and Regional Affairs |
& Commentry |
By Howard Lesser
Washington, DC, 09 December 2008 – A new report from Human Rights Watch
asks the United States, the European Union, and other major powers to
redefine what it calls their "flawed" approach to the crisis in Somalia
and urges them to support efforts to bring greater accountability to the
offenders. The 104-page report released Monday argues that all sides are
responsible for mounting dangers over the past two years and that the
combatants are inflicting more damage on civilians than on each other.
Human Rights Watch Africa director Georgette Gagnon says that outsiders,
including the soon-to-take-office Obama administration, need to
re-evaluate fundamental views about the Horn of Africa conflict in order
to stop fueling the war crimes and rights abuses that Human Rights Watch
says are being committed by all sides in the conflict.
"There needs to be first, some sort of record of accountability and
justice to show all those civilians who have been displaced and killed
over the past many years that there's a new way of looking at the
situation and that the various international actors will not continue to
tolerate abuses by the TFG (Transitional Federal Government), by the
Ethiopian troops, and by the insurgents. We also are calling on the
Obama administration to appoint a new, high-level, very experienced
envoy to the Horn (of Africa region) to assist with the ongoing talks
between the parties," she said.
Human Rights Watch is also requesting that the United Nations assign a
special Commission of Inquiry to hold offenders accountable for
abhorrent acts. Africa director Gagnon says it is needed to shift the
focus back to civilians' rights and away from the war on terror. In
defining the conflict in Somalia for too long as a battlefield in the
global war against terror, she argues, the Bush administration has been
limited to a policy of uncritical support for both the transitional
government and invading Ethiopian forces, and a resulting absence of
accountability over the past two years continues to fuel some of the
worst abuses against civilians in the 17-year conflict.
"Their need for protection is greater than it has ever been. They are
constantly bombarded in their neighborhoods. They've been assaulted,
murdered, and raped, even by those so-called forces that were supposed
to be there to provide some protection. They've been used as human
shields, targeted as collaborators by one side or another. And of
course, no one is being held accountable," she noted.
Ethiopia recently announced its intention to withdraw the troops which
entered Somalia in December of 2006 in order to bolster its own security
concerns and help the TFG gain stronger governing leverage in the
country. However, Monday's Human Rights Watch report says that contrary
to stabilizing conditions, Addis Ababa's intervention has fueled new
attacks and bombings that have encouraged the conflict to spread into
neighboring regions and across borders.
Ethiopia on Monday quickly issued a response to the Human Rights report,
calling its methods flawed, based on hearsay, and rejecting accusations
of crimes it says are being committed by other forces and parties in the
conflict. The report blames all sides for atrocities committed in
Somalia, and cites previously semi-autonomous regions of Somaliland and
Puntland, as well as refugee camps across the Kenyan border and piracy
in the Gulf of Aden as new sources of instability. Georgette Gagnon says
that peace talks in Djibouti are one avenue where international powers
can promote greater understanding and accountability.
"One area they could look at is, who are the players at the talks, for
example. Are all the key parties being represented? And being much more
vigorous in setting timelines for the talks, ensuring that those at the
table are aware and can make decisions for those fighting on the ground.
Also, the new (Obama) administration should look more seriously at the
question of civilian protection, who should be providing it, how it
should be provided. It's urgent. There needs to be much more
international engagement on that," says Gagnon.