.


ReliefWeb

Attachments

Human Rights Council
Forty-second session 9&ndash27 September 2019
Agenda item 10
Technical assistance and capacity-building

In the present report, the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Somalia, Bahame Tom Nyanduga, highlights the situation of human rights during the past year and traces the challenges and achievements as regards their enjoyment and the measures adopted to address the challenges since the establishment of the mandate more than 25 years ago.

The Independent Expert argues that Somalia has recorded considerable progress in establishing conditions for the enjoyment of human rights with the support of the international community.
Notwithstanding the challenges, including terror attacks, insecurity, human rights violations, poverty and inter-clan conflicts, the country&rsquos transition to a democratic State is advancing.
The Independent Expert urges the international community to continue to support Somalia at this critical stage and proposes a set of recommendations for lasting peace and reconciliation.

I. Introduction

The report of the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Somalia,
Bahame Tom Nyanduga, is submitted pursuant to Human Rights Council resolution 39/23.
The Council requested him to work closely with the Federal Government of Somalia at the national and subnational levels, as well as with all United Nations bodies, including the United Nations Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM), the African Union, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), other relevant international organizations, civil society and all relevant human rights mechanisms, and to assist Somalia, inter alia, in the implementation of its national and international human rights obligations. The Council also requested the Independent Expert to report to it at its forty-second session and to the General Assembly at its seventy-fourth session.

In the present report, the Independent Expert assesses the human rights situation in Somalia over the past year and reviews the achievements and challenges since the establishment of the mandate more than 25 years ago.

A. Establishment of the mandate

The mandate of the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Somalia was established pursuant to resolution 1993/86 of the Commission on Human Rights (see E/CN.4/1993/122).

The resolution requested the Secretary-General to appoint an independent expert to assist the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Somalia in developing a longterm programme of advisory services for re-establishing human rights and the rule of law in Somalia, including a democratic constitution, as well as the holding of periodic and genuine elections by universal suffrage and secret ballot (see E/CN.4/1993/122).

In March 1995, the Commission on Human Rights adopted resolution 1995/56, which called upon all parties to the conflict in Somalia to work towards a peaceful solution to the crisis. It requested the Independent Expert to study ways to re-establish respect for human rights and the rule of law, strengthening the police and the judicial and prison systems in Somalia, and how best to implement a programme of advisory services for Somalia.

The mandate of the Independent Expert was extended by the Human Rights Council in 20071 and the reports of the mandate have been considered under agenda item 10 on technical assistance and capacity-building since 2008 (see A/HRC/7/26).


Somalia: Fall of Siad Barre and the civil war

For nearly three decades, armed conflict has been waged in the country by a variety of groups and continues to the time of writing. While violence has been seemingly relentless, there have been distinct, distinguishable phases, with mass atrocities likely reaching the 50,000 threshold between the end of 1988 and beginning of 1989, and falling below the 5,000 per year for two years in 1994 and 1995. Overall violence within the atrocity period of six years (1988-1993) likely resulted in 50,000 to 100,000 civilian deaths as a direct result of violence or hostilities.

While Somalia is ethnically, religiously, and linguistically homogenous, the country’s population is divided into clans who can draw their lineage back to a common ancestor. During the colonial period under Italy and Great Britain clans became a central feature of state administration and political competition. Colonial administrators established a patrimonial system of resource distribution, employed tactics of divide and rule along clan lines, and engaged in collective punishment of clans. All of these tactics would be employed during later periods of violence.[i] Somalia gained independence after a ten year period under a UN Trusteeship from 1950 to 1960. The northern and southern regions were united under multi-party democracy that lasted from 1960 to 1969.

In 1969, a bloodless coup resulted in the installment of President Siad Barre. From 1969 to 1978, the Barre Regime enjoyed relative popularity and financial support from both the Soviet Union and Western institutions.[ii] While projecting an image of Somalia as a constitutional state to international actors, Barre cultivated a patrimonial state that increasingly revolved around clan identity.[iii] Clan-based paramilitaries were funded and armed by the government, a practice that exacerbated relations between communities that had previously lived adjacently and intermarried with little conflict.[iv] Rather than completely excluding particular clans, Barre coopted key actors in certain sub-clans, causing divisions within the larger clans.[v] During this time, the regime passed legislation giving the state wide powers of detention and execution. A number of paramilitaries, militias, and security agencies were founded, including the National Security Service and the Victory Pioneers.[vi] While there were several incidents of political violence, this caused relatively low numbers of civilian deaths no single incident from 1945 to 1975 seems to have caused more than 100 civilian deaths. [vii]

The Barre regime became increasingly oppressive and violent in the late 1970s through the 1980s, although mass atrocities did not begin until later. In 1977 Somalia entered the Ethio-Somalia or Ogaden war with Ethiopia. After a number of initial victories, the Soviet Union withdrew support from Somalia in favor of Ethiopia, and Somalia lost the war in 1978.[viii] Discontent with the Siad Barre regime began to spread after the military loss against Ethiopia. Siad Barre had eighty-two high level military officers executed in Ethiopian territory for their opposition to the way the war was handled. The military failure and execution of military officers prompted a 1978 coup attempt. Despite somewhat diverse clan participation amongst the coup leaders, Barre portrayed the coup as orchestrated by the Majeerteen clan. In a pattern similar to what would be used later against the Isaak clan in 1988, Barre responded by purging the government and military of Majeerteen, and committing reprisal killings against the Majeerteen civilian clan members that left roughly 2,000 dead.[ix]

The 1980s saw the rise of opposition armed movements, the largest of which was the Somali National Movement (SNM), drawn principally from members of the Isaak clan in northwestern Somalia, which developed in response to state marginalization and abuse including the purge of Isaak from civil service posts, confiscation of businesses, arrests, detention, and violence against Isaak civilians.[x] Throughout the 1980s, the Siad Barre regime responded to oppositional militias by employing increasingly violent and restrictive measures on various clan populations. Beginning in 1982, the state imposed curfews in certain areas that were used as a pretense for the detainment and extortion of civilians. Detainment and looting became a lucrative source of funding for state forces and paramilitaries that were referred to as the ‘meat market’.[xi] The government employed Mobile Military Courts (MMCs) to combat opposition militants and their associated civilian populations. MMCs were superficial judicial proceedings conducted by military officials, and followed almost immediately by executions. Although wholesale targeting and decimation of the Isaak population did not begin until the SNM offensive in 1988, a confidential report from General Morgan to President Barre that was leaked in February 1987 revealed a government intention to “liquidate” the “Isaak problem” through violent tactics.[xii]

