Amr Moussa
Secretary General
League of Arab States

Your Excellency,

We are writing to urge you to use your position as Secretary General of the League of Arab States ("Arab League") to raise concerns about the serious human rights situation in Somalia during the International Contact Group meeting on Somalia that you are hosting this week in Cairo, Egypt.

As you know, Somalia remains mired in a brutal armed conflict between the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), which holds part of the capital, Mogadishu, and al-Shabaab and other armed opposition groups, which control most of south/central Somalia. As Human Rights Watch described in a report released on April 19, both the inhabitants of Mogadishu and those living in more stable areas have endured devastating patterns of abuse.

In Mogadishu, all parties to the conflict-including al-Shabaab, the TFG, and African Union (AMISOM) forces deployed to protect the TFG-continue to violate the laws of war by launching indiscriminate attacks at densely populated areas. Opposition fighters have also unlawfully deployed in civilian neighborhoods and at times used civilians as "shields" while firing mortars at TFG and AMISOM positions-frequently destroying civilian homes but rarely striking military targets. Often AMISOM or TFG forces respond in kind, firing mortars indiscriminately on the neighborhoods from which opposition fighters had fired and already fled-leaving only civilians to face the ensuing bombardment.

In vast swaths of the south, al-Shabaab is subjecting populations under its control to targeted killings and assaults, repressive forms of social control, and cruel punishments such as decapitations, amputations, and floggings that it seeks to justify under its draconian interpretation of Sharia. The brunt of repressive measures falls on women.

Al-Shabaab is also attacking human rights defenders, such as Alin Hilowle Hassan, the director of the Somali human rights organization Isha, who was abducted by al-Shabaab gunmen on April 16. Al-Shabaab and other armed groups are also attacking and silencing journalists and radio stations.

You raising these concerns with the International Contact Group members at the Cairo meeting could help improve the disastrous human rights situation in Somalia. As UN Special Representative for Somalia Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah has noted, impunity remains at the core of the Somali crisis. Parties to the conflict routinely commit abuses without fear of being held to account. Of particular concern is the failure of the international supporters of the TFG and AMISOM to press for their forces to end abuses. We also ask that you call on participants in Cairo to use any influence they have to halt abuses by al-Shabaab and other armed groups.

Specifically, we urge all participants in the Contact Group to call on the United Nations Secretary-General to establish an independent commission of inquiry which would be tasked with investigating abuses by all parties to the conflict and formulating recommendations for accountability.

Human Rights Watch also urges you to call on International Contact Group members to:

  • Request that the United Nations Secretary-General establish a Commission of Inquiry to investigate and map serious crimes in violation of international law and recommend measures to improve accountability for violations of international humanitarian law and human rights abuses in Somalia.
  • Launch comprehensive policy reviews of engagement with Somalia that focus on protecting the basic human rights of the Somali population.
  • Publicly condemn violations of international humanitarian law and human rights abuses by all parties to the conflict in Somalia, including the TFG, al-Shabaab, and AMISOM.
  • Publicly urge all international actors to cease the shipment of mortars and mortar rounds to all parties, including AMISOM and the TFG, until measures are implemented that ensure their use complies with international humanitarian law.

We will follow the proceedings of the International Contact Group meeting with great interest.

Respectfully yours,

Georgette Gagnon
Africa Director
Human Rights Watch

cc: Members of the International Contact Group on Somalia