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Two decades of conflict have wreaked havoc on civilians in Somalia, who are often targeted by insurgent groups and government forces and face high-levels of violence and human rights abuses, Amnesty International said Friday.
Launching its global human rights report on the eve of its 50th anniversary, Amnesty said civilian killings and rights abuses have increased.
There is widespread recruitment and use of child soldiers; forced recruitment of young men; intimidation of civil society actors; forced taxation; and regular unlawful killings and torture, such as stoning to death, amputations and floggings of people perceived to disagree with militant Islamist group al-Shabaab or be disobeying their strict interpretation of Sharia law.
Benedicte Goderiaux, a research in Amnesty’s Africa program, told Somalia Report ordinary civilians in al-Shabaab controlled areas are at risk of serious human rights abuses, particularly journalists, humanitarian workers and civil society actors.
“Everyone is at risk of being arbitrarily punished, as those captured and accused by al-Shabaab local factions do not seem to benefit from any due process,” she said. “Somali civilians fleeing al-Shabaab areas told Amnesty International that they lived in constant fear.”
Goderiaux says the vast majority of civilians they met late in 2010 talked of their trauma and distress after experiencing or witnessing horrendous human rights abuses, and seeing relatives or friends being killed.
“Several ... had scars caused by bullet wounds, sustained when they were caught in crossfire between warring parties,” she said. “Others were disabled after surviving bombing with mortars and rockets on their houses.”
The African Union peacekeeping mission (known as AMISOM) has often been accused of indiscriminate fire in civilian areas, although in recent months they appear to be making an effort to address this. In March 2011, AMISOM announced that three Ugandan soldiers were found guilty of carelessness in two separate incidents in November 2010 and January 2011 during which civilians were fired at, and were serving two years prison sentences in Uganda.
Amnesty also warned of the negative consequences of al-Shabaab banning humanitarian aid in areas under its control.
“Humanitarian organizations' access to civilian populations in need, already low in 2009, further deteriorated in 2010,” the group said in its report. “Insecurity, fighting, the targeting of humanitarian workers, taxes or bans imposed by armed groups on aid agencies all contribute to the deterioration of living conditions for Somali civilians. Some 2.4 million are now estimated to need urgent humanitarian and food aid, with a worsening drought since the end of 2010.”
For the last two years, human rights organizations have accused al-Shabaab of recruiting child soldiers and some of the parents whose children have been recruited by al-Shabaab have been threatened with death if they try to access their children, Amnesty said. One local non-governmental organization put the number of children fighting in the armed group at 2,000 to 3,000.
As to human rights groups, killings, death threats and intimidation by the warring parties have made it virtually impossible for them to operate in an open and independent manner. Many human rights activists have been forced to flee the country. As a result, there is less and less information being circulated about the plight of Somali civilians, both inside and outside the country.