Civilian Deaths and the Destruction of Mogadishu
One morning in March 2008 near Suq Bacad in northern Mogadishu, three young boys-Zakaria, Abdi, and Hassan-sat eating breakfast with their father and one of his wives. They heard bursts of gunfire erupt on a nearby street and moments later a hail of bullets ripped across the family compound. Zakaria and Abdi, aged three and nine, were hit and died instantly. Four months later, Hassan, a 10-year-old boy with a garish scar across his stomach, recalled that "the bullet hit Zakaria first, passed through him and finally the same bullet hit me. [At first] I did not know I was hit by a bullet. I saw Zakaria and Abdi falling down, then I heard my father and his wife and she was crying, 'Oh they are dead! They are dead!'"
On another morning that March, a 13-year-old girl was walking alongside a road near Mogadishu's war-torn Bakara market with her parents and her younger brother. "At that time there had been some fighting between the government and the wadada [insurgents]," she told Human Rights Watch. "That's why we had been walking in the company of my father and mother-my father warned us in the morning that the situation was not peaceful so we should stay by one another." She was lagging behind her family when they crossed a road and just as she prepared to cross and join them she heard the familiar whistling sound of an incoming "Katyusha" rocket. "I heard the foorida [whistling]," she said. "The rocket landed on the other side of the road, hit some shops and immediately I fell and lost consciousness. In the hospital I learned that my entire family had perished, and I started crying."
Mogadishu has generated thousands of stories like these over the course of the past two years. Small arms, mortar, artillery, and rocket attacks along with savage, opportunistic assaults upon civilians in their homes have driven more than 870,000 people from the city-more than two-thirds of its population before December 2006. In the eyes of many visitors, the most striking thing about the city today is that vast swathes of it are not just gutted but eerily deserted. The neighborhoods of Hodan, Hawal Wadag, Towfiq, Huriwa, Hamar Jadid, Wardhigley, and Gubta have been especially hard hit by two years of armed conflict. Whole swathes of those areas are almost entirely depopulated because former residents have been driven away by regular bombardment and street-to-street fighting. The minimal international presence in Mogadishu has resulted in a situation where Somalis and Somalia-watchers have seen the violent destruction of a city-unparalleled since Grozny in Chechnya-take place with almost no international media attention.
Two years ago Mogadishu already bore the scars of 16 years of intermittent warfare. But it was still in many ways a vibrant city-economically, culturally, and politically. The bloodshed of the past two years has done what the prior 16 years of statelessness and strife could not-the parties fighting to drive one another from the city have largely managed to destroy it, along with the lives of many of the people who were living there. Thousands of civilians have been killed. More than 2,200 casualties of the fighting were treated in Mogadishu's Medina and Keysaney hospitals between the beginning of 2008 and the end of September 2008. Tens of thousands more have felt compelled to leave.
Much of this report documents in turn the patterns of human rights abuse and violations of the laws of war committed by Ethiopian, TFG, and insurgent forces in Somalia. But that kind of analysis only captures part of the experience of the victims who are caught between the warring parties.
For many Somalis the factor that has made the current conflict impossible to adapt to or cope with is daily unpredictable violence. This is especially true in Mogadishu, where residents live with the constant possibility of losing everything they have to a stray bullet or an errant mortar shell. As one man who fled the city in mid-2008 put it to Human Rights Watch, "There is no life there. If you move you will be shot. If you are in your house you will be attacked with rockets."
Indiscriminate Mortar, Rocket, and Artillery Fire
Since early 2007 all sides to the conflict in Mogadishu have regularly and indiscriminately fired upon populated residential neighborhoods of Mogadishu. Mortars, "Katyusha" rockets, and artillery have been used with such little precision that those firing them have no reasonable expectation of striking any military target or avoiding civilian casualties. Human Rights Watch first documented the patterns and the devastating impact on civilians of these attacks more than a year ago. Since then Ethiopian, TFG, and insurgent forces have all continued to employ the same illegal tactics. Those who deliberately or recklessly ordered such indiscriminate attacks should be held accountable for war crimes.
