The reports on Somalia presented to this session by the Independent Expert and the Secretary-General highlight the urgent need for a significant reinforcement of the presence of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and its activities, notably its monitoring work, on Somalia.
While the end of the transition and the selection of a new president, along with the reduction of open conflict in Mogadishu, represent positive developments, the human rights situation in Somalia, particularly in the south-central part of the country, remains dire.
The Islamist armed group al-Shabaab continues to commit serious abuses including targeted killings, executions and punishments amounting to torture. In areas it controls it imposes harsh restrictions on freedom of movement and other basic rights.
In towns recently vacated by al-Shabaab, insecurity remains a grave concern. Targeted killings, summary executions, arbitrary arrest and detention have been committed by various militias and other armed groups.
All of the Somali parties to the conflict have recruited children into their forces.
In Mogadishu, which is largely under government control, the population continues to be subjected to human rights abuses, including by the Somali security forces. Targeted killings of journalists and other civilians have increased. Fourteen journalists have been killed since December 2011 in government-controlled areas, which the transitional government never investigated. Internally displaced persons have been subjected to rape and severe restrictions on their access to food and shelter.
Foreign armed forces have also committed serious abuses in south-central Somalia. Since October 2011 Kenyan air and naval forces have indiscriminately bombed and shelled populated areas. Ethiopian forces have arbitrarily arrested and detained and mistreated persons in custody.
Ensuring respect for basic rights and improving the humanitarian situation in the country requires that the new government address the longstanding culture of impunity that has persisted throughout Somalia’s civil war.
While, as highlighted in the Secretary-General’s report, improving accountability at the national level is currently on the international agenda in Somalia, much needs to be done to ensure that this renewed commitment by international supporters of Somalia converts into concrete improvements on the ground.
As both reports underline, human rights monitoring and reporting on Somalia remains inadequate. Systematic documentation of abuses by an independent mechanism will be key to ensuring accountability, and should be part of any international response to Somalia.The only international agency currently charged is the OHCHR, whose presence is small compared to the gravity of the situation and the scale of the task. Human Rights Watch calls on the UN, notably as part of the UN review process on Somalia, and donor countries to significantly increase support to the OHCHR in Somalia so that it can fulfil its human rights monitoring mandate.
Given the gravity of the crimes committed in Somalia, Human Rights Watch reiterates its call for the establishment of a UN commission of inquiry—or a comparable, appropriate mechanism—to document serious crimes in violation of international law committed in Somalia and recommend measures to improve accountability.
Finally, international supporters of Somalia should also call on AMISOM and other foreign forces to hold their troops to account for violations of international human rights and humanitarian law.