10 August 2021
Risk Level: Previously Studied

Al-Shabaab and various armed forces have perpetrated attacks against populations which may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.


Despite the 2012 formation of the Federal Government of Somalia and progress made toward elections and full governmental control of the country, populations remain at risk of attacks perpetrated by armed extremist groups, particularly Al-Shabaab, and the forces combatting them. After decades of armed conflict in Somalia, an estimated 2.6 million Somalis are internally displaced, with over 5.9 million Somalis, one third of the population, requiring humanitarian assistance.

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. The group has blocked civilians from access to vital humanitarian assistance and continues to target the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and humanitarian convoys for attack. Al-Shabaab also actively recruits child soldiers, who comprise more than half of their forces. According to the UN Secretary-General’s 2021 report on Children and Armed Conflict, grave abuses against children in Somalia continued, with at least 1,087 children killed and maimed during 2020 while Al-Shabaab also recruited more than 1,716 children. The UN recorded 400 cases of sexual violence in Somalia during 2020, an 80 percent increase from 2019, with a majority of cases attributable to Al-Shabaab. At least 100 cases of sexual violence against girls were recorded between January-March 2021. Perpetrators overwhelmingly targeting displaced girls.

Civilians have been harmed during offensives by AMISOM and the Somali National Army (SNA) against Al-Shabaab. Some SNA 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. Airstrikes carried out by the United States in support of the Somali government have also resulted in civilian casualties.

In addition to the threat posed by Al-Shabaab, instability caused by tensions between the Federal Government of Somalia and federal member states as well as recurring territorial disputes between communities in the border regions including Galmudug, Puntland and Somaliland also pose a risk to vulnerable civilians. From January to April 2021 at least 250,000 Somalis were displaced, two-thirds by conflict alone. At least 50,000 people were displaced by fighting in Berdale in South West State, Galkayo in Mudug region and Abudwak in Galmudug State.

Clashes also broke out in Mogadishu during April 2021 following a parliamentary vote to extend the term of President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed by two years. Following clashes between the president’s supporters and political opposition, as well as international outcry, Parliament rescinded the extension and rescheduled elections. The violence displaced an estimated 200,000 people.


Despite political advances, the Federal Government of Somalia currently lacks the capacity to adequately protect civilians from the predations of various armed groups. Armed groups have routinely taken advantage of the unstable security situation to carry out attacks on the civilian population and the forces protecting them, possibly amounting to war crimes and crimes against humanity. While the African Union 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. Despite challenges, AMISOM remains the main source of safety and security in Somalia.

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.


During 2018 the Federal Government of Somalia, federal member states, AMISOM, and other stakeholders agreed on an updated Transition Plan to gradually turn over responsibility for security to the Somali government by 2021.

On 12 March the UNSC passed Resolution 2568 renewing AMISOM’s mandate until 31 December 2021 maintaining AMISOM’s troop ceiling of 19,626 ahead of the Transition Plan’s phased handover.

On 12 November 2020 the UNSC passed Resolution 2551 renewing the partial arms embargo for Somalia until 15 December 2021.


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 UNSC should continue to reevaluate AMISOM’s drawdown date and monitor progress on Transition Plan programs to ensure the end of mission does not endanger Somalia’s fragile security and stability.

The Federal Government of Somalia, AMISOM and allied forces, including the United States, 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 and crimes against humanity in Somalia must be properly investigated and the perpetrators held accountable, regardless of rank or affiliation.


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