Abuses by Insurgent Forces
Insurgents fighting against TFG and ENDF forces in Somalia have committed rampant violations of the laws of war as well as serious human rights abuses against Somali civilians. These have included death threats, targeted killings, coerced recruitment, and use of child soldiers. As discussed separately, members of Al-Shabaab and other insurgent groups have also attacked and threatened humanitarian workers and obstructed the delivery of humanitarian assistance.
The confusing array of groups fighting under the banner of the insurgency in Somalia often makes it difficult or impossible to determine precise responsibility for serious abuses. Al-Shabaab is militarily the strongest and most active group, but Al-Shabaab is itself plagued with internal divisions and even more radical groups have splintered off from it. It has also spawned a broad range of localized imitators who claim to be Al-Shabaab fighters even though they are operating largely on their own.
Indiscriminate Attacks and Shielding
Insurgent groups have routinely violated the laws of war through their indiscriminate use of mortars and remote-detonated explosive devices in populated areas and by using civilian neighborhoods as cover to launch mortar attacks and ambushes. Insurgent groups also make no effort to remove local residents from areas in which they deploy their forces.
Human Rights Watch believes that all or nearly all of the attacks involving remote-detonated explosive devices are carried out by insurgent groups. Almost all of the attacks that Human Rights Watch documented as well as most of those reported in the media were clearly targeted at ENDF or TFG officials. Civil society activists and residents of Mogadishu interviewed by Human Rights Watch, including some who are generally sympathetic to the aims of Al-Shabaab and other insurgent groups, also said they believe that most remote-detonated devices are set by insurgent fighters.
Many former Mogadishu residents told Human Rights Watch that they were deeply troubled by the insurgents' tactic of using the streets around civilian homes as launching sites for attacks on TFG and ENDF forces. "They put mortars and mines near people's homes," one young woman said. "They will use your area to attack and then immediately move. Then the government will identify your place and your neighbors' as a base and attack you."
Most Mogadishu residents see no option but to seek inadequate cover indoors when insurgent fighters are launching mortar shells from the streets around their homes. One resident of northern Mogadishu told Human Rights Watch that in October some residents and local security personnel from the area around Bakara market made some attempts to demand an end to attacks being launched from the area. However, he said that "To interfere with Al-Shabaab when they are firing does not happen a lot" because local residents are afraid to confront the fighters. "They cannot stand up to Al-Shabaab too often."
Human Rights Watch interviewed a woman from Medina district who had personally confronted insurgent fighters firing mortar rounds from near her home-and she met with a violent response. One evening she confronted a group of young men, "barely 18 or 20 years [old]" who were setting up a mortar tube in the street in front of her house:
I came outside even with my brother telling me not to come outside. I found the courage to tell them, "You say you are religious people, but you are killing us. You shouldn't use us as a launching pad." Then they told me, "Get back to your house, you dog!" They tried to force me towards the house, I resisted and one of them beat me with the butt of his rifle.
The young men quickly forced her back inside, returned to setting up their mortar tube, fired off several rounds, and then disappeared. She suffered bruises on her shoulder and chest.
The practice by insurgent forces of firing mortars or otherwise launching attacks from heavily populated neighborhoods can constitute "human shielding," which is a war crime. A party to the conflict violates the prohibition against shielding when using the presence or movement of civilians "to render certain points or areas immune from military operations, in particular in attempts to shield military objectives from attacks or to shield, favour or impede military operations." Shielding requires a specific intent to place military forces among civilians. Somali insurgent forces know that Ethiopian forces routinely respond to attacks originating within populated areas with counter-fire by artillery that may result in numerous civilian deaths and injuries (insurgents might even seek such a response for propaganda purposes). However, this does not lessen the responsibility of the insurgent forces that are placing the civilians at risk or failing to remove them from the areas where they deploy. Unless circumstances prevent insurgent forces from carrying out attacks from non-populated areas (such as during a retreat), conducting operations from heavily populated areas demonstrates an intent to use civilians as shields.
Forcible Recruitment and Use of Child Soldiers
Insurgents in Mogadishu are expanding their ranks through the use of forced recruitment and of child soldiers. International humanitarian law prohibits the forcible recruitment of adults and any recruitment of children into armed groups. Human Rights Watch interviewed three people from Mogadishu whom local Al-Shabaab fighters attempted to recruit as fighters. They and other Mogadishu residents, including parents whose children had faced similar pressures, said that young men and boys in Mogadishu face a combination of peer pressure, promises of cash payments, and threats from insurgent fighters seeking to recruit them into their ranks.