Atrocities (1988-1991)

In 1988, the SNM received information that they were about to be expelled from their base of operations in Ethiopia on account of a peace agreement between the Somali and Ethiopian governments. In response, on May 27, 1988, the SNM launched a sudden attack on Burao, followed by an attack on Hargeisa on May 31. The SNM dispersed amongst the civilian population, with some SNM in uniform and others in partial uniform or plain clothes. These tactics likely resulted in higher civilian casualties than necessary, however, the government clearly responded to the SNM attack with a purposeful program of reprisal against Isaak civilians. [xiii] Compagnon estimates that 15,000-20,000 civilians were killed directly from the bombing of Hargeisa and Burao. [xiv] The Africa Watch report, “A Government at War with Its Own People” estimated that roughly 50,000 to 60,000 people were killed between May of 1988 and the beginning of 1990. [xv] While it is unlikely that all of these deaths are civilian, with SNM membership estimated at only 10,000 [xvi] , it is clear that many civilians were killed, the large majority of which were Isaak. Deaths were inflicted through indiscriminate government bombing of the towns of Hargeisa and Burao. Civilians fleeing from fighting were strafed by government planes.

Although the largest spike in killings is in May and August of 1988, the government’s Somali National Army (SNA) continued to target the Isaak community over many months through round-ups and mass executions of Isaak civilians at the town level. Other government tactics against Isaak civilians included laying land mines around towns, destroying water points, killing or looting livestock, burning of villages, and arbitrary detention. A report by Robert Gersony, “Why Somalis Flee,” documented many of these tactics and calculated that, “5,000 unarmed civilian Issaks were purposefully murdered by the Somali Armed Forces between May 1988 and March 1989, in the absence of resistance and in contexts which presented no immediate danger to these forces.” In general, civilian casualties were slightly more likely to be male than female. In particular, men were targeted for execution and detention. [xvii]

Although violence from 1988 to 1990 was largely one-sided, the SNM forces were also responsible for civilian deaths, including about 400 deaths that resulted from attacks on refugee camps in the northwestern area of Somalia that housed ethnic Somalis from Ethiopia and from which the government had recruited SAF and militia members. All SNM attacks resulting in civilian deaths occurred in the period of May and August of 1988. With roughly 400,000-500,000 people displaced from the Northwestern area of Somalia by the government’s violent tactics and fewer Isaak left to attack, the government violence in Northwestern Somalia slowed. [xviii]

The bombing of Hargeisa and Burao came at a high cost to the Barre regime. Not only had the fighting been expensive, but the departure of many of the Somali elite, the withdrawal of vital U.S. support for Barre, and the sympathy the SNM increasingly attracted from neighboring countries threatened Barre’s regime. [xix] With a sense that the Barre regime was weakening, a number of clan based militias arose to secure control over their respective areas of the country. The United Somali Congress (USC) representing the Hawiye clan in Central Somalia emerged in late 1989. From the start, the USC was divided by an “internal” faction fighting within Somalia, and an “external” branch based in Italy. By 1990 the Somali Patriotic Movement (SPM) was established by Ogaden clansmen in the South. SNM retained some control in the Northwest and the Somali Salvation Democratic Front (SSDF) originally created in 1978 but revived in 1989 was present in the Northeast.

The Barre regime continued to launch targeted reprisals against the civilian population throughout 1990. Siad Barre’s presidential brigade, the Red Berets, was responsible for civilian executions in and around Mogadishu. In one incident, the Red Berets killed 100 civilians gathered in a stadium. [xx] In another incident in Buli Burti, the Red Berets killed fifty unarmed civilians (most were prominent locals such al elected officials, clan elders, and Islamic leaders) in retaliation for a USC attack on SAF troops. [xxi] Nontheless, the government lost ground, and eventually retained control over only roughly ten to fifteen percent of the state territory. [xxii] At the end of 1990, the USC launched an offensive on Mogadishu, and on 27 January 1991, Barre fled the capital.

Violence continued for many years thereafter, but is unlikely to have risen above 50,000 deaths caused by a single perpetrator, such as characterizes the cases in this study. Nonetheless, below, we provide an over view of the events that followed.

As Barre fled, the ‘external’ branch of the USC declared Ali Mahdi Mohamed president. The “internal” branch of the USC led by General Mohamed Farah Aydeed contested this decision, and civil war between the two factions enveloped Mogadishu shortly after Barre’s departure, [xxiii] with significant civilian casualties as a result of heavy artillery being used within the confines of a densely populated urban environment. While some of the fatalities were undoubtedly accidental, Amnesty International reports the intentional shelling of neighborhoods known to be associated with opposing factions[xxiv] and Prunier describes a situation in which prisoners were executed and ambulances routinely fired at.[xxv]

While violence raged in Mogadishu, other parts of the country were also enveloped in fighting between clan based militias, none of which is reflected in the above death tallies calculated for Mogadishu. In 1992, both the USC and SNF committed atrocities against civilian populations in the Gedo region of Somalia. Amnesty International recorded the testimony of survivors, who described tactics that included massacres of up to thirty or forty people at a time, cutting off and burning of body parts with acid, and the widespread use of rape. [xxvi] The SNF under General Morgan and SPM under Colonel Omar Jess battled over the port area around Kismayo.

