Populations at Risk Previously Studied Situations

Somalia

There is a serious risk of war crimes and crimes against humanity being perpetrated by militias and various other armed forces operating in Somalia.
BACKGROUND: After more than 20 years of conflict, recurring famine and the collapse of the Somali state, the recent conclusion of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and establishment of a new government offers an opportunity for Somalis to rebuild their country. However, ongoing armed conflict between Al-Shabaab, an extremist Islamist armed group affiliated with al-Qaeda, and a range of domestic and international forces continues to pose a serious threat to civilians.

The conflict in Somalia has been characterized by the reckless disregard by all sides for the safety and security of the civilian population. Those currently fighting Al-Shabaab include the AU Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), several allied militias and the armies of Ethiopia and Kenya. Since May these forces have seized control of Al-Shabaab bases throughout south-eastern Somalia.

On 28 September AMISOM reported that it had taken control of the port city of Kismayo, Al-Shabaab's last urban stronghold. As the AU and Kenyan forces prepared their assault on Kismayo more than 10,000 people fled in fear of attacks on civilians. The government has imposed curfews within Kismayo, but there are concernes that rival ethnic clans will start to compete for control of the city.

The battles of the past year have seriously weakened Al-Shabaab. Although it has been driven out of many cities, the group has continued carrying out indiscriminate attacks against populations within Somalia as well as in Kenya.

More than 300,000 Somali refugees fled the country in 2011 alone as a result of the ongoing fighting. According to the UN there are now nearly 1.5 million IDPs in Somalia.

ANALYSIS: It is crucial that the international community views the situation in Somalia through the lens of the Responsibility to Protect and not just as an exercise in state building, an opportunity to fight piracy or another battleground of the "war on terror." While Al-Shabaab has been driven from Mogadishu and other major towns, armed violence continues to put civilians at serious risk of mass atrocity crimes and the new government in Somalia lacks the capacity to adequately protect civilians.

Clashes among rival clans vying for control of recaptured areas, particularly in Kismayo, may result in further civilian casualties if the Somali government fails to expeditiously form inclusive local governments.

Parties on all sides of the conflict have previously been responsible for mass atrocity crimes and have indiscriminately used mortar, rocket and artillery fire in civilian areas. 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 advised on methods to reduce harm to civilians, large-scale assaults on Al-Shabaab still pose a direct threat to the civilian population.

All parties to the conflict in Somalia, including those who have intervened to end the threat posed by Al-Shabaab, have a Responsibility to Protect civilians from war crimes and crimes against humanity.

INTERNATIONAL RESPONSE: AMISOM, which was established by the AU during 2007 in order to provide security for the TFG, operates with UN support. On 22 February 2012 the UNSC adopted Resolution 2036, increasing the ceiling for AMISOM to 17,731 troops. On 7 November the UNSC passed Resolution 2073, renewing the mandate for AMISOM until 7 March 2013.

The UN and AU issued statements urging all parties to take necessary measures to ensure the protection of civilians during the assault on Kismayo. A 20 September AU statement asserted the organization's commitment to investigating indiscriminate attacks that result in harm to civilians, including those carried out by AMISOM troops.
Turkey has been providing crucial support for state building in Somalia as well as offering aid to civilian populations.

NECESSARY ACTION: AMISOM, Kenya, Ethiopia and their respective allied militias must ensure that their military campaign against Al-Shabaab is carried out in accordance with IHL. Support is needed to implement more comprehensive rules of engagement and improve civilian harm mitigation efforts. Allegations of mass atrocity crimes must be investigated and perpetrators held accountable.

Somalia's new government needs ongoing international assistance to complete the establishment of new inclusive local governments in recaptured areas and to build a stronger security sector for the protection of civilians.

Last Updated: 15 November 2012