War crimes rampant in Somalia: HRW News
War crimes rampant in Somalia: HRW

[JURIST] The Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG), Ethiopian troops and insurgent forces were responsible for "rampant violations of the laws of war" [press release] during fighting between March and April 2007 in the vicinity of Somali capital Mogadishu, according to a report [PDF text] released Monday by Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website]. HRW Executive Director Ken Roth said that "the warring parties have all shown criminal disregard for the well-being of the civilian population of Mogadishu" and that "the UN Security Council's indifference to this crisis has only added to the tragedy."

According to the report:

All parties to the Somalia conflict have committed serious violations of international humanitarian law by using weapon in Mogadishu without indiscriminating between military objectives and civilians. Ethiopian forces conducted area bombardments in populated areas and failed to call off attacks that disproportionately harmed civilians. Commanders who order indiscriminate attacks knowingly or recklessly are responsible for war crimes. Casualties have been further heightened by the deployment of insurgent forces in densely populated areas and the launching of attacks from such areas. None of the parties have taken – as international law requires – all feasible precautions to spare the civilian population from the effects of the attacks. …

There is strong evidence that the indiscriminate bombardment of populated neighborhoods by Ethiopian forces was intentional. Commanders who knowingly or recklessly order indiscriminate attacks are responsible for war crimes. …

Insurgency attacks on military targets such as military convoys or bases in crowded civilian areas were sometimes conducted without any apparent effort to minimize the effects of such attacks on civilians. While Ethiopian or TFG forces may themselves have failed to take all feasible steps to minimize the risks to the civilian population, such as by establishing bases in crowded civilian neighborhoods, this did not relieve insurgent forces of the obligation to minimize civilian harm when conducting attacks.

HRW also accused the TFG of failing to provide effective warning when alerting civilians of impending military operations, committing widespread pillaging and looting of civilian property, and interfering with the delivery of humanitarian assistance." HRW estimates that more than 1,000 civilians have been killed and that up to 400,000 civilians have been displaced in Somalia [JURIST news archive]. Special Adviser to Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi disputed the reports, saying HRW is engaging in "fabrication, and in misinforming the world in unsubstantiated fairy-tales." TFG spokesperson Abdi Haji Gobdon said the allegations were based on "wrong impressions of the reality on the ground." Reuters has more. BBC News has additional coverage.