Kapteijns categorizes the violence used during this time as “clan cleansing as a tactic to capture the state.” [xxvii] Civilians were intentionally and brutally targeted, and sexual violence, which had not previously been a prominent feature of the violence in Somalia, became pervasive. [xxviii] Kaptejins cites a breakdown of law and order following the collapse of the Barre regime, the erosion of cultural scripts, and increased impunity as causes for the escalation in tactics. [xxix] She further describes deliberate targeting of Daarood as the USC gained ground. She writes:

… when Mogadishu passed into its hands, the leaders of the USC, followed by USC fighters and civilian supporters, adopted a politics that defined as mortal enemy all Somalis encompassed by the genealogical construct of Daarood, which also included the president. Although the vast majority of these individuals had not been associated with, or benefited from the regime—in many cases as little or even less than those now hunting them down—they were nevertheless targeted for elimination and expulsion not only in Mogadishu but also, over a period of two years, in central, south-central, and southern Somalia. This is the violence that is central to this study. It did not just represent violence against civilians based on clan, which is in itself not new in Somalia, but a shift to a new kind of collective, clan-based violence, namely that of clan cleansing, in a new political context and with a new dominant discourse (Kapteijns, 2).

Massive displacement and disruption of the livelihoods of agro-pastoral communities resulted in a famine beginning in 1992. Although famine deaths can be viewed as a direct result of violence, they are not included in the casualty numbers of this paper, which reflect only intentional deaths violently inflicted on the civilian population. Various ranges emerge to capture the number of deaths resulting from the famine. Hansch et al. estimate 250,000-300,000 [xxx] deaths while the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) estimates 500,000 may have died. [xxxi] Famine in Somalia paved the way for an international military and humanitarian intervention in Somalia.

Joint U.S.-UN forces entered Somalia under the United Nations Task Force (UNITAF) banner in December of 1992. UNITAF was later transformed into UNOSOM and UNOSOM II. While inter-clan militia fighting continued during this period, new casualties arose from fighting between international forces and Somali militias. Newspaper reports from this period record anywhere from two to 357 Somali casualties as a result of clashes between international troops and Somali militias, although it is not always clear whether these deaths have been confirmed as entirely civilian. [xxxii] Civilian casualties and high numbers of civilians wounded by bullets appear to be the result of international military equipment such as the Cobra helicopter gunship. Human Rights Watch estimated that between December 1992 and October of 1993, at least 500 to 600 Somali civilians and combatants were killed, while 2,000 were wounded by U.S. or UNOSOM forces. [xxxiii] A December 8, 1993 New York Times article reported that the U.S. Special Envoy to Somalia and the Marine Corps General directing U.S. military operations there estimated 6,000 to 10,000 Somali fatalities occurred during the summer of 1993, either as a result of Somali factional fighting, or confrontations with UN Peacekeepers. General Zinni reported that he believed two-thirds were women and children used as shields by militia fighters in the fighting in Southern Somalia. The ICRC responded that the 10,000 figure seemed high, but that they believed several thousand to have been killed. [xxxiv]

Investigations into the actions of various UNITAF/ UNOSOM forces also revealed abuses against civilians. One investigation of Belgian forces revealed 58 cases of killing or injury to unarmed civilians, although the number of actual abusive killings may have been much larger than the inquiry suggests. [xxxv] Abuses committed by the Italian troops include the looting of displaced persons camps and rape. Malaysians also engaged in looting while Pakistanis and Nigerians indiscriminately fired on protesting crowds. [xxxvi] The United States adopted a practice of excessive force intended to achieve military victories with minimal loss of U.S. military lives. This policy, coupled with U.S. military technology in the urban Mogadishu environment led to breaches of the Geneva conventions and hundreds of civilian fatalities, including an attack on a hospital that led to at least two civilian casualties, and an attack on a mainly civilian political meeting of Aideed supporters, that resulted in 54 deaths, according the Red Cross (U.S. estimates where lower and Somali estimates were higher).

On September 9, 1993, a U.S. helicopter fired on an unarmed crowd killing roughly 60 civilians. Anywhere from 60 to 500 Somali deaths resulted from the October 3, 1993 “Black Hawk Down” incident. [xxxvii] After the “Black Hawk Down” incident, the United States declared a de facto truce with Gen. Aideed and the fighting diminished, and thereafter UNOSOM troops shifted their mission to a more defensive strategy, and as a result, civilian deaths caused by tensions between Somali and international troops dropped off. [xxxviii] UNOSOM forces were gradually withdrawn throughout 1994 and made a final exit in February of 1995. Before departing, some UNOSOM forces are reported to have sold military equipment to Somali militants, potentially causing an increase in the amount of heavy weapons on the ground. [xxxix]

By and large the casualty numbers for the period of mass atrocities in Somalia fail to distinguish clearly between civilian and militant deaths, and between deaths as a result of crossfire versus intentional killings. Among the better documented incidents are the Barre government offensive against the Isaak population, deaths in Mogadishu following the collapse of the Barre regime, and the subsequent inter-clan USC fighting. Very little information exists quantifying the loss of life that resulted from clan cleansing in semi-urban and rural areas after the flight of Barre.

Scholar Daniel Compagnon estimates that 15,000-20,000 civilians were killed directly from the bombing of Hargeisa and Burao that began in 1988.[xl] The Africa Watch report, “A Government at War with Its Own People” estimated that roughly 50,000 to 60,000 people were killed between May of 1988 and the beginning of 1990.[xli] The sustained and brutal targeting of civilians in the wake of these bombings was also corroborated by the Gersony Report. At the time of the bombing, Hargeisa had a population of 500,000, and the bombardment caused the destruction of 14,000 buildings and the damage of 12,000 more,[xlii] which reflects a destruction of 70% of the buildings.[xliii] Given the size the population and the level of destruction, the numbers presented by Compagnon and Africa Watch do not seem implausible.

