Human Rights Watch on Somalia’s Civil War and Famine

If you thought the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) forces were the good guys in Somalia’s famine and civil war, Human Rights Watch has news for you:

All parties to Somalia’s armed conflict have committed serious violations of the laws of war that are contributing to the country’s humanitarian catastrophe, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. All sides should immediately end abuses against civilians, hold those responsible to account, and ensure access to aid and free movement of people fleeing conflict and drought.

The 58-page report, “‘You Don’t Know Who to Blame’: War Crimes in Somalia,” documents numerous abuses during renewed fighting in the past year by parties to the 20-year-long conflict in Somalia. These include the Islamist armed group al-Shabaab, the Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG), the African Union peacekeeping forces (AMISOM), and Kenya- and Ethiopia-backed Somali militias. The report also examines abuses by the Kenyan police and crimes committed by bandits in neighboring Kenya against Somali refugees.

There are no good guys among the major players.

I imagine a lot of people feel that abuses by the TFG and AMISOM are “worth it” in the fight against al Shabab. But whatever territory the TFG gains, it will have to rule, and not just through force, but through politics. Abuses against civilians now will have long-term effects.

To demonstrate that point, this is not the first time Human Rights Watch has pointed to patterns of violence and abuse against civilians in Somalia. During the Ethiopian occupation of Somalia from late 2006 to early 2009, when Ethiopia was supporting the TFG, “the worst abuses [were] by Ethiopian soldiers…Ethiopians…often indiscriminately attacked civilian areas and looted hospitals.” I suspect the brutality of the Ethiopian occupation gave al Shabab a boost in the early days of its insurgency, driving recruitment and pushing civilians into the arms of al Shabab.

Today, al Shabab may be pulling back, and the TFG may be gaining ground, but the TFG’s behavior is quite possibly setting the stage for future conflict, whether in terms of a resurgence by al Shabab or the rise of another rebellion.

1 thought on “Human Rights Watch on Somalia’s Civil War and Famine

  1. All reasons to limit the amount of territory to what the TFG and AU can hold. The idea of AU/TFG security convoys operating in the south appears to be a lead-in to AU reinforcements, which may or may not remain in Mogadishu. The TFG has enough of a challenge restoring authority to the capital; the abuses of urban warfare further magnify when the government stretches itself too thin. The TFG/AU seems most concerned with Mogadishu and long-term planning is essential, however I also worry that Somali and AU officials are gazing too far into the future. al-Shabaab stands to gain more through government ineptitude than its own abilities.

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