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Human Rights Watch World Report 1994 - Somalia

Publisher Human Rights Watch
Publication Date 1 January 1994
Cite as Human Rights Watch, Human Rights Watch World Report 1994 - Somalia, 1 January 1994, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/467fca7c2.html [accessed 24 July 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Events of 1993

Human Rights Developments

Despite a considerable improvement in the overall humanitarian situation in Somalia during 1993, after it became a major focus of international interest and the subject of United Nations intervention, the country remained in crisis. For several months in the middle of the year, U.N. forces, sent to Somalia to restore peace and reestablish a functioning civil society and state after a year of brutal clan warfare, found themselves caught up in a serious military confrontation in Mogadishu. Humanitarian and political issues took second place to military priorities. The whole process of U.N. intervention raised serious questions of accountability as well as various legal and ethical issues. The Somalia operation underlined the U.N.'s overall weaknesses in peacekeeping operations, and demonstrated problems inherent in the concept of peace enforcement.

The decision to send the predominantly U.S. forces of the United Nations International Task Force (UNITAF) to Somalia from December 9, 1992, was taken by outgoing U.S. President George Bush in response to reports that the majority of food arriving in Somalia for relief of the famine was being looted, and that relief agencies could not operate because of a general climate of insecurity. It was authorized by Security Council Resolution 794, under Chapter Seven of the U.N. Charter, "to establish a secure environment for humanitarian relief operations." The reports of food diversion may have been exaggerated, and earlier aid, together with a successful harvest following a drop in military activity, had already made a substantial difference in food supplies. Nevertheless, the famine was certainly not under control by December 1992, and mortality rates in the worst-hit areas remained high.

With the arrival of UNITAF forces (made up originally of some 24,000 U.S. troops and another 13,000 from other countries) the general climate of insecurity suffered for most of 1992 eased greatly. The port of Mogadishu, closed to the U.N. for weeks, was reopened; the airport was able to operate much more efficiently; international agencies and nongovernmental organizations were given military protection, and most of the protection rackets, food diversion and looting were brought to an end – at least in the areas in which UNITAF forces operated. Food distribution improved, and, in a matter of weeks, meals and supplemental food were being delivered to virtually all areas of southern and central Somalia without interference.

There were, however, unanticipated results to UNITAF activities. Hundreds of armed militiamen from Mogadishu together with their "technicals" (armed vehicles) dispersed to various other towns, including Baidoa and Kismayo. Between the arrival of the U.S. marines in Mogadishu and their presence in Baidoa ten days later, gunmen launched a wave of attacks. In Kismayo, dozens were assassinated before UNITAF forces reached the town. The presence of U.S. marines and subsequently Belgian troops did nothing to prevent control of Kismayo changing hands several times in severe factional fighting between Gen. Mohamed Siad Hersi "Morgan" (son-in-law of the former president of Somalia, Siad Barre) and Col. Ahmed Omar Jess.

The first effort at reconciliation came on December 11, 1992, when Gen. Muhammad Farah Aideed and "Interim President" Ali Mahdi, rivals for the control of Mogadishu and for the leadership of the Hawiye clan, shook hands in a public relations exercise, arranged by the U.S., which had no effect on the ground. With UNITAF firmly in place, the U.N. organized two peace conferences in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in January and March 1993. In January 1993, a large number of delegations from Somalia met in Addis Ababa under U.N. auspices. The meeting produced an agreement on disarmament, including a requirement to inform the U.N., by February 15, of the location and composition of clan militias and weapons held. The deadline was not met, and neither implementation nor verification made any significant progress before the second conference (or indeed subsequently). The March conference was essentially a meeting of the main clan-based factions. Agreement was reached on the establishment of a Transitional National Council (TNC), with four subcommittees covering disarmament and security, rehabilitation and reconstruction, restoration of property and settlement of disputes, and transitional mechanisms. Regional and district councils were to be set up, and an independent judiciary created.

One immediately controversial element was the application of these arrangements to the self-proclaimed Republic of Somaliland in the north of the country. The new leadership and elders of Somaliland categorically rejected the agreement's relevance to Somaliland. The elders had already made it clear that the planned deployment of U.N. troops in the north, announced in February, was unacceptable. Large public demonstrations in several towns underlined the point. The north made significant progress during 1992 and 1993, following its declaration of independence in 1991, in reestablishing functioning state structures and demobilizing clan militias.