Bombardments take place in Mogadishu on an almost daily basis and often follow a common pattern. Insurgent fighters quickly assemble mortars-using populated residential neighborhoods as unwilling shields-and then fire several rounds in the general direction of TFG and ENDF installations. There is no evidence that any insurgent groups regularly use spotters to guide their mortar fire, so frequently their attacks fall on civilians caught in the general vicinity of their targets.
Insurgent fighters typically flee after their attacks, leaving the people who live in the neighborhoods they use as launching sites to face the inevitable artillery counterattack. TFG and ENDF forces frequently respond to insurgent attacks by firing mortar shells, artillery, and "Katyusha" rockets-the last being weapons that are inherently indiscriminate when used in populated areas-towards the neighborhoods from which they took fire. When such counterattacks are likely to cause greater civilian harm than the expected military gain, they are also disproportionate. The insurgents' unlawful use of mortars in populated areas does not create a legal justification for the indiscriminate and disproportionate use of heavy weapons by Ethiopian and TFG forces in response, which were often devastating to the civilian population because of the weapons used and the great intensity of many bombardments.
Human Rights Watch interviewed several dozen former residents of Mogadishu who described the suddenness and horrifying aftermath of the artillery attacks. Many were at home with their families or fast asleep when a mortar shell or rocket came crashing through their roof or landed in the street outside.
One woman who was living near the livestock market in northeastern Mogadishu recounted to Human Rights Watch how she lost three of her five children one night in late February 2008:
That evening there were some gunshots in the area, in the direction of the main road. But there was not so much fighting at that moment. We could just occasionally hear gunshots. Then the rocket landed on the left side of our compound…I could not see anything because of smoke and dust. There was a lot of blood. I tried to escape in search for my children as people were gathering around.
Four of her children were badly injured, and two of them died before she could get them to a hospital-a six-month-old girl and a seven-year-old boy. Her 15-year-old son disappeared that night, but no body was found and five months later his mother still insisted that he had not been killed. "He must have just run away and not looked back after it happened," she said.
Eyewitness accounts were terrifyingly similar. In April a "Katyusha" rocket crashed into the home of a vegetable seller near Bakara Market as she sat eating lunch with her family. The woman's 10-year-old daughter and 11-year-old son died instantly along with her sister, her sister's husband, and six of their children. "We heard the whistling sound [of the rocket]," she said, "but we did not think it was going to fall on us."
Many of the victims interviewed by Human Rights Watch survived only because they happened to be away from home when rockets, mortar shells, or artillery tore apart their homes. One woman returned to her house in Hodan from a day spent working in the family store in April to find her home a smoldering ruin:
When I went inside I saw my father torn in two and smashed. My sisters were injured and the neighbors were trying to get them out to take them to a hospital. I was asking people what happened, but no one was talking to me because everyone was running here and there.
One of her sisters had a serious head wound and the other's entrails were hanging outside of her stomach. Both of those sisters survived, but their father had died.
Other Indiscriminate Attacks
Insurgent forces have frequently staged ambushes of TFG and ENDF forces in Mogadishu, often using inhabited homes or crowds of civilians as cover. Very often these attacks result in firefights with TFG or ENDF forces that cause civilian casualties-while the insurgent fighters make good their escape. When parties to a conflict shoot without taking all feasible steps to distinguish civilians from fighters or use their weapons in a way that cannot target a military objective, then the attacks are indiscriminate and in violation of international humanitarian law. This remains the case even if the original attack unlawfully originated from a civilian area.
Often these clashes erupt so suddenly that they catch residents completely by surprise. One woman told Human Rights Watch that she began walking across an intersection with her young son just as a group of TFG soldiers in camouflage uniforms and insurgents began firing at one another from either side of her. Just moments after she spotted them, "they immediately sprayed bullets," she said. "That was the last time I remember-my child ran away and I fell on the ground." She lost one eye to a bullet; her child escaped unharmed.