The 1990 battle for Mogadishu resulted in high casualties. The US based NGO, Physicians for Human Rights, indicated that about 4,000 civilians may have died in the USC offensive on Mogadishu, [xliv] and up to 500 may have died in only a two day period during the height of the USC takeover. [xlv] These numbers are supported by Clodfelter who places the number of civilian casualties from 1990 to 1991 at 5,000. [xlvi]

Fighting between warlords continued to cause high numbers of civilian fatalities, even after Barre fled the country. Based on Mogadishu hospital records, Africa Watch estimated that the factional fighting between Aideed and Ali Mahdi’s USC factions caused 14,000 deaths between November 1991 and February 1992. [xlvii] Bradbury calculates that during all of 1991 and 1992, 25,000 people died in the factional fighting in Mogadishu. [xlviii]

The figures of 4,000 – 5,000 and 14,000 civilian casualties from the fighting within Mogadishu do not appear to overlap. They are collected from hospital reports and records at the time and appear reliable, particularly given the larger figure of 25,000 from Bradbury that encompasses a longer timeline from 1991 to 1992. Further, daily death tolls from this period are high with the United States Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services estimating deaths due to gunshot wounds in Mogadishu between August and September of 1991 at 70 to 100 per day.[xlix]

General Zini’s estimate of 6,000-10,000 deaths with two-thirds being civilian (an average of roughly 5,300 civilian deaths) in the summer of 1993 was not fully supported by the ICRC. However, given that no numbers are included to capture deaths as a result of semi-urban and rural clan cleansing, the inclusion of this higher statistic should result in unrealistic overall estimates.

Addition of lower estimates from the 1988 to 1993 period would result in a figure around 50,000 while compilation of the higher estimates reaches a figure of roughly 100,000 deaths.

This case study formally ends with the overthrow of Siad Barre in 1991.

In the mid 1990s, with killings and kidnapping of foreign nationals on the rise, the looting of World Food Program (WFP) stores in January 1995, and the withdrawal of international troops who had previously offered some protection to humanitarians, nearly all of the humanitarian assistance programs were suspended. With very few international organizations on the ground, there is little concrete data on civilian deaths in 1994 and 1995. Amnesty International, who continued reporting on Somalia in this period, documented intentional targeting and killing of hundreds of unarmed civilians as a result of the clan warfare.[l] No estimate of killings in this time period reaches into the thousands. It is difficult to know if the decrease in numbers is due to an actual drop-off in civilian deaths, or simply a lack of reporting and investigation into deaths. Despite a series of peace negotiations, some relatively successful local reconciliation programs, and some bilateral peace accords signed from 1993 to 1995, violence has not ended in Somalia.[li]

Prunier’s description of this period in Somalia is consistent with a lowering of casualties on account of violent parties reaching an acceptable stalemate. According to Prunier, the exit of international actors and armed forces deprived many factions of their economic bases. No single militant group possessed the strength or capability to overcome others and capture the state, but peace was not sought by these groups because the condition of statelessness and violence was beneficial to militias. Rather than pursue the re-establishment of a peaceful centralized Somali state, the militias pursued only enough stability as would allow them to conduct profitable business activities.[lii] The decline of mass civilian deaths is also correlated with the rise of the independent statelets of Somaliland (with Hargeisa as its capital) and Puntland.

We code this case as ending through defeat of Siad Barre. Violence continued thereafter, with many groups perpetrating atrocities, but it is not clear that any one surpassed the 50,000 fatality threshold for this study.

Works Cited

Africa Watch and Physicians for Human Rights. “No Mercy in Mogadishu: The Human Cost of the Conflict & The Struggle for Relief”. New York: Human Rights Watch, 1992. Available at: https://www.hrw.org/legacy/reports/1992/somalia/

Amnesty International. 1995. “Amnesty International Report 1995: Somalia,” 1 January.

Arnold, Guy. 2009. The A to Z of Civil Wars in Africa. Lanham: The Scarecrow Press, Inc.

Bakonyi, Jutta. 2009. “Moral Economies of Mass Violence: Somalia 1988-1991.”Civil Wars 11:4, 434 – 454.

Bradbury, Mark. 2008. Becoming Somaliland. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.

Campagnon, Daniel. 2013. “State-Sponsored Violence and Political Conflict Under Mahamed Siyad Barre: The Emergence of Path Dependent Patterns of Violence” in Patterns of Violence in Somalia. World Peace Foundation. Available at: http://fletcher.tufts.edu/

Clayton, Anthony. 1999. Frontiersmen: Warfare in Africa Since 1950, London: University College London.

Clodfelter, Micheal. 2002. Warfare and Armed Conflicts: A Statistical Reference to Casualty and Other Figures, 1500-2000. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co.

Gersony, Robert. 1989. “Why Somalis Flee.” Report submitted to U.S. Department of State, Bureau for African Affairs. Available at: http://cja.org/downloads/Why%20Somalis%20Flee.pdf Accessed January 9, 2017.

Human Rights Watch. 1990. “Somalia: Human Rights Developments,” New York: Human Rights Watch. Available at: http://www.hrw.org/reports/1990/WR90/AFRICA.BOU-09.htm.

Interpeace. 2009. “The Search for Peace: A History of Mediation in Somalia Since 1988,” May. Available at: http://www.interpeace.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/05/2009_Som_Interpeace_A_History_Of_Mediation_In_Somalila_Since_1988_EN.pdf Accessed January 9, 2017.

Kapteijns, Lidwien. 2013. Clan Cleansing in Somalia: The Ruinous Legacy of 1991. University of Pennsylvania Press.

Laitin, David D. 2013. “Some Reflections on Lidwien Kapteijns (2013) Clan Cleansing in Somalia: The Ruinous Legacy of 1991 (Philadelphia: University of Philadelphia Press),” in Patterns of Violence in Somalia. World Peace Foundation. Available at: http://fletcher.tufts.edu/

Menkhaus, Ken. 2014. “Calm between the storms? Patterns of political violence in Somalia, 1950-1980.” Journal of Eastern African Studies, 8:4, 558 – 572.

Prunier, Gerard. 1996. “Somalia: Civil War, Intervention and Withdrawal 1990-1995,” Refugee Survey Quarterly 15:1, 35 – 85.

Simmons, Michael. 1989. “Somalis in ‘genocide bombing’: hundreds of thousands hit by raids, aid workers say.’ The Guardian, January 7.

