Media Briefing -- Somalia: Protection of civilians should be a paramount concern for the UN Security Council
Only two days after the UN Security Council reaffirmed “its commitment to the full and effective implementation of its resolutions on the protection of civilians in armed conflict”, the Security Council adopted today a new resolution on Somalia, giving more support to the African Union in Somalia (AMISOM) and stating its intention to establish a United Nations Peacekeeping operation in the country but failing to include protection of civilians or human rights monitoring as part of the mandate of this operation.
What is the current human rights situation in Somalia?
Somalia has been ravaged by conflict since 1991, but the last two years have witnessed an upsurge in fighting and attacks on civilians. Civilians have borne the brunt of the fighting since an internationally-backed Somali Transitional Federal Government, supported by Ethiopian troops has been fighting armed groups issued from the Union of Islamic Courts which was controlling the capital Mogadishu and other parts of the country in 2006,.
All parties have committed unlawful attacks on civilians, including direct, indiscriminate or disproportionate attacks. Thousands have been killed and hundreds of thousands displaced -- fuelling a humanitarian emergency. The targeted killings of humanitarian workers have contributed to a reduction in the flow of humanitarian aid to some 3.25 million Somalis in dire need.
People displaced by fighting have been attacked and raped on the road while fleeing. Civil society activists and journalists have been killed -- many in targeted killings -- thus reducing independent reporting on the suffering of the population. Despite the current withdrawal of Ethiopian troops from southern Somalia, a common demand cited by armed groups opposed to the Transitional Federal Government, there continue to be regular reports of killings and displacement of civilians.
What is Amnesty International’s view of the UN Security Council resolution adopted today?
Amnesty International has serious concerns that the resolution makes no mention of the protection of civilians or human rights monitoring as part of the proposed mandate of a UN peacekeeping force in Somalia. Amnesty International hopes, however, that these issues will be addressed by the UN Secretary-General in his report to the Security Council on peacekeeping in Somalia due by 15 April 2009. The Security Council should include the protection of civilians and human rights monitoring in the mandate of a new UN Mission in Somalia if its creation is finally decided.
The provision of the resolution authorizing AMISOM and a proposed UN force to assist the re-establishment and training of Somali security forces is particularly worrying, given the fact that Transitional Federal Government forces, including National Security Agency personnel and pro-TFG armed groups have been implicated in violations of international human rights and humanitarian law.
In light of your concerns about this resolution, what would Amnesty International like to see the UN Security Council do?
Amnesty International would like to see the Council:
• ensure that any security-sector assistance provided to parties to the conflict in Somalia does not contribute to further violations of human rights and humanitarian law;
• ensure that anyone reasonably suspected of committing human rights abuses or with command responsibility over those committing human rights abuses does not receive international assistance and is suspended from duty pending credible investigations.
Does Amnesty International think the UN Security Council is doing enough to protect civilians in Somalia?
The UN Security Council has said a lot about the protection of civilians in recent years.
For example, UN Security Council Resolution 1674 (2006) on the protection of civilians expressed the Council’s intention to ensure that “the protection of civilians is given priority in decisions about the use of available capacity and resources” in the implementation of the mandates of peacekeeping operations.
More recently, in its Presidential Statement on 14 January 2009 (S/PRST/2009/1), the UN Security Council adopted a revised version of its Aide-Mémoire on the protection of civilians in armed conflict, stressing that “enhancing the protection of civilians in armed conflict is at the core of the work of the United Nations Security Council for the maintenance of peace and security”.
However, protection of civilians has not been the core concern in Security Council discussions on the Somalia conflict, despite daily reports of killings, harassment and displacement of civilians.
What else can the UN do to improve the human rights situation for civilians in Somalia?
The Security Council can and should take further action to improve protection for Somali civilians, including:
• Increasing international capacity to effectively monitor and report on human rights abuses by ensuring that AMISOM and any succeeding UN peacekeeping mission have a strong human rights component with the capacity to monitor, investigate and publicly report on violations of human rights and international humanitarian law.
• Establishing an International Commission of Inquiry or similar mechanism to investigate violations of international human rights and humanitarian law committed in Somalia in 2007 and 2008, and to map violations since 1991 that may be considered war crimes or crimes against humanity.
• Strengthening the UN arms embargo on Somalia and taking more determined action to ensure the embargo is fully respected by all states, including states in the region.
• Calling on all parties to the conflict to respect international human rights and humanitarian law.
• Calling upon all states to investigate and, where there is sufficient admissible evidence, to prosecute, in fair trials without the possibility of the death penalty, persons found in their territories suspected of crimes under international law in the conflict in Somalia.
Isn’t there a UN arms embargo on Somalia? Is it working?
Although there has been a UN arms embargo on Somalia since 1992 the UN Monitoring Group, which is charged with monitoring the UN embargo, recently reported that the arms embargo on Somalia is constantly being violated.
The Monitoring Group also said that the procedures for exemptions to the arms embargo were largely not adhered to, in particular those extending to support of the Somali security sector institutions. According to procedures established by the UN Security Council, those wishing to send equipment for humanitarian or protective use or to build the capacity of Somali security sector institutions should first apply for authorization to the UN sanctions committee. The UN Monitoring Group also stated that much assistance given to the Transitional Federal Government security sector for civilian purposes was diverted for military use. The Monitoring Group previously stated that the Somali Police Force, which includes many former militia and operates jointly with the national army, “has purchased arms in Yemen, in violation of the arms embargo, not having requested an exemption from the [UN Sanctions] Committee...[and] …police commanders are also acting as buyers and sellers of arms at the Mogadishu arms markets.”
What improvements does Amnesty International think should be made to the arms embargo currently in place?
The international community has mobilized an unprecedented amount of resources to combat piracy off the coast of Somalia and to protect its commercial interests. However, no such efforts were deployed to stop the supply of arms to Somalia, although a UN arms embargo is in place. The UN Security Council should increase the capacity and resources of the UN Monitoring Group, charged with monitoring the UN arms embargo on Somalia including by:
• enforcing the requirement to apply for exemptions for those wishing to send security equipment or engaging in building the capacity of the Somali security sector,
• positioning UN monitors at seaports and airports, through where arms are likely to be transferred,
• considering a ban on aircraft, ships, and land vehicles owned by individuals, companies or states reported to have breached the arms embargo.
• supporting the negotiation of an effective global Arms Trade Treaty with provisions to ensure respect for human rights and IHL to prevent illicit arms flows into Somalia by strengthening national arms controls.
• Call on UN Member States to initiate criminal proceedings against persons suspected of violating the arms embargo, when there is sufficient admissible evidence for prosecution, after enacting the necessary legislation to give effect to Security Council resolutions on the arms embargo. Prosecutions and trials at the national level must fully comply with international standards on fair trial, without recourse to the death penalty.