In another incident in late February or early March 2008, a minibus driver stopped to pick up two people alongside a road near Bakara market. "As I engaged the gears and started driving, a man shot towards us," he said, "aiming at two police officers who were standing nearby." Law enforcement officials are normally considered civilians and thus immune from attack, unless the police units have been incorporated into the military or the police attacked were directly participating in the hostilities. One of the shots struck and killed one of the eight passengers in his van, and then the police reacted to the attack:
The police responded with a barrage of gunfire. I got injured-I was hit by a bullet in the buttocks. I lost control of the van. I tried to control the car but I couldn't… After it veered off the road I stopped the car and I was helped out of the driver's seat by the passengers, only to realize that four of my passengers had been killed by bullets.
The four passengers at the rear of the van were all dead. The rest escaped unscathed and the shooting died down as quickly as it had started.
This kind of crossfire has been a regular occurrence for many Mogadishu residents. A woman who worked selling vegetables in Bakara market, one of the epicenters of fighting in Mogadishu, told Human Rights Watch that quite regularly, " [insurgents] take cover inside [the market] and government forces chase them. They spray bullets into the market, scaring everybody. People die and the rest of us run for safety." A shopkeeper from Bakara said that he used to hide every time TFG forces were in the area because, "The moment you see government soldiers a bullet follows them as if they are hunted."
Insurgent groups also make regular use of remote-detonated explosive devices to target TFG and ENDF forces in Mogadishu-often in crowded public places. On February 2, 2008, an explosive device was detonated alongside a crowded major road and tore through a mini-bus carrying women qat sellers in Mogadishu's Waberi neighborhood. Human Rights Watch interviewed a man who witnessed the aftermath of the explosion:
The vehicle was blown and torn into pieces. Only the driver and the woman seated at the front had slight injuries but for the others we could not stand what we saw. Some had their legs cut off, some had their heads and bodies disconnected, blood and body parts were strewn everywhere.
The man did not know the target of the attack, or whether the bomb was detonated intentionally. According to media reports, at least 11 people were killed in the blast, including several bystanders, and 10 others were seriously injured.
On August 3, 2008, 21 women died while cleaning trash from off a road in southern Mogadishu when they accidentally set off a mine or roadside bomb. The explosion took place along a heavily-traveled and oft-attacked route to the strategically important airport, which is under TFG control.
In addition to the outright violence, some Mogadishu residents face a constant and menacing suspicion that they are supporting one side to the conflict or the other. As one refugee who had been a merchant in Bakara market put it, "Both sides claim we are supporting the other even if we are just going to them in search of work or just seen talking to them."
A widow who had stayed in her home in Mogadishu long after most of her neighbors had fled, described to Human Rights Watch how she came to be viewed by both ENDF and insurgent forces as a collaborator:
At the beginning of this year, Ethiopian soldiers were on an operation and met me at my house near the livestock market. They asked me why I had not left since most of my neighbors had left for the camps outside of [Mogadishu]. I said my financial status does not allow me to move-I cannot because I am not able to. Then they alleged that the reason why I was there must be that I am a sympathizer and perhaps even a cook for Al-Shabaab. I said I am not a sympathizer, if you can help me move I will move. Then they ransacked my house but they did not hurt me at that particular moment. They were looking for weapons.
Several days later in the evening she was visited in her home by a group of insurgent fighters whose faces were covered by scarves who informed her that she had been seen talking with and supplying water to Ethiopian soldiers:
Some stood outside, some came in. They knocked at the door and greeted me. They don't ransack you, they only threaten you. They [said], "If you give them water the next time or if they meet you another time, we will kill you." I agreed because I was afraid-but I also agreed with the Ethiopians when they came.
Shortly afterwards, seeing no other option, she fled the city. As discussed later in this report, such death threats are not mere talk-many Somalis have been murdered on the basis of similar suspicions.
