EU must not turn a blind eye to abuses in Somalia

By Nicolas Beger, Director of Amnesty International’s European Institutions Office

The following op-ed originally appeared in New Europe.

Today EU and Somali leaders meet in Brussels for the New Deal for Somalia Conference. The conference will negotiate a new Compact for Somalia, which will frame future relations between Somalia and the international community. Last week the EU announced a further €124 million for the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). As they gather at the table to negotiate and set out priorities, they must remember what’s at stake.

There are over one million people who are displaced within Somalia, with an estimated 369,000 living in Mogadishu. Conditions for internally displaced people (IDP) are dire. A recent Amnesty International mission to the country found substandard shelters made of cloth or plastic sheets, with  pieces of cloth serving as  doors.

Last January, the Somali government announced a plan to relocate hundreds of thousands of IDPs from Mogadishu to proposed camps outside the city. The reasons for the relocation were reported to be associated with security and the development of the capital, and were cited as a first step towards returning internally displaced people to their places of origin – most of which are in areas of ongoing conflict and insecurity.

Though the planned relocation is on hold, displaced people have been moved regardless, mainly through forced evictions. Attempts to resist on the side of those being evicted has at times been met with force from security forces, including gun fire resulting in injuries and deaths, including of a child. Those who are evicted are moving to the Afgooye corridor, outside the city, where government presence is weak, and armed groups are able to operate.

With insecurity the norm in settlements for displaced people, rape and sexual violence are a constant threat, particularly for women and girls. One 14-year-old girl living in a displacement camp in Mogadishu was raped in her shelter as she was recovering from an epilepsy attack. She told Amnesty International: “I woke up to find a man who was undressing me and I tried to scream but he grabbed me by the throat and so I could not scream. My cousin (aged 4) woke up and he told her to be silent. He did his business and then ran away.”

The United Nations report in 2012 there were at least 1,700 cases of rape in IDP settlements, of which at least 70 percent were carried out by armed men wearing government uniforms.

There have also been allegations of rape against members of the peacekeeping AMISOM. In August  a woman was reportedly abducted in Mogadishu by four people in government uniforms and taken to AMISOM barracks where she alleges she was drugged and raped on multiple occasions.

Investigations, prosecutions and convictions for rape and other forms of sexual violence are rare in Somalia, so survivors have little incentive to file complaints with the police. Some women have faced additional abuse and stigmatisation if they do report the crime.

The situation in Somalia remains extremely complex, as the country emerges from two decades of conflict. But the EU must not turn a blind eye to human rights abuses and are themselves accountable for EU funding in Somalia. Instead, it must foreground human rights considerations in all its work with Somalia. It must urge the Somali authorities to hold those in the security forces to account for their conduct. EU funding to the Somali government and AMISOM must be conditional on those bodies setting up systems to monitor conduct of armed forces, and ensure there are investigations into human rights abuses. With so much at stake for the lives of the Somali people, the EU must not pass up this opportunity.

Read more:

Somalia: Forced evictions in Mogadishu put thousands of displaced at even greater risk (News story, 13 September 2013)Somalia: No place for the displaced: Forcible eviction of displaced communities (Briefing, 13 September 2013)
Somalia: Rape and sexual violence a constant threat for displaced women (Feature, 30 August 2013)
Somalia: Rape and sexual violence in Somalia – An ongoing epidemic (Briefing, 29 August 2013)