One 15-year-old boy told Human Rights Watch that neighborhood boys who were apparently members of an insurgent group convinced him that he should join their "struggle" against Ethiopia and the TFG:
Those who were recruiting young ones were older boys from the neighborhood…I was convinced we should go and join them. Some boys from the neighborhood including from the house next door convinced me. They said we will give you money, we will give you pistols, and some bombs to throw at the enemy if you will do as we tell you. I was excited about it. I thought it was a way to paradise.
He soon began to have second thoughts, however. "I became afraid," he said. "And I told my grandmother, who asked me to distance myself from these people." But his would-be recruiters persevered:
When I said no, they did not threaten me but they tried to convince me by giving me different lectures and promises. They said that if I successfully execute an operation they would give me US$100. I would only have to throw a hand grenade at a government or Ethiopian car. Or, we could target a cinema if they refused to close. They would give me $100 for this. I was not yet convinced. They used to come even to the football pitch to convince us to join.
The boy said that many of his friends from the neighborhood accepted these offers and joined. His grandmother told Human Rights Watch that this pressure was the reason the family had left Mogadishu to seek refuge outside the city. "I was afraid he might accept to be diverted from his education and join those militias," she said.
A student living in Mogadishu told Human Rights Watch that insurgent fighters who said they were members of Al-Shabaab came into his high school and interrupted their ongoing lesson. They told the students, many of whom were children, that they were required to attend a meeting that evening, and wrote down all of the students' names on a sheet of paper. "The teachers could not even talk," he said. "Otherwise anything could happen." He and his classmates reported for the meeting as instructed that evening and then every evening for the next week:
They would come and tell you, you have to meet at this place and we would go there. You have to go and meet them or anything can happen to you.
At the meetings they started talking about what is going on in the country, how Ethiopia is mistreating us, raping our women and desecrating our holy places and we are just standing there watching them and it is time for us to respond by training, taking guns and going to jihad with them. For seven days they were having meetings every day. We just had to sit there and listen to them talk. It was different people every day; our neighborhood is full of Al Shabaab.
Some [of my friends] were saying, "If this is the only solution to get them out of our country maybe we should join." Others were saying, "No, we have been at war too long and we need to educate ourselves." Others were saying, "Let's just give up, we are caught between them and we are dying."
At the last meeting one of them came to me telling me that I am young and strong, let us get rid of the Ethiopians from our country. I said I want to be something in life and I am working for my future. He said, "You cannot be something when they are stealing your country." They gave me three days to think about it.
He said the he felt there was a very clear threat implied in that three-day ultimatum and went to tell his mother, with whom he lived alone, about his dilemma. She advised him to wait and see what would happen. "Each day I was going to school worrying if they were going to come and ask me for my decision," he said. But on the third day he came home to find that during the day his house had been hit with a rocket or mortar and that his mother was dead. He fled Mogadishu a short while later with money given to him by relatives.
A man named Mohammed told Human Rights Watch that he, his father, and his uncle were all approached by men who identified them as Al-Shabaab fighters and pressured into joining them. He said he thought his father and uncle were especially targeted because they had military and police experience, respectively, in their younger days. All of the men rebuffed these attempts at recruitment, and all then received several phone calls where the callers threatened to kill them if they did not reconsider. One day in August 2008 Mohammed heard a series of gunshots and raced over to his father's house to find him lying dead in a pool of blood along with his uncle and brother. He fled Mogadishu the next day.
Targeted Killings and Death Threats
Insurgent forces have both threatened and carried out dozens of assassinations against perceived TFG collaborators and other Somali civilians. These abuses have increased in frequency in 2008. Their victims have included civilian TFG officials; police officers; Somalis working at menial jobs that involve contact with TFG offices or ENDF soldiers; civil society activists; journalists; cinema owners; and people from many other walks of life. Under no circumstances are any of these categories of people, including civilian TFG officials not directly taking part in armed hostilities, legitimate military targets under international humanitarian law.
Responsibility for some death threats and killings, particularly those targeting local activists and journalists, may lie with individuals linked to the TFG or be purely criminal in motivation. Human Rights Watch believes, however, that Al-Shabaab and other insurgent groups are responsible for a large majority of the targeted killings and death threats that have taken place in Somalia in 2008. Targeted attacks on civil society and humanitarian workers are discussed below.