An Unrelenting Onslaught
Many of those who remain in Mogadishu are now displaced persons within their own city, fleeing neighborhoods that have become battlefields to seek shelter in quieter pockets of the war-torn city. Human Rights Watch interviewed many people who had hung on tenaciously out of principle or hope or both before eventually fleeing the city long after most of their friends and neighbors had gone. Many had moved through several different neighborhoods, fleeing each in turn and ultimately leaving the city altogether.
One teenage girl told Human Rights Watch that her father had refused to move their family away from the volatile area around Bakara market because "he used to say he didn't want to be a refugee-he was hopeful the fighting would end." He was killed in the street by an ENDF "Katyusha" rocket in late March 2008 and the remainder of his family fled to Kenya.
For many who remain, there is no respite. On September 16 while peace talks were underway but floundering in Djibouti, an Al-Shabaab statement announced that the group would attack any flights attempting to land at the international airport in Mogadishu. When an African Union peacekeeping force (AMISOM)) aircraft landed at the airport the day after the closure took effect, insurgent fighters fired mortars at the airport and then launched a major assault on the AMISOM base near southern Mogadishu's K-4 area. Weeks of heavy fighting and bombardment ensued, displacing 61,000 people from their homes in less than four weeks, killing dozens of civilians, and wounding several hundred more. Medina hospital in Mogadishu treated 411 war-wounded civilians between September 1 and October 15.
Insurgent mortar attacks originating from the Bakara market area attracted a heavy and sustained counter-bombardment. According to eyewitness accounts reported in the national and international media, much of the shelling that struck Bakara market originated from the grounds of the Presidential Palace, where TFG, ENDF, and AMISOM forces (who provide VIP protection to TFG officials) were all stationed. Several individuals interviewed by Human Rights Watch said they saw AMISOM tanks participating in the bombardment of the area around Bakara market. AMISOM denied these allegations. Such misuse of force by AMISOM would compromise both its neutral peacekeeping role and its professionalism.
One woman told Human Rights Watch that she lost seven relatives one night during these September clashes when a mortar shell fell onto their house in Hodan district. When Human Rights Watch interviewed her by phone just over two weeks later, she was sitting in Keysaney hospital in Mogadishu, caring for a two-year-old nephew who was wounded in the same attack. "Even now," she said, "the sound of the shells echoes in my ears."
Despite the horrors they have fled, many refugees abroad want nothing more than to return home, but not if things remain the same. One 12-year-old boy living in a refugee camp in Kenya-himself badly wounded in a roadside bomb attack in Mogadishu-had this to say when asked if he hoped to go back home:
Why would I want to go back? There are bullets and bombs. Money has lost its value. There is a lot of robbing and looting by gunmen around there-so your money is either worthless because of high prices or it will be taken from you. The police always ransack houses and steal our property. They even threaten you; if you do not abide by their demands they will accuse you falsely that you are a muqaawama ["resistance" fighter] or accuse you of having weapons. As a child they do not pay attention to me but I have eyes and I see what they are doing.
 Human Rights Watch interview with H.A., Dagahaley refugee camp, Kenya, July 1, 2008.
 Human Rights Watch interview with S.H., Dagahaley refugee camp, Kenya, July 2, 2008.
 Humanitarian organizations working in Somalia estimated that 870,000 people were displaced from Mogadishu by October 2008. See, Statement by 52 NGOs on the rapidly deteriorating humanitarian crisis in Somalia, October 6, 2008, http://www.reliefweb.int/rw/rwb.nsf/db900sid/EDIS-7K6LBP?OpenDocument (accessed October 14, 2008).
 See, e.g., "Somalian 'ghost city' wracked by war," BBC News Online, October 6, 2008, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/africa/7651776.stm.
 Human Rights Watch interviews with Mogadishu residents, Somali civil society activists, and humanitarian workers, Nairobi, Dadaab, Hargeisa, and Djibouti, July-September 2008.
 "Somalia: ICRC urges all sides to respect international humanitarian law," ICRC News Release, September 26, 2008.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Z.A., Ifo refugee camp, Kenya, July 3, 2008.
 Human Rights Watch, Shell Shocked.
 See below, Abuses by Insurgent Forces.
