Populations at Risk
Populations in Somalia remain at serious risk of war crimes and crimes against humanity perpetrated by Al-Shabaab and various armed forces.
Despite the 2012 formation of the Federal Government of Somalia, populations remain at risk of atrocities perpetrated by armed extremist groups. After decades of sustained armed conflict, an estimated 2 million Somalis have been internally displaced while over 875,000 have fled to neighboring countries. Over 3.1 million Somalis are in need of emergency humanitarian assistance, while the threat of famine persists in several regions.
On 14 October over 300 people were killed and at least another 300 injured during a massive truck bomb attack in Mogadishu, the capital. No group has officially claimed responsibility, but Al-Shabaab was widely blamed for the attack.
Since 2008 the armed extremist group Al-Shabaab has killed more than 6,200 people in Somalia. Over 2 million people currently live in Al-Shabaab controlled territory, mainly in the rural areas of Hirshabelle, Jubaland and South West Somalia. Al-Shabaab recently took control of towns in Bay and Lower Shabelle, including Leego and Bariire, after government troops withdrew from the areas.
Al-Shabaab fighters routinely violate international humanitarian law (IHL) and international human rights law (IHRL), including by torturing detainees, attacking hospitals and schools, targeting civilians, and using civilians as human shields. According to the UN, Al-Shabaab actively recruits child soldiers, who comprise more than half of their forces. Al-Shabaab has also blocked civilians from access to vital humanitarian assistance. During May Al-Shabaab militants razed villages, abducted and killed civilians, and stole livestock in drought stricken Lower Shabelle. Fighting between Al-Shabaab and local Biyomaal clan militias resulted in the displacement of over 15,000 people.
Al-Shabaab also continues to target troops from the African Union (AU) Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and UN humanitarian convoys for attack. On 30 July 2017 more than twenty AMISOM soldiers were killed in an Al-Shabaab ambush in Lower Shabelle.
In addition to the threat posed by Al-Shabaab, the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant has a growing presence in Somalia. Territorial disputes between communities in the border regions of Galmudug, Puntland and Somaliland also pose a risk to vulnerable civilians.
Some Somali National Army and AMISOM forces tasked with providing civilian protection have at times posed a direct threat to civilians, committing rape, arbitrary detention and other grave violations of human rights.
On 6 October in the annual UN Secretary-General's report on children in armed conflict, the UN stated that the number of child soldiers used by all sides in Somalia had doubled since 2015 to 1,900.
Despite political advances, the Federal Government of Somalia currently lacks the capacity to adequately protect civilians from the predations of various armed groups. Clashes among rival clans vying for control of disputed territory between the Federal Member States may also result in further conflict.
Al-Shabaab maintains the capacity to commit possible war crimes and crimes against humanity. In areas controlled by Al-Shabaab the denial of aid to people facing famine may also constitute crimes against humanity.
While the AU has trained AMISOM forces to respect IHL and IHRL and advised on methods to reduce civilian harm, large-scale military offensives against Al-Shabaab still pose a threat to vulnerable populations.
The Federal Government of Somalia and AMISOM have a Responsibility to Protect civilians from war crimes and crimes against humanity as they battle against Al-Shabaab and other armed extremist groups.
On 30 August the UN Security Council passed Resolution 2372, which recalled the Federal Government of Somalia's responsibility to protect its population and to build its national security forces in full compliance with IHL and IHRL. Resolution 2372 also renewed AMISOM's mandate until 31 May 2018.
On 7 October the Federal Government of Somalia and Sweden, along with other states, launched the "Strand 4" mechanism in the national security architecture to resolve conflicts politically and combat violent extremism.
International partners should continue to support efforts aimed at defeating Al-Shabaab and enhancing national governance, as well as protecting and promoting human rights in Somalia.
The Somali government and AMISOM must ensure that their military campaigns against Al-Shabaab are carried out in strict adherence with IHL and IHRL. A coordinated political strategy aimed at countering violent extremism should also be implemented in order to prevent recruitment to Al-Shabaab and other armed groups.
All alleged war crimes in Somalia must be properly investigated and the perpetrators held accountable, regardless of rank or affiliation.
Last Updated: 15 October 2017