Civil society activists and analysts interviewed by Human Rights Watch said that many targeted killings adhere to a similar pattern: the victim will receive two or three warnings either in person, by phone, or by text message. These either offer their recipients a chance to desist from doing whatever they stand accused of or simply advise them to prepare for death. The same pattern emerges from more than a dozen specific cases documented by Human Rights Watch through interviews with victims or their relatives.
Many of the cases documented by Human Rights Watch involved people who publicly disagreed with or simply failed to express sufficient enthusiasm for insurgent goals and tactics. As one young shop owner from Mogadishu complained to Human Rights Watch, "They will tell you-you have to agree with our ideas and to help us get rid of the Ethiopians-and if you disagree they can kill you."
Human Rights Watch interviewed one young religious scholar who was forced to flee Mogadishu after speaking out against Al-Shabaab during a lecture he gave at a mosque in May 2008. His lecture, given to a small group of students he believed he could trust, denounced what he called Al-Shabaab's "politicization" of religion. "Islam is about peace," he explained to Human Rights Watch. "I felt it right as a Muslim and also as a Somali to speak out against this vice-people who are using religion as a shield to cover their actions."
The next day, a student came to tell the scholar that one of the young men who attended the lecture had informed local Al-Shabaab fighters about it and that those fighters now intended to kill him. Because of the warning he did not attend the dugsi [Islamic school] where he normally teaches the next morning, when a group of masked, armed men arrived there demanding to know where they could find him. He fled Mogadishu several days later and has not returned.
In some cases insurgents have targeted people for threats and killings because of their participation in the Djibouti peace process or other reconciliation efforts, which Al-Shabaab and some other insurgent groups reject. One activist received a text message while he was in Djibouti that denounced his participation in the process and threatened that he would be killed if he returned to Mogadishu. He was able to trace the threat back to some Al-Shabaab members based near Bakara market in Mogadishu and when he returned to the city he sent a representative to meet with them and ask them to reconsider their threats. "They rejected it," he said to Human Rights Watch. "They said, 'We have already agreed that we do not want you here. If you decide to stay it is up to you.'" He has not been back to Mogadishu since then.
In November 2007 TFG officials and some Hawiye clan elders from Mogadishu held meetings in Baidoa aimed at promoting reconciliation prior to the TFG's appointment of Prime Minister Nur Hassan Hussein the following month. A clan elder who attended the meetings in Baidoa said that he had received several threatening phone calls in the days running up to the discussions, warning him not to attend. As he traveled in a convoy back to Mogadishu following the meetings, a roadside bomb detonated as the car driving in front of his own passed alongside it:
We felt an explosion and the whole car went up. The driver who was sitting to my side was wounded and fell on top of me. Although the body of the car was destroyed the engine was working and the car continued moving. I jumped out of the car and it continued moving by itself…All of us were bleeding a little bit from our ears.
According to media reports, at least five people died in the attack. Later that night he received a phone call from an anonymous caller. The man at the other end of the line said, "You survived, but the second time you won't." Shortly thereafter he fled Mogadishu.
On October 7, 2008, a traditional elder named Da'ar Hersi Hoshow was shot and killed in Beletweyne one day after he publicly denounced Al-Shaabab threats to aid workers (discussed below). No group claimed responsibility for the killing but Dahir's murder was reportedly the sixth assassination of a community leader between May and October 2008 who had recently spoken out against Al-Shabaab.
Other victims of apparent insurgent attacks interviewed by Human Rights Watch believe they were targeted because they worked in one way or another with TFG institutions. Unidentified armed men gunned down a former police officer outside of his home in late 2007. He spent the better part of a year recovering from his wounds. Just as he was nearly ready to return to work in early 2008, he began receiving threatening phone calls warning that he would be killed if he returned to work. He ultimately fled the country. A member of the TFG parliament told Human Rights Watch that he fled Somalia and abandoned his seat in parliament because he had begun receiving frequent death threats by phone. "They would call and say, you are Mr. [name withheld]. We are going to kill you…we will kill you if you are going to be supporting the government."
Not all of those targeted for threats and killings are linked in any meaningful way to one of the parties to the conflict in Somalia. Some of the attacks carried out by Al-Shabaab and other insurgent groups suggest a broad range of the Somali public being perceived as enemies and targets.
For example, Human Rights Watch interviewed one person who was shot and nearly killed simply for performing sporadic low-paid work for TFG offices. "I was not working for the government," he explained, "but I used to go and do manual jobs just to get a wage-usually messenger service work for them, from one office to the other." In January 2008 a group of men arrived at his home. They identified themselves as members of Al-Shabaab and not finding him present warned his wife that he should find another way to make a living. "They said, 'If your husband does not stop supporting the government, we are going to kill him,'" she recalled.
