Thursday, December 11, 2008

Somalia: Where Human Rights Day is just another day of suffering and "no one seems to care"

War-weary Somalis have little reason to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights on 10 December.

"I don’t know what this day means," Faliz Ali, 33, a mother of two, said. "I am more worried about how I am going to take care of my children."

She said human rights in Somalia were “just words and nothing more".

Ali, whose husband was killed in the civil war, lost her right leg when a shell landed on her home in Mogadishu in 2007. She now nurses a left arm broken after she was hit by a military truck.

Bashir Qaadi, a displaced person in Karan district of north Mogadishu, told IRIN: "There are no human rights or any others here; we are always the ones who suffer and no one seems to care. We are lost in the middle."

Qaadi has been displaced five times after he and his family were caught up in fighting between Ethiopian-backed forces of Somalia's interim government and insurgents. "Two of my children died and three were injured after rockets hit our camp," he said.

A human rights activist, who requested anonymity, told IRIN that for most Somalis, Human Rights Day was "just another day of suffering. They are too busy trying to survive to think about this day.

“I don’t think there is any country in the world that is comparable to Somalia today in terms of human rights violations."

Up to one million Somalis are internally displaced, while some 3.5 million need assistance, according to the UN.

Ali Sheikh Yassin, acting chairman of the Mogadishu-based Elman Human Rights Organisation, said: "Far more atrocities are taking place in Somalia than in any other country in the world today, yet all you hear about is Zimbabwe, DRC [Democratic Republic of Congo] or Darfur, because there are powerful countries that are interested."

War crimes allegations

Human Rights Day is being marked two days after Human Rights Watch (HRW) issued a report accusing the warring parties in Somalia of war crimes.

Local human rights and civil society groups said the report did not go far enough and "only covered less than 20 percent" of the atrocities committed.

Yassin said the report, while welcome, "did not cover most of the crimes being committed here. There is a lot more going on than has been reported and it is getting worse every day."

Another civil society activist told IRIN that HRW was too easy on the perpetrators and "adopted a soft approach".

"They should have said who is committing what and on what scale," he said, adding that although all sides were committing crimes, "some were committing far worse atrocities than others".

The HRW report, So Much Fear: War Crimes and the Devastation of Somalia, states that the Transitional Federal Government [TFG], its Ethiopian allies and the insurgents, were "responsible for numerous serious human rights abuses".

It said: "TFG security forces and militias have terrorised the population by subjecting citizens to murder, rape, assault and looting."

The report accused the insurgents of subjecting "perceived critics or TFG collaborators - including people who took menial jobs in TFG offices or sold water to Ethiopian soldiers - to death threats and targeted killings".

Yassin said his group had documented 16,000 deaths, with another 30,000 injured in 2007 and 2008.

"These are the figures we were able to verify. There are many more unaccounted for," he added.

Government spokesman Abdi Haji Gobdon told IRIN on 10 December that while there was some truth to the HRW report, it failed to accurately reflect the realities on the ground and the efforts of the government to put a stop to crimes against the population.

"Hundreds of detainees were freed on orders of the Prime Minister [Nur Hassan Hussein] and he has made it a priority to protect the civilian population," he said.

Gobdon said the government forces were under instructions not to target civilians.

Disclaimer:This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States.
Photo: Copyright IRIN
Published by Mike Hitchen, Mike Hitchen Consulting
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