(Nairobi) – African Union (AU) forces in Somalia (AMISOM) should impartially investigate the killing by alleged Ugandan army troops of six men at a wedding on July 31, 2015, in the Somali port town of Merka. The investigation should be carried out with maximum protection for witnesses, and the Ugandan government should fairly prosecute any of its soldiers responsible for criminal offenses.
Witnesses told Human Rights Watch that following a bomb attack on an AMISOM convoy, Ugandan forces entered several nearby houses in Merka’s Rusiya neighborhood. At one house, where the Moalim Iidey family was celebrating a wedding, the soldiers separated the men from the women and shot the six adult men – four brothers, their father, and an uncle. Four died immediately, one brother hid under a bed after being shot but later died, and the father died during the night after the soldiers allegedly refused to allow the family to take him to the hospital.
“African Union forces in Somalia face difficult challenges, but that makes respecting the laws of war even more crucial,” said Maria Burnett, senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Gunning down people at a wedding or anyone else in cold blood as punishment for insurgent attacks will only make things harder for the African Union forces in the future.”
Under international humanitarian law applicable to the armed conflict in Somalia, parties to the conflict, including troop-contributing countries to the peacekeeping force, have an obligation to investigate alleged war crimes by their forces or forces under their jurisdiction, and appropriately prosecute those responsible.
In addition to the AMISOM inquiry, the AMISOM spokesman told Human Rights Watch that a joint oversight committee made up of AMISOM and Somali government representatives will also be established to investigate the civilian deaths in Merka. A 2013 joint investigation into abuses by AMISOM forces in Mogadishu was marred by serious procedural flaws. For the joint committee to provide effective oversight, the Somali government should ensure that the work of the committee is transparent, includes competent personnel and gives priority to protecting witnesses, Human Rights Watch said.
The AU Peace and Security Council deployed the peace support troops known as AMISOM to Somalia in 2007 under a United Nations Security Council mandate. Since then, AMISOM’s mandate, size, and geographical presence have steadily increased. AMISOM is currently conducting a new offensive against Al-Shabab in several regions of south-central Somalia.
On July 28, 2015, the UN Security Council renewed AMISOM’s mandate until May 2016, in a resolution that largely failed to underscore the importance of accountability for abuses by AMISOM forces. The Security Council resolution, however, said the AU should share information gathered through its newly established Civilian Casualty Tracking Analysis and Response Cell with relevant stakeholders, including the UN.
“The military operations in south-central Somalia make accurate information and reporting on abuses against civilians increasingly urgent,” Burnett said. “The willingness of AMISOM and troop-contributing countries to allow scrutiny of their conduct will be indicative of their commitment to accountability.”