A second warning came just as the first, and several days after that second warning the part-time messenger was gunned down outside of his home as he returned from work in the evening. "As I was about to enter the gate, I was shot at close range," he said. "I ran away, and a second bullet hit me…I ran some distance and collapsed." He was shot in the right wrist and the right calf, but he survived. He and his family fled the city after he recovered from his wounds in the hospital.
Another man interviewed by Human Rights Watch was shot several times in his own home because he worked for a TFG media outlet. Other sections of this report describe other examples of ordinary people, humanitarian workers, and activists who have faced similar threats.
In addition to these abuses, administrations set up by insurgent groups linked to Al-Shabaab have abused civilians through the application of harsh penalties in the context of their interpretation of shari'a law. In October 2008 an Al-Shabaab-controlled administration in Kismayo organized a public execution of a young girl who had reportedly gone to the authorities to file charges of rape against three men. The authorities in turn accused her of adultery, and had her publicly stoned to death inside a crowded stadium.
 See below, Attacks on Humanitarian Workers and Civil Society Activists.
 This is equally true of "Al-Shabaab" fighters in other parts of south-central Somalia, and in some cases pre-existing clan militias have simply adopted the Al-Shabaablabel and carried on as they had before. One recent analysis quoted a Somali resident of the Juba Valley as stating that "the militia who call themselves shabaab are just the same Habar Gedir gunmen who have occupied us for years." Menkhaus, "Somalia: A Country in Peril, a Policy Nightmare," p. 6.
 Human Rights Watch interviews, July and September 2008, Nairobi and Hargeisa.
 Human Rights Watch interview with A.S., Dagahaley refugee camp, Kenya, June 30, 2008.
 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with H.T., Mogadishu, October 4, 2008.
 Human Rights Watch interview with N.H., Dagahaley refugee camp, Kenya, June 30, 2008.
 Protocol I, art. 5(7).
See ICRC, Customary International Humanitarian Law, pp. 339-340; Knut Doermann, Elements of War Crimes Under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court: Sources and Commentary. (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2003), pp. 344-45.
 Protocol I, art. 77(2); Protocol II, art. 4(3)(c) (prohibiting the recruitment of children).
 Human Rights Watch interview with I.I., Dagahaley refugee camp, Kenya, June 29, 2008.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Z.A., Dagahaley refugee camp, Kenya, June 29, 2008.
 Human Rights Watch interview, (location withheld), July 11, 2008.
Human Rights Watch interview, Nairobi, October 8, 2008.
 See ICRC, Customary International Humanitarian Law, rule 6, citing Protocol I, art. 13.
 See below, Attacks on Humanitarian Workers and Civil Society Activists.
 A media report on the same phenomenon quoted a Somali journalist as saying that, "When the phone's screen says 'private number,' most people don't answer…It means someone is calling to assassinate you." Paul Salopek, "In Somalia, Death Often a Cell Phone Call Away: Threats, Violence Turning Mogadishu in to Ghost Town," Chicago Tribune, October 28, 2007.
 Human Rights Watch interview, Hargeisa, July 11, 2008.
 Human Rights Watch interview, Ifo refugee camp, Kenya, July 1, 2008.
 Human Rights Watch interview, Nairobi, June 19, 2008.
 See Garowe Online, "5 civilians killed by landmine and subsequent gunfire," November 18, 2007, http://www.garoweonline.com/artman2/publish/Somalia_27/Somalia_5_civilians_killed_by_landmine_and_subsequent_gunfire_printer.shtml (accessed November 10, 2008).
 Human Rights Watch interview, Nairobi, April 30, 2008.
 See below, Attacks on Humanitarian Workers and Civil Society Activists.
 Documents on file with Human Rights Watch.
 Human Rights Watch interview with A.Q., Ifo refugee camp, Kenya, July 3, 2008.
 Human Rights Watch interview with M.G., Dagahaley refugee camp, Kenya, July 2, 2008.
 Human Rights Watch interview with M.B., Ifo refugee camp, Kenya, June 28, 2008.
 Human Rights Watch interview, Nairobi, July 20, 2008.
 See above, Civilian Deaths and the Destruction of Mogadishu and see below, Attacks on Humanitarian Workers and Civil Society Activists.
 Amnesty International, "Girl Stoned Was a Child of 13," October 31, 2008, http://www.amnesty.org/en/for-media/press-releases/somalia-girl-stoned-was-child-13-20081031 (accessed November 20, 2008).