OP-ED: New Somalia peace mandate must be strong on human rights

By Patrick Mbugua

Speaking about the African Union Mission in Somalia, the UK’s permanent representative to the UN Security Council, Matthew Rycroft, told journalists: “We will be renewing the mandate of AMISOM shortly. We have all been listening and learning about the successes, but also the challenges that AMISOM faces.” He was speaking in Mogadishu on 19 May after a meeting between representatives of the Security Council’s 15 member countries and Somalia’s President Hassan Sheikh Mahmud.

As the Security Council inches towards extending the mandate of the African Union Mission in Somalia, which expires at the end of this month, it is critical that they strengthen the mission’s human rights component.

The current mandate began in July 2015 and deployed AMISOM as a peace enforcement mission, a break from its traditional peacekeeping mission.

It allowed AMISOM to fight Al-Shabaab and other armed groups; help the federal government to widen the territory under its control; and establish effective control over the entire country.

The mandate also empowered the mission to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid, the resettlement of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), and the return of refugees from neighbouring countries and beyond.

The majority of Somalia’s IDPs live in the Afgooye Corridor - a slice of territory between Mogadishu and the town of Afgooye in the Lower Shabeelle region. The corridor currently hosts the largest concentration of internally displaced people in the world.

There is no article in the rules underpinning the current mandate that specifically mentions human rights or outlines how AMISOM ought to protect human rights. However, protection and respect for human rights are implied in the core requirements of the mandate, as well as in its day-to-day security operations. This explains why the UN Support Office for AMISOM (UNSOA) has been training AMISOM troops on human rights. Similarly, human rights observers from the UN Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM) have been supporting AMISOM’s Human Rights Office, which is responsible for monitoring, investigating, and reporting human rights violations and abuses.

Impunity for violations is not just a consequence of the armed conflict, but also constitutes a key driver for the continuation of the prolonged conflict. This is why it is important to strengthen the human rights component of the new mandate.
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Gross violations of international humanitarian and human rights law have taken place in the context of the protracted armed conflict in Somalia, especially in the central-southern regions of the country where Al-Shabaab and other armed militia operate. Some of these violations have amounted to crimes under international law and perpetrators continue to operate with impunity.

Impunity for violations is not just a consequence of the armed conflict, but also constitutes a key driver for the continuation of the prolonged conflict. This is why it is important to strengthen the human rights component of the new mandate.

The mission should be better equipped to protect the human rights of Internally Displaced Persons, including the more than 800,000 settled in the Afgooye Corridor. Many human rights violations and abuses have been recorded in IDP camps, including gender-based violence, discrimination along clan lines, child recruitment by Al-Shabaab and clan militias, and deliberate denial of humanitarian assistance.

AMISOM’s protection of IDPs has been limited by lack of capacity, an issue the new mandate should address by giving it more financial resources and troops.

Al-Shabaab attacks in major urban centres have killed and injured thousands of people over the years. While AMISOM has managed to reduce attacks in urban centres, its success has not been replicated across the country, partly due to its inability to stop the forced recruitment of children that continually swells Al-Shabaab’s ranks.

AMISOM troops appear to have also violated human rights themselves. In July 2015 there were reports that they had shot directly into a crowd of civilians in Lower Shabeelle. AMISOM denied these reports, but Amnesty International urged it to conduct prompt, thorough and independent investigations and bring all those suspected of criminal responsibility to justice in fair trials and without recourse to death penalty.

Amnesty International and other human rights defenders have also documented incidents of sexual exploitation of Somali women and girls by the peace-enforcement troops.

A major challenge to the mission’s ability to ensure there is no impunity for violations is that the authority to hold troops perpetrating violations to account lies not with it but with troop-contributing countries. This needs to change.

Respect for human rights is critical if AMISOM is to have any chance of success in its core mission to bring peace to Somalia. This will require that the new mandate include articles strengthening protection of civilians, as well as monitoring, documentation and reporting on human rights.

The new mandate should also commit AMISOM to remove from its ranks those who violate international human rights law and hold them to account.

Another aspect which could be considered in the new mandate is making human rights education a part of pre-deployment training for all troops.

Further, the international community should consider increasing funding and surge capacity for the mission. This will enable AMISOM obtain higher troop numbers from contributing countries.

Patrick K. Mbugua PhD is the Somalia Researcher at Amnesty International

This op-ed was first published in Kenya's The Daily Nation newspaper on 8 June 2016 http://www.nation.co.ke/oped/Opinion/Troops-must-respect-human-rights/-/440808/3236852/-/hurhch/-/index.html