 Insurgent forces generally deployed only mortar fire while ENDF bombardments made use of mortars, artillery, and "Katyusha" rockets. See also Human Rights Watch, Shell Shocked, pp. 56-58.
 For documentation of the similar use of artillery on Mogadishu residents in the first half of 2007, see Human Rights Watch, Shell Shocked.
 Human Rights Watch interview with A.G., Dagahaley refugee camp, Kenya, July 1, 2008.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Z.H., Hargeisa, July 10, 2008.
 Human Rights Watch interview with F.M., Hargeisa, July 11, 2008.
 Human Rights Watch interview with A.M., Ifo refugee camp, Kenya, June 28, 2008.
 ICRC, Customary International Humanitarian Law, pp. 16-17, 21.
 Human Rights Watch interview with M.F., Dagahaley refugee camp, Kenya, July 1, 2008.
 Human Rights Watch interview with S.A., Ifo refugee camp, Kenya, June 29, 2008.
 Human Rights Watch interview with Z.M., Dagahaley refugee camp, Kenya, July 1, 2008.
Qat is a leaf that acts as a mild stimulant and is chewed by many Somalis, mainly men, on a daily basis in the afternoon.
 Human Rights Watch interview with M.A., Dagahaley refugee camp, Kenya, July 1, 2008.
See Garowe Online, "8 Die in Mogadishu When Car Struck Landmine," February 3, 2008. http://www.garoweonline.com/artman2/publish/Somalia_27/Somalia_8_Die_in_Mogadishu_when_car_struck_Landmine.shtml (accessed October 23, 2008).
 Human Rights Watch interviews with Somali human rights activists, Nairobi, September 2008; Human Rights Watch email correspondence with activist in Mogadishu, October 2008. See also CNN, Somalia Bomb Kills 21 Woman Street Cleaners, August 3, 2008, http://www.cnn.com/2008/WORLD/africa/08/03/somalia.strife/index.html (accessed October 23, 2008).
 Human Rights Watch interview N.M., Dagahaley refugee camp, Kenya, July 2, 2008.
 Human Rights Watch interview with H.A., Ifo refugee camp, Kenya, June 28, 2008.
 See below, Abuses by Insurgent Forces and Attacks on Humanitarian Workers and Civil Society Activists.
 Human Rights Watch interview with S.H., Dagahaley refugee camp, Kenya, July 2, 2008.
 See "Militant threat paralyses Mogadishu airport," Reuters, September 17, 2008. Attacking civilian airplanes violates the prohibition against attacks on civilian and civilian objects; also prohibited are attacks against personnel and objects involved in UN peacekeeping missions. See ICRC, Customary International Humanitarian Law, rule 33, citing general protections of civilians and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.
 For more background on AMISOM, see below, The Role of International Actors in Somalia.
 UN News Center, "Ongoing Violence Uproots another 5,500 people from Somali capital, says UN," October 17, 2008, http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=28614&Cr=somali&Cr1=displace (accessed October 17, 2008).
 Human Rights Watch telephone interview with staff member of Medina hospital, Mogadishu, October 21, 2008. This figure includes people admitted to the hospital as well as people who were treated for light wounds but not admitted.
 Human Rights Watch telephone interviews, Mogadishu, October 4 to 7, 2008.
 See IRIN, "Fighting Forces 18,500 to Flee Mogadishu," September 29, 2008, http://www.irinnews.org/Report.aspx?ReportId=80643 (accessed November 10, 2008).
 Human Rights Watch telephone interviews, Mogadishu, October 4 to 7. These allegations were widely covered in the international and Somalia media. Shaikh Sharif Shaikh Ahmad of the ARS-Djibouti wrote a formal letter of protest accusing AMISOM troops of "deliberate mass killing." Letter from Sheikh Sharif Ahmed to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and others, September 29, 2008 (on file with Human Rights Watch).
 Human Rights Watch telephone interview, Mogadishu, October 4, 2008.
 Human Rights Watch interview with A.I., Dagahaley refugee camp, Kenya, June 29, 2008.