Little progress had been made with other aspects of the March agreement by the time UNITAF, under U.S. command, was replaced, on May 1, by the United Nations Operation in Somalia (UNOSOM II). UNOSOM II was authorized, by Security Council Resolution 814, to use force to bring peace, and to disarm and demobilize all troops. In addition, it was empowered to establish a police force and assist in the formation of government and legal structures. Many U.S. troops remained in Somalia, though the Pakistani detachment became the largest component of the U.N. force. Overlap between U.N. and U.S. command structures remained. The U.N. Special Envoy to Somalia, Jonathan Howe, was a retired U.S. navy admiral.

Some efforts were made by UNOSOM to establish regional and district councils, a judicial system and a police force. However, in some instances, premature efforts to establish district councils in contested areas caused problems. For example, twenty-three Somalis were killed in inter-clan fighting in Qorioley in early September after UNOSOM called for elections. Moreover, virtually all such political efforts were suspended after June 5, when twenty-four Pakistani soldiers died in a confrontation with General Aideed's forces. Exactly what happened was not investigated or established at the time, but UNOSOM immediately blamed General Aideed. On June 6, Security Council Resolution 837 authorized the arrest, detention and prosecution of those responsible for the attack. Admiral Howe also announced a $25,000 reward for information leading to the capture of Aideed. UNOSOM subsequently commissionedan internal investigation of the incident: the report produced in mid-August, a summary of which was later published, stated that there was prima facie evidence of General Aideed's responsibility.

All sides bear responsibility for the marked deterioration in security and the substantial increase in human rights violations over subsequent months. That included UNOSOM, which became drawn into open conflict with General Aideed, and in its military activities showed a disregard for the laws of war. The applicability of the Geneva Conventions and their Additional Protocols may not be clear with respect to U.N. military operations, but each component force is clearly bound to observe them at all times. Lawyers with the UNOSOM forces stated that the U.N. regarded the rules of international humanitarian law as binding on its forces.

On June 12, Pakistani troops fired on a small civilian demonstration close to the U.N. compound, killing at least two people. On June 13, Pakistani forces again opened fire on a crowd, this time killing at least ten, including women and children. UNOSOM claimed that the shooting was in self-defence, but the facts of the case were not clearly established. Journalists who were eyewitnesses to the incident stated that it was not clear that shots had been fired from the crowd before the Pakistani troops opened fire, and that in any event the response to any fire from the crowd was disproportionate to the threat faced and was not in conformity with the obligation to minimize the danger to noncombatants. No public investigation of this incident was carried out by UNOSOM.

In their search for General Aideed, UNOSOM forces attacked the clearly marked Digfer Hospital in Mogadishu on June 17, killing several patients and wounding others. Members of Aideed's militia had entered the hospital, and, in violation of the laws of war, used it as a vantage point to fire on UNOSOM forces that were pursuing them; the U.N. claimed that its troops were acting in self-defense. However, as in the June 13 incident, the UNOSOM forces were under an obligation to take action to minimize noncombatant casualties. Again, the facts of the case were not clearly established. The U.S. denied that its helicopters were used in the attack, though it admitted that eleven missiles were fired from helicopters on June 17, during the battle. Several otherwise unexplained missiles did hit the hospital, though it is not possible to say whether they were responsible for any deaths. At least five patients were killed during the battle. Damage to the hospital observed after the fighting was over indicated that the whole hospital had been targeted, and not just specific points where Somali militiamen might have been seen. UNOSOM confirmed that no warning of the attack was given, stating that none was possible in the circumstances. On September 13, in a similar incident, U.N. forces fired on Benadir Hospital, near the U.N. compound.

On July 12, an attack was carried out on an alleged command center of General Aideed, using missiles fired from U.S. helicopters. UNOSOM originally claimed that only thirteen Somalis were killed in this attack, but the International Committee of the Red Cross later verified at least fifty-four deaths. No warning was given before the attack, and no fire had been aimed at UNOSOM from the building. The legality of the attack was questioned by UNOSOM's own justice division in a report that was not released to the public. The report concluded: "UNOSOM should anticipate that some organizations and member states will characterize a deliberate attack meant to kill the occupants without giving all the building occupants a chance to surrender as nothing less than murder committed in the name of the United Nations."

The use of air power supplied by the U.S., in particular Cobra helicopter gunships, resulted in the deaths of many Somali civilians from ill-directed rocket and cannon fire. Helicopters were used as a threat, hovering over buildings and houses, singly or in a mass, and homes were destroyed and civilians knocked over by the draught from their rotors. By the end of October, Africa Watch estimated that at least 500 to 600 Somalis, both civilians and combatants, had been killed by U.S. or UNOSOM forces, and more than 2,000 wounded. UNOSOM officials were quoted in mid-November stating that nearly one hundred UNOSOM or U.S. soldiers had died, including seventy-four killed and 325 wounded since June 5.

