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Not enough being done to shield civilians from violence in Somalia – UN report

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The armed conflict in Somalia continues to exact a heavy toll on civilians, damaging infrastructure and livelihoods, displacing millions of people, and impeding access to humanitarian relief for communities in need, according to a United Nations report launched today in the country’s capital, Mogadishu.

“Ultimately, civilians are paying the price for failure to resolve Somalia’s conflicts through political means,” said the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Somalia, Michael Keating. “And parties to the conflict are simply not doing enough to shield civilians from the violence. This is shameful.”

The report – “Protection of Civilians: Building the Foundation for Peace, Security and Human Rights in Somalia” – covers the period from 1 January 2016 to 14 October 2017, and was produced by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the UN Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM), which Mr. Keating also heads.

During this reporting period, UNSOM documented a total of 2,078 civilian deaths and 2,507 injuries, with 60 per cent of the casualties attributed to Al Shabaab