SOMALIA: Senior UN human rights official condemns "ruthless attacks" on civilians in Somalia

Published: September 15, 2010

Senior UN human rights official condemns “ruthless attacks” on civilians in Somalia, calls for concerted effort to tackle decades of impunity
The UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Kyung-wha Kang delivered the following statement Wednesday at the end of a three-day visit to Kenya, Somaliland and Puntland:
“I come away from the past three days with a better understanding of both the despair and the hopes of the Somali people. Such a brief mission of course allows me to only scratch the surface of what is a complex situation resulting from prolonged conflict, but I do come away with a profound sense that we can – and must – do more now to contribute to Somali efforts to create a peaceful and prosperous country in the long run.
I’ve had extensive discussions with Somali authorities, civil society groups, UN colleagues and members of the international community in Somaliland, Puntland, and here in Nairobi. I am grateful for the Somali hospitality and many insights shared, as well as for the frankness in describing what is clearly a desperate situation in South-Central Somalia.
I spoke to victims of the conflict who had recently fled Mogadishu. One woman with whom I spoke in a settlement for internally displaced poeple (IDPs) in Hargeisa had fled the fighting in Mogadishu along with her three young children, aged 10, 5 and 4, a few months back. Her husband had been killed three months earlier due to the fighting and her oldest son wounded. She described to me the indiscriminate nature of the violence in Mogadishu:
‘Everywhere bullets and heavy missiles were firing between the Al Shabaab, the TFG, and AMISOM. Even if you’re not targeted, bullets have no direction,’ she said. ‘There is no safe place.’
While thankful to have escaped Mogadishu alive, she described the many challenges faced by her family and other IDPs and refugees whom I met in the settlement:
‘Here we have no job, no house, no support. We beg. Some days we get, some days we don’t. Life is like that. Everyday we get visitors, but we don’t get anything.’

I heard other similar stories, of which there are unfortunately thousands from all parts of Somalia, many of them from those most affected: women, children, the elderly, the disabled. The international community – as well as authorities – must step up their efforts to see that IDPs and refugees are given the assistance and protection that is their due and in line with international norms. Concerns about security are legitimate and governments are obliged to tackle crime and insecurity. But this must not serve as an excuse to restrict human rights. Rather, human rights should serve as the guiding principles and foundation for creating a secure environment.

It is difficult to find words strong enough to condemn the ruthless attacks and abuses against civilians by the Al Shabaab and other armed groups that have caused this forced displacement, as well as their cowardly attacks against AMISOM peacekeepers. It is disheartening that such attacks are ongoing. We must look for more, and creative, ways to enhance the protection of the civilians who need it most.
I was heartened by my constructive conversations with senior officials from AMISOM. I have the deepest appreciation for the extremely difficult task AMISOM faces on the ground and for their troops that have paid the highest price in carrying out their mandate. I was encouraged by the commitment from AMISOM leadership to take steps to ensure that their soldiers respond to the unscrupulous attacks from armed groups with the utmost respect for civilians and international humanitarian law. In this regard, I look forward to closer collaboration between the United Nations and the African Union in preventing and responding to the allegations of excesses by AMISOM.
We need to envision a peaceful and developing Somalia of the future – without any delusions about there being quick fixes in the areas where there is protracted conflict. But we should ask ourselves, ‘What can we do today, concretely, to contribute to the foundations of stability and sustainable development in Somalia?’
The UN Human Rights Office stands ready to work with Somalis and members of the international community to combat one of the key root causes of the conflict: an imbedded culture of impunity. Even as conflict continues in some areas, we must begin the work of systematically documenting the most serious abuses throughout the years of conflict with the vision of one day holding perpetrators to account. Addressing the continuing cycle of impunity and violence should be a cornerstone in the foundation of building peace in Somalia. And it should serve as a deterrent to would-be violators that they will be held to account.

The impressive progress made towards stability and development by Somalilanders and Puntlanders over the past years should remind us of what is possible and inspire us to do more. I greatly appreciate the commitment to the protection of human rights made to me by senior Puntland authorities in Garowe as well as those made by the President of Somaliland and the new Somaliland Government.

I salute their determined efforts to increase the participation of women in all aspects of Somali society. This participation, along with guarantees of freedom of expression and protection of journalists and human rights defenders, are key elements in making progress. The energy and determination of civil society groups everywhere — and especially those in South-Central Somalia – should be met with support from a host of international actors – governmental, international NGOs, donors, and the United Nations.

I am much encouraged by the commitment of the UNPOS SRSG to deploy United Nations staff – including human rights officers – to Somaliland and Puntland in the near future. This reflects the commitment of the United Nations to work shoulder-to-shoulder with Somalis in their country and provide assistance to the maximum extent possible.
Somali leaders from all sides – and in particular the Transitional Federal Government – must put aside self-interests and work with more intensity towards an inclusive and sustainable peace. In the words of a human rights defender from Mogadishu:
‘Nothing is changing. The people are getting hopeless. Women, children, and the poor are the most effected.’

This is where the focus should be.

The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, said last year that there is a tendency of people to throw up their arms when considering Somalia and say, ‘What can we do in such an anarchic situation?’ My short time in Somalia has shown me how wrong indeed that thinking is. Somalis have made it clear that they have the courage and ability to do much inside their country today. We on the outside must find the will and means to match that courage.”

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