United States Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services. 1993. “Somalia: Things Fall Apart,” January. Available from http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6a607b.html.


Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights

A number of local and international human rights groups operated in areas outside al-Shabaab-controlled territory, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were somewhat cooperative and responsive to their views. Security concerns constrained NGOs’ ability to operate in southern and central areas of the country. International and local NGOs generally worked without major restrictions in Puntland and Somaliland, although clan politics, localized violence, and perceived interference with traditional or religious customs sometimes curtailed NGO activity in these areas.

Authorities sometimes harassed or did not cooperate with NGOs, for example, by dismissing findings of official corruption. Harassment remained a problem in Somaliland.

In August 2018 the minister of planning tweeted the government would request all international NGOs to establish a physical presence, including senior leadership, in the country before January 1, 2019, or risk deregistration. As of April pressure from the FGS to meet these requirements had eased.

Government Human Rights Bodies: The provisional federal constitution calls for the formation of an independent national human rights commission and a truth and reconciliation commission within 45 days and 30 days, respectively, of the formation of the Council of Ministers in 2012, but these provisions have not been implemented. There was no formal government mechanism for tracking abuses.

Limited resources, inexperienced commissioners, and government bias restricted the effectiveness of the Somaliland Human Rights Commission and Puntland’s Human Rights Defender Office.


Freedom of Expression in Somalia: Still Not a Given

Mogadishu – Somalia has made progress in ensuring the right to freedom of expression but needs to do more to end the challenges that remain – including killings, beatings, harassment, arbitrary arrests and illegal detention, lack of due process or fair trial and the closure of media outlets – according to United Nations report published today. It provides an update on a broader human rights report carried out by UNSOM in 2016.

“Despite some efforts and progress in the legislative field, regrettably violations and abuses concerning the right to freedom of expression continued to be recorded,” the UN Secretary General’s Special Representative for Somalia, Michael Keating, said at the report’s launch in the Somali capital.

Entitled ‘The Precarious Enjoyment of Freedom of Expression in Somalia,’ the report by the UN Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM), which Mr. Keating heads, covers the period from 1 August 2016 to 31 July 2018.

The new report notes that following advocacy of journalists and civil society, the Federal Government opened the national media law for revision to address journalists and other media workers’ concerns. It also notes that in response to advocacy efforts, the northern state of Puntland amended its media law with changes that broaden the enjoyment of the right to freedom of expression, while the southern state of Jubbaland has initiated a media law.

According to the report, during the period under review, eight journalists and media workers were killed and 32 injured, and 94 journalists and other media workers were arbitrarily arrested and/or subjected to prolonged detention on charges related to the exercise of freedom of expression. Al-Shabaab remained the main perpetrator of killings and injuries against journalists and other media workers.

Moreover, during the same time period, 19 media outlets (seven TV stations, five radio stations, five websites and two newspapers) were either closed by federal or member state authorities, suspended or blocked for broadcasting news, or alleged affiliation with Al-Shabaab, or dissemination of ‘false news’ considered to be endangering national security.

“Somalis cherish freedom of expression. It is an essential part of their culture. It is vital for all Somali citizens to be free to express their opinions, especially as the country prepares for the 2020-2021elections,” Special Representative Keating said. “For freedom of expression to become a reality, Somalia must guarantee independence of the media, bring media legislation in line with the provisional Federal Constitution and regional and international human rights standards, and repeal laws criminalizing the dissemination of ‘false news’.”

The report also notes that, while the number of journalists and other media workers killed decreased by 27 per cent compared to January 2014-August 2016, the number of people arrested and detained on charges related to the exercise of freedom of expression increased by 70 per cent. These included people who participated in demonstrations, politicians, supporters of political parties, bloggers and human rights defenders, poets, civil society activists, elders and citizens demonstrating in favour of Somali unity. The report attributes this spike in violations, which particularly impacted Somalilanders, to the November 2017 presidential elections, expressions of support for Somali unity, and the Tukaraq conflict between “Somaliland” and Puntland in May 2018.

The report’s recommendations include the swift implementation of measures to protect journalists and other media workers, the prosecution of alleged perpetrators of violations against media workers and political actors, and the establishment of the Somali Federal Human Rights Commission.


Freedom of expression in Somaliland

Censorship, harassment and prosecution of government critics and journalists, and attacks on media houses continued. In June, the Somaliland authorities arbitrarily closed the independent Universal TV and Star TV stations. The Minister of Information ordered local television cable providers to remove the two stations from their receivers and revoke their licences. Universal TV was targeted for allegedly failing to broadcast Independence Day celebrations and events as demanded by the authorities, and Star TV owners said they were targeted for airing reports and analysis on the condition of a detained former air force pilot, Fouad Youssouf Ali, in neighbouring Djibouti. In August, the Information Ministry issued arbitrary fines of SOS127,500,000 (US$15,000) and SOS42,500,000 (US$5,000) on Universal TV and Star TV respectively. Star TV paid the fine and resumed operations, but Universal TV remained closed as of mid-December.

In June, Abdimalik Muse Oldon, a journalist, was released from Hargeisa Central Prison after spending over a year in prison for criticizing the President on Facebook. He had been arrested and sentenced to three-and-a-half years in prison in 2019 and charged with “spreading anti-national propaganda” and “disseminating false news”. He was released following a presidential pardon.


Human Rights Watch World Report 1993 - Somalia

Somalia experienced the most tragic year in its modern history in 1992. Riven by conflict, devastated by famine, and ignored by most of the international community, Somalis living at home and as refugees have been undergoing traumatic suffering with apparently no end in sight.

The year began with intense fighting on the streets of Mogadishu between the forces of self-appointed Interim President Ali Mahdi and his rival, General Mohamed Farah Aidid. Both are members of the same Hawiye clan and of the same political party, the United Somali Congress (USC). The fighting, which broke out in November 1991, arose from a number of factors, including rivalryfor the position of President and the symbols of sovereignty that go with it (particularly money), sub-clan loyalty (President Mahdi's Abgal versus General Aidid's Habr Gidir), competition for the commercial exploitation of looted property, and the need for unpaid soldiers to steal in order to eat. The fighting saw an extraordinary level of indiscriminate brutality as all the weapons of the former dictator Mohamed Siad Barre's arsenal were deployed. Field artillery, anti-aircraft guns, heavy machine guns, mortars, the ubiquitous AK-47 and even air-to-air missiles mounted on jeeps were used in the cap ital of Mogadishu. Most were fired by untrained teenagers merely in the approximate direction of the "enemy." Residents referred to artillery rounds fired across the city as "to whom it may concern" shells, because of their wholly indiscriminate targeting. In addition, the breakdown of civil authority, the lack of legitimate employment and the scarcity of food led to a serious problem of freelance banditry, with looters and thieves displaying a near-total disregard for human life.

According to calculations made by Africa Watch and Physicians for Human Rights, 14,000 people were killed and 27,000 injured in Mogadishu between November 1991 and the end of February 1992. An unknown number were permanently disabled. Tens of thousands more were psychologically scarred and will suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and varieties of pathological grief, not only because of the horrors they have suffered, but also because of the failure to observe traditional rituals to respect the dead.

The city's medical facilities were swamped. On the southern side, in General Aidid's area, four hospitals, staffed by Somali doctors and nurses who have not been paid since before the fall of Siad Barre in January 1991, worked extremely long hours, often without electricity and adequate clean water, and with few drugs, to tend the wounded. Week after week, the physicians were compelled to use triage, neglecting those who would almost certainly die to allow the possibility of caring for those who might survive. In the northern part of the city, controlled by Mahdi, there was no functioning hospital, but on the second day of the fighting, a group of Somali doctors came together and formed the Health Emergency Committee. They requisitioned a seafront villa to serve as an operating theater and casualty ward, and gradually requisitioned dozens of other houses to serve as post-operative wards. For several months, "Karaan Hospital," as this was known, was the only medical service available on the northern side of the city, until February, when the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) opened an emergency hospital in a former prison just outside the city perimeter.

In March and April, the fighting in Mogadishu began to subside somewhat, although chronic insecurity remained. The lull followed the failure of a major attempt by the Aidid forces to overrun the Mahdi enclave at the end of February. It also coincided with the threat of a renewed offensive by the forces of the former dictator Siad Barre, the Somali National Front (SNF), composed mainly of Siad Barre's Marehan clan. General Aidid patched together a coalition of forces to confront the SNF, and succeeded in drivingit into Kenya in April and May. Aidid also defeated forces belonging to the Somali Patriotic Movement (SNM), consisting mainly of the Ogaden clan, and captured the southern port of Kismayo. The military campaign saw widespread abuses against civilians, including the selective killing of scores, possibly hundreds, of Marehan in the towns of Belet Hawa and Luuq.

The rout of the Siad Barre forces meant that the Bay, Gedo and Juba regions were accessible to journalists and relief workers for the first time (only the ICRC already had a presence there). What came to light was apocalyptic – a famine of perhaps unparalleled proportions. The farming populations of these regions had traditionally been disadvantaged in Somali society the Rahanweyn farmers had been considered second-class citizens, and the Bantu descendants of slaves living in the lower reaches of the Juba Valley had even lower social standing. Under Siad Barre, they had suffered a gradual erosion of their economic position, and in many cases, forcible confiscation of their land. They had few firearms and were easy targets for looters. There had been chronic war in these areas since late 1988, and the armies of Siad Barre, the SNM and the USC had crossed the region numerous times in 1989, 1990 and 1991, on each occasion looting as they went. The final straw was the 1 991-1992 occupation by the SNF, which had engaged in systematic and comprehensive looting of food, livestock, household possessions and even clothes. One relief worker reported that Rahanweyn women, robbed of even their clothes, were so destitute and demoralized that they would not leave their houses despite imminent starvation.

The Rahanweyn towns of Baidoa and Baardheere became the sites of some of the most appalling famine camps seen in Africa. Death rates reached extraordinary levels, and starvation was common. By the end of November, death rates were reportedly dropping in Baidoa but had risen sharply again in Baardheere, due to a new outbreak of fighting.

The final factor in the creation of famine has been the blockage of relief. In a destitute country, food is a vital resource which people are prepared to fight and kill for. Delivering food relief under these circumstances is a difficult and hazardous business. While no warlord will claim that he opposes humanitarian relief, few are prepared to allow it to be distributed in areas not under their control. The negotiations needed to ensure effective delivery and distribution have therefore been long and difficult. If one local warlord or clan believes that it has been left out, it may decide to claim its share by force. There is also always the chance of undisciplined soldiers or freelance bandits seizing the food to save themselves.

Along with the Rahanweyn and Bantu farmers, several other groups were severely hit by the famine. They included those displaced by the fighting, urban people who had lost all their possessions in the war or who had been reliant on trade, and Ethiopian refugees. The displaced were affected not only by hunger but also by epidemic disease brought on by overcrowded squatter camps and the lack of sanitation facilities and clean water.Nomadic cattle and camel herders from the powerful clans were less hard hit their herds remained intact and they possessed the firepower and political influence to protect themselves and lay claim to food resources.

Conflict and scarcity of food fed on each other in a vicious spiral. High food prices compelled soldiers to steal to eat. Food aid was the target for looters because it was a precious commodity. Merchants also hoarded food to drive the price up. Meanwhile, the fighting caused more food shortages and population displacement. Fortunately, these processes also operated in reverse. As food became more widely available (and, equally important, people began to have the confidence that it would remain readily available) prices came down and merchants released stored grain stocks onto the market. By the end of November, the cycle of famine feeding war seemed to have been broken in some parts of the country, allowing attention to turn to ensuring that the marketing system can be rebuilt and not damaged by food aid supplies.

In October, the security situation deteriorated sharply as Aidid's alliances began to unravel. His coalition of Hawiye, Rahanweyn and some Darod groups had lasted only a few months before beginning to come apart. The SNF, with support from the Kenyan army, launched a counter-offensive and succeeded in capturing the town of Baardheere. In Mogadishu, Aidid's power perceptibly weakened as freelance banditry increased, and speculation mounted that out of desperation he would resume full-scale war in the city.

The Somali National Movement (SNM), the Isaaq-dominated front controlling northwestern Somalia, unilaterally declared independence in May 1991, to create the Republic of Somaliland, an entity not recognized by any other country. During 1991, the Somaliland government of Abdel Rahman Tur appeared to be making progress in establishing peace and security, rebuilding the shattered infrastructure that had been destroyed in the war of 1988, and encouraging the return of the 400,000 refugees who had fled to Ethiopia.

Still, enormous problems faced the government: it had virtually no resources, and international assistance was slow in coming due to the lack of diplomatic recognition. Land mines were a major problem in both the towns and countryside, killing and injuring hundreds of people, but also blowing up livestock and discouraging the use of water-reservoirs, the lifeline of the largely nomadic population.

In January 1992, a battle between the fighters of two subclans of the Isaaq at Burao left over 150 dead, and forced tens of thousands to flee to the countryside. In late March, fierce fighting broke out in the port of Berbera, Somaliland's economic and commercial capital, and unrest spread to Sheikh and the city of Hargeisa, the political capital. Most civilians had to flee Berbera.

The Right to Monitor

As Somalia descended into complete anarchy and chaos, human rights monitoring as well as international relief efforts faced extremedangers. The threat of violence came not only from the various armed factions but also from freelance bandits and looters.

U.S. and U.N. Policy

Despite the enormity of the human rights disaster in Somalia, it did not receive the attention of the White House or the top echelons of the State Department until well into 1992. Officials at the State Department's Africa Bureau, including Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Herman Cohen, as well as Andrew Natsios and James Kunder of the Department's hard-working Bureau for Food and Humanitarian Assistance, were clearly concerned about the Somalia tragedy and pressed for a more active U.S. response. But they were largely ignored by the National Security Council and President Bush's political advisors, who sought to minimize foreign policy issues in the course of the U.S. presidential campaign throughout much of 1992. By year's end, the Bush administration had made Somalia a priority, but by that time the disaster had reached such cataclysmic proportions that options for dealing with it were limited.

The decade of generous U.S. support to the Siad Barre dictatorship – hundreds of millions of dollars in military and economic aid were provided throughout the 1980s – placed a special burden on the United States to respond quickly when the collapse of the regime predictably ushered in civil war and widespread famine. Rather, following assaults on the U.S. embassy in Mogadishu at the time of Siad Barre's ouster in January 1991 (necessitating a dramatic helicopter rescue of the ambassador and his staff) and the subsequent sacking of the embassy by insurgents, the U.S. presence in Somalia ended. For most of the next two years, U.S. involvement with Somalia was limited to providing generous humanitarian assistance to the few, superb humanitarian organizations working within the country – the International Committee of the Red Cross, Save the Children (U.K.), the International Medical Corps and the French Médecins Sans Frontières. U.S. aid to Somalia in fiscal year 1992 was composed of $26 million to support humanitarian organizations in Somalia, $51 million in food donations and $23 million to support refugee programs.

But humanitarian assistance alone was not enough. Although the relief groups pleaded for greater involvement in Somalia, the international community dithered and temporized for all of 1991 and half of 1992. The Bush administration largely avoided the issue of Somalia when U.S. leadership at the United Nations was most needed. In particular, the U.S. could and should have insisted that the United Nations play the role that was required of it by providing humanitarian assistance and assisting in the political reconciliation of the country in the months following Siad's departure in early 1991.

But the United Nations ignored Somalia in 1991. And despite the passage of three separate Security Council resolutions on Somalia in the first half of 1992, U.N. humanitarian agencies failed to implement the U.N.'s own relief program or to play thekind of leadership and coordination role with other groups that is expected of them in crises of this kind.

Indeed, there is some evidence that for months the United States actually held back U.N. efforts. The New York Times reported on December 29, 1991 that "[s]enior Administration officials rejected the suggestion, made by some at the State Department, of putting Somalia onto the Security Council agenda at the United Nations." And when Somalia did first come up on the Security Council agenda on January 23, 1992 at the instigation of Cape Verde, the U.S. changed the text of the resolution to weaken its call for U.N. involvement in a political settlement of the conflict. The U.S. apparently also weakened a second resolution on Somalia considered by the Security Council in March. When questioned about the U.S. stance at hearings in April before the House Subcommittee on African Affairs, John Wolf of the State Department's International Organizations Bureau confirmed that the U.S. had pressed for a change in the resolution because of concern over the safety of a peacekeeping force. He added that "at the very senior level" of the Security Council there was "a lot of appreciation for the position the United States took."

The effect of the Bush administration's dithering at the U.N. was to signal that Somalia was not a priority. Absent another strong patron, Somalia remained an orphan until July 1992. The U.N. agencies continued to resist appeals by private relief groups to establish programs within the country, and famine and disease spread.

One bright spot in an otherwise dismal picture was the appointment by U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali of special envoy Mahmoud Sahnoun on April 28. Sahnoun, an experienced Algerian diplomat, quickly became engaged in painstaking and comprehensive political negotiations with Somalia's warring parties, and demanded the immediate involvement of the U.N.'s humanitarian agencies. Although the response by these agencies to sluggish, Sahnoun nonetheless was able to provide badly needed leadership and coordination to relief efforts within Somalia. Officials of private humanitarian agencies working within Somalia are unanimous in their praise of Sahnoun's efforts.

However, the situation in Somalia worsened over the summer as tens of thousands died from hunger or disease. The civil war's disruption of crop planting, animal herding and market activity, the interference by armed bandits with relief efforts, and the continued severe drought were a deadly combination that claimed as many as 300,000 lives by mid-1992. In July, U.S. Senator Nancy Kassebaum helped to galvanize international attention to Somalia by undertaking a trip to the country. Until the senator's visit, not a single prominent official from any country had visited Somalia. Spurred by Kassebaum's example, by extraordinary press reports of the Somalia disaster, and by mounting criticism of U.S. inaction by members of the U.S. Congress, top Bush administration officials at last focused on the crisis in mid-August. On the eve of the Republican National Convention, the administration announced that it was commencing an airlift of supplies to Somalia.