Several hundred Somalis were detained by UNOSOM forces, most of them following the June 5 attack on Pakistani forces. Although the great majority were released after short periods, many were detained without charge for several weeks. Some were held in secret locations and denied access to lawyers or family, only obtaining visits from the International Red Cross after long delays. There was no indication of what laws would apply to these cases, what rights the defendant would have, or indeed by what tribunal they would betried. They were not allowed to consult with lawyers, nor to talk to reporters. In September, a rudimentary court system was set up, and many U.N. detainees were handed over to the newly established Somali police force for processing. Forty-three Somalis were still in U.N. custody in mid-November.

No procedures were established by UNITAF or UNOSOM for Somalis to lodge complaints in case of wrongdoing by U.N. forces, though some of the individual military detachments had their own procedures. This was the case for the U.S. forces, and for the Canadian and Australian forces serving with UNITAF. There were no such procedures for the other forces with UNOSOM. In April, a U.S. Marine was convicted for use of excessive force in an incident in which he killed two civilians. In mid-June, a U.S. soldier was arrested by military police, accused of subjecting a Somali to torture. The soldier was released, pending further investigation. Another soldier was convicted of aggravated assault of two civilians. Six Canadian soldiers were eventually charged with murder and torture in connection with the beating to death of a Somali in their custody. A court martial proceeding was undertaken in Canada. Belgian forces operating in Kismayo instituted an inquiry in response to criticism of their behavior.

General Aideed's forces were also guilty of violations of the laws of war. The neutrality of hospitals was violated on at least the two occasions reported above. On several occasions, civilians seem to have been used to "shield" his troops, a serious violation of international humanitarian law which contributed to the high civilian casualties during exchange of fire with U.N. forces. Several Somalis working for the U.N. were killed, and there were reports that these were summary executions by Aideed's troops. Somalis working for locally produced newspapers critical of General Aideed, including a broadsheet published by the U.N., received death threats. Two U.N. soldiers, a Nigerian and an American, were captured by Aideed, but were not seriously mistreated, after initial manhandling by Somali civilians, and were ultimately released. The Red Cross visited them while they were in custody.

When the pursuit of General Aideed proved unsuccessful, elite U.S. Rangers were sent in August to reinforce the U.S.-commanded rapid deployment force left in Mogadishu after the handover from UNITAF to UNOSOM. On October 3, U.S. Rangers from this force were trapped by Aideed's forces in a densely populated area of narrow streets, while undertaking an armed sweep, ostensibly in search of weapons. Eighteen U.S. soldiers and one Malaysian were killed, seventy-five U.N. troops wounded, and one taken prisoner. According to eyewitness reports, several hundred Somalis may have been killed in this episode; Aideed himself claimed that 315 were killed and 812 wounded, figures accepted by the Red Cross as "plausible."

This attack resulted in a major review of U.S. and U.N. policy. In response to the domestic outcry at the American casualties, President Clinton sent in thousands more U.S. troops, but also announced a date, March 31, 1994, for the withdrawal of all U.S. forces from Somalia. He reappointed Robert Oakley as U.S. Special Envoy, a position he had held earlier in the year, with the task of organizing a fresh reconciliation conference, and announced that a commission of inquiry staffed by Africans would seek to establish responsibility for the June 5 deaths. It was also made clear that the U.S. would no longer look for General Aideed. In mid-November UNOSOM formally ended its search for Aideed; instead, the Security Council resolved that a special commission would determine who was responsible for attacks on U.N. forces. A conference on the economic reconstruction of Somalia, to which 150 Somali leaders were invited, was convened in Addis Ababa.

Nevertheless, towards the end of the year prospects for a settlement still remained poor. Almost as soon as it became clear that U.S. policy had changed, more arms began to appear on the streets of Mogadishu, and in rural areas there were signs of rearmament and some skirmishes. Several clashes between factions underlined the fact that nearly a year had been lost with no real progress towards any political solution. There were indications that some areas of the center and south of the country to which displaced people were returning might be on the verge of suffering food shortages again. Insecurity and banditry continued to be problematic throughout southern Somalia.

The Right to Monitor

Although the overall security situation in Somalia improved, human rights monitoring remained difficult. The most dangerous area was Mogadishu, affected as it was between June and October by the conflict between General Aideed's forces and those of UNOSOM. Both proved extremely reluctant to acknowledgeviolations and even more reluctant to assist in investigations. Local Somali organizations attempting to monitor human rights violations were ignored by the U.N. Elsewhere, the threat of violence was limited largely to free-lance bandits, and, at times, Somali factions.

