Armed conflict in Somalia continues to exact a heavy toll on civilians, damaging infrastructure and livelihoods, displacing millions of people, and impeding access to humanitarian relief for communities in need, a UN report published on Sunday said.
Entitled “Protection of Civilians: Building the Foundation for Peace, Security and Human Rights in Somalia,” the report by the UN Human Rights Office and the UN Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM) covers the period from 1 January 2016 to 14 October 2017.
During this period, UNSOM documented a total of 2,078 civilian deaths and 2,507 injuries. More than half the casualties (60 per cent) were attributed to Al Shabaab militants, 13 per cent to clan militias, 11 per cent to State actors, including the army and the police, four per cent to the African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM), and 12 per cent to unidentified or undetermined attackers.
“Ultimately, civilians are paying the price for failure to resolve Somalia’s conflicts through political means,” said the head of UNSOM, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Somalia Michael Keating. “And parties to the conflict are simply not doing enough to shield civilians from the violence. This is shameful.”
Civilians were the victims of unlawful attacks – by being directly targeted and through the use of indiscriminate bomb and suicide attacks – by non-State groups. Such attacks, which are prohibited under international human rights and humanitarian laws, are, in most cases, likely to constitute war crimes, and it is imperative that perpetrators are identified and held accountable, the report says.
The worst incident on a single day was the twin bomb blasts in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, on 14 October, attributed to Al-Shabaab by Somali government officials, in which at least 512 people are officially recorded to have died as of 1 December, along with 316 injured.
“This barbaric act was the deadliest attack with an improved explosive device (IED) in Somalia’s history and surely one of the worst ever on the continent, if not the world,” Special Representative Keating said. “Sadly, its impact will be felt for a long time.”
A significant number of recorded civilian casualties – 251 killed and 343 injured – was attributed to clan militias, in areas where federal or state security forces are largely absent. “The drought has intensified clan conflict due to competition over resources. These conflicts are exploited by anti-government elements to further destabilize areas, diminish prospects for lasting peace and weaken civilian protection,” the report states.
It goes on to note that although the number of casualties attributed to the Somali National Army and Police, as well as AMISOM, was significantly smaller than those attributed to Al Shabaab militants.
“Nevertheless, such casualties are of utmost concern as they undermine the Somali population’s trust in the Government and the international community, which in turn expands the space in which anti-government elements continue to operate,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein.
“While achieving the balance between human rights and security is challenging, the respect of human rights and the protection of civilians are essential as the foundation of a strong, legitimate State that works for the benefit of all its people,” he said.
Somalia’s National Intelligence and Security Agency routinely disregards international human rights law when carrying out arrests and detentions, according to the report, which adds that journalists and people suspected of belonging to Al Shabaab are often detained without charge.
The report flags that information on the conditions of people living under Al Shabaab control is scant. Verifying human rights violations and abuses in those areas remains problematic due to the lack of access and fear of reprisals.
The conflict has disproportionately affected children, exposing them to “grave violations during military operations, including killing, maiming and arrest and detention by Somali security forces,” the report says. In addition, reports of recruitment of children increased sharply. In the first 10 months of 2017, 3,335 cases of child recruitment were reported – 71.5 per cent attributed to Al Shabaab, 14.6 per cent to clan militia, and 7.4 per cent to the Somali National Army.
In line with international humanitarian law, the primary responsibility for protecting civilians lies with the parties involved in the conflict and the Somali authorities. According to UNSOM, while there have been some positive developments, much remains to be done to achieve an adequate level of protection for civilians.
The UN Mission considers the implementation of an agreement on Somalia’s National Security Architecture – reached by the Federal Government and the Federal Member States in April this year – as central to achieving sustainable security sector reform. The agreement provides an opportunity to ensure that Somali-led security institutions are accountable and can protect citizens in accordance with international human rights law and international humanitarian law, with the continued support of the United Nations and the international community.
Among its recommendations, the report urges parties to the conflict to take all feasible precautions to protect civilians and civilian installations by ceasing the use of all IEDs and the firing of mortars, rockets and grenades from and into populated areas. The report also calls for all unlawful armed groups and militia to be disbanded.
In addition, the report encourages AMISOM to strengthen its accountability measures regarding incidents involving civilians, by conducting effective investigations and judicial proceedings concerning serious allegations attributed to AMISOM and other international troops, holding perpetrators accountable and providing adequate assistance and effective remedies for victims.
The report also urges the Federal Government and Federal Member States to adopt the legislative and policy measures, including with respect to law enforcement, to ensure the effective investigation and prosecution of serious violations and abuses of international human rights law and humanitarian laws, and an effective remedy.