The airlift, though hastily conceived and executed, was nonetheless an important and highly visible demonstration of U.S. interest in Somalia. It had an immediate effect on the creaking U.N. bureaucracy. Within a matter of weeks, the director of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), James Grant, and the U.N.'s humanitarian affairs coordinator, Jan Eliasson, made their first visit to the country and promised the kinds of large-scale programs that Sahnoun had been pleading for since May. In another important development, the State Department's Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance sent a team of relief experts to help coordinate the entire relief effort, in clear recognition of the U.N.'s neglect of this badly needed role. In addition, the team introduced important relief innovations, such as the revitalization of traditional Somali markets, in an effort to speed the provision of relief and bolster the authority of the country's clan elders and civilian infrastructur e. The U.S. also offered to transport U.N. troops that had been authorized to be deployed to protect relief efforts.

The heightened U.S. attention was welcome but many months too late: despite the new efforts, famine worsened in Somalia. The forced resignation of U.N. special envoy Sahnoun in October brought efforts at political reconciliation to a full stop, and the relief community was left demoralized and overwhelmed. Increased fighting in the area along the Kenyan border (exacerbated by Kenyan logistical support for one of the warring parties) disrupted relief supplies to very fragile communities of displaced people, and the death toll mounted. Many in the U.S. Congress and some in the humanitarian relief community appealed for a more vigorous response, and on November 25, Acting Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger notified the U.N. of the U.S. willingness to provide a battalion of troops (including up to 20,000 U.S. soldiers) to be employed as part of a multinational force to help protect relief supplies and officials.

The offer of U.S. troops to the United Nations appeared to be a recognition of the U.N.'s failure to employ its own forces successfully in Somalia. A force of 3,500 U.N. peacekeeping troops had been approved for Somalia in August but has yet to be fully deployed. By late November, only 500 of the U.N. troops were stationed in Mogadishu, with plans for the deployment of the additional 3,000 repeatedly deferred. According to press reports, President Bush decided to offer U.S. troops to the U.N. on the condition that they be incorporated into a broader multilateral effort under U.S. command with enough authority to carry out their mission.

As of November 30, the issue of an expanded international military presence in Somalia had not yet been resolved. President Bush's offer of troops heightened international attention to the crisis further, and clearly indicated that Somalia is now a top U.S. priority. The tragedy is that the magnitude of the crisis and the years of neglect by the U.S. and the international community have assured that even extraordinary efforts at this point may notsave millions of Somalis from death, or facilitate the rebuilding of Somalia's devastated society.

The Work of Africa Watch

The disaster in Somalia has been the highest priority of Africa Watch in 1992. Africa Watch has devoted unprecedented resources to the country, and achieved a significant impact on policy in the U.S. and at the U.N. As of November, Africa Watch had participated in 101 radio and television interviews on Somalia (92 of them after late July), published 19 articles in the press, and received innumerable mentions in the media. Africa Watch sent two missions to Somalia in 1992, one to Mogadishu in January and February, and one to the north in June and July.

For the first half of 1992, Africa Watch sought primarily to draw attention to the crisis in Somalia – both the scale of human rights abuses being committed and the need for a greater international response. Africa Watch produced two newsletters in February and March (the second jointly with Physicians for Human Rights) detailing the fighting in Mogadishu, including the armaments used, the military tactics, the number of casualties, the types of medical treatment available, the social and psychological impact, and the impending famine.

In Mogadishu, Africa Watch met with both President Mahdi and General Aidid and expressed outrage at the abuses being committed by both sides. Africa Watch told the two leaders that their aspirations to legitimacy had been destroyed by their flagrant disregard for human life, and predicted that they would remain international pariahs unless this barbaric behavior was halted immediately. Both leaders appeared somewhat taken aback by this frank criticism, which they were unused to. Africa Watch pressed both leaders for at least an artillery cease-fire and free passage with protection of humanitarian assistance.

Following the first mission to Somalia, Africa Watch had a series of meetings at the State Department and the U.S. Congress to encourage similar frank condemnations. We encouraged Senator Kassebaum to contemplate a visit to Mogadishu. Africa Watch also lobbied for a greatly expanded humanitarian effort in Somalia, both to relieve the famine and to remove one reason for fighting.

A second focus of Africa Watch's work has been to highlight the failure of the U.N. system. Africa Watch was highly critical of the bungled intervention of some U.N. officials, the negligence and indifference shown by the specialized agencies, the failure of the Security Council to pay adequate attention to the crisis, and of the Secretary General to implement the provisions of a Security Council resolutions relating to the deployment of the humanitarian protection force, and the forced resignation of Mohamed Sahnoun. Africa Watch stressed the lack of accountability within the U.N. system as a key reason for the organization's failure in Somalia. Starting in August, Africa Watch has called repeatedly for an independent public inquiry into the conduct of the U.N. in Somalia.

Africa Watch also criticized African leaders for failing to respond adequately to the Somali crisis. The principal Africanreaction has been to try to keep Somali refugees from entering their countries. No African leader has visited Somalia, and the only significant African diplomatic initiative was a mission by the Eritreans in January. The Arab and Islamic countries have also neglected Somalia.

After July, the international media belatedly focused on Somalia. Africa Watch was heavily involved in informing journalists about the nature of the crisis, and trying to correct some misconceptions about the origins of the famine and the role of the international community. Africa Watch argued that any international reaction that ignored the contribution of Somalis to the resolution of conflict and the relief of distress was likely to impair the chances for future recovery.

In August, Africa Watch visited Yemen to investigate the abuses suffered by the 60,000 Somali refugees there, both in their attempts to reach Yemen by boat, and in their treatment by the Yemeni authorities on their arrival. A 30-minute documentary based on the trip was shown on British television.

Africa Watch is working on a report on the impact of land mines in northern Somalia.


Watch the video: Somalia before the civil war


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