U.S. and U.N. Policy

Suspicion over the intentions of UNITAF and then UNOSOM, and the role of the U.S. in both, crystallized quickly in Somalia. There was widespread concern that solutions were being imposed on the local population without regard for their views. Very few Somalis were consulted in advance of either operation, and even fewer involved as participants in subsequent processes. UNOSOM in particular, after the June 5 attack on Pakistani troops, took on the attitude and mentality of an occupying force, firing Somali staff, keeping its personnel in "safe houses," or in a guarded compound, and "offering" to protect journalists.

From the beginning, many Somalis were discouraged that the leaders responsible for gross violations of human rights under President Siad Barre and after should be those that the U.S. and the U.N. turned to during 1993. It soon became apparent that the U.S. was prepared to deal with General Morgan, despite the declarations of the U.S. special envoy, Robert Oakley, that he would never deal with the "Butcher of Hargeisa," responsible for the destruction of 80 percent of that city in 1988 and the deaths of tens of thousands of its inhabitants. Within two months, the U.S. military's view of Morgan as a more reliable figure than General Aideed or his allies had been accepted, and Morgan's forces were in control of Kismayo, with his opponents disarmed by UNITAF. In Mogadishu, most of those disarmed belonged to General Aideed's forces. Other factions guilty of equally serious human rights violations during Somalia's civil war, including troops under "Interim President" Ali Mahdi, were not systematically disarmed.

Where UNOSOM attempted to fulfill its original humanitarian mission, it also failed to consult with Somalis. For example, little evaluation of local needs took place before attempts were made to set up the regional and district councils provided for under the March agreement in Addis Ababa. Considerable concern was also expressed that the rights of displaced people, or of refugees who might return, were being neglected. There is little indication that UNOSOM's political office consulted or worked through any of the local voluntary organizations that sprang up in many areas, and which often operated across clan lines. Their expertise, in some cases, was considerable. As the local councils were to have responsibility for law and order, these weaknesses were significant.

From May on, military priorities – the enforcement of law and order, and the subjugation of the so-called warlords – governed UNOSOM policy, rather than human rights or humanitarian concerns. This was supported by the U.S. However, at the end of the year, after the major reconsideration of policy caused by U.S. casualties, the U.S. was showing a much greater willingness to encourage the involvement of other African states in peacemaking efforts; UNOSOM was also trying to reestablish its own credibility by keeping control of the process, and giving its humanitarian functions priority. UNOSOM seemed reluctantly prepared to accept the role of regional powers, in particular that of President Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia, in reconvening the Addis Ababa conference.

The Work of Africa Watch

Africa Watch sent missions to Somalia in January and October, and, in association with the HRW Women's Rights Project, to Somali refugee camps in Kenya in July.

From the outset, Africa Watch raised general and specific questions of accountability of U.N. troops, whether under UNITAF or UNOSOM II, and emphasized the need for the U.N. to document past and present human rights abuses by all sides. Accountability for human rights abuses, including by U.S. or U.N. forces, should be insisted upon whatever future agreements are reached for the settlement of the conflict. In March, a newsletter detailed the need for the creation of a legitimate government and the fostering of a civil society. It drew attention to the need for a safe environment, and noted the problem of disarmament, arguing that, if undertaken, it should be even-handed and verifiable. The creation of a police force, the need for Somali participation, and for realistic clan and sub-clan involvement at all levels, were also emphasized.

Africa Watch wrote to the U.N. Secretary-General on June 15 and againon July 15. The letters protested attacks on Somali civilians, by both U.N. forces, principally from the U.S. contingents, and armed Somali factions. Africa Watch called for a special session of the Security Council to be held on Somalia to investigate human rights abuses; for an independent commission of inquiry to be set up to investigate all violations since June 5, including U.S. air attacks; for the U.N. to ensure that any future military operations should be conducted with "scrupulous regard" for the laws of war, and for the U.N. to start a vigorous policy of dialogue and negotiation. Other suggestions included relocating Pakistani troops out of Mogadishu. Finally, Africa Watch suggested a contingent of unarmed human rights monitors to be deployed throughout Somalia to collect information on abuses by all parties. Africa Watch also expressed concern over the failure of the resolution authorizing the arrest of those responsible for the attack of June 5 to detail the applicable legal procedures.

Africa Watch argued against any premature withdrawal of U.S. troops, for fear it might lead others to pull out and precipitate a sudden departure of all foreign troops. A probable consequence, in the absence of realistic peace agreements, would be renewed fighting and an upsurge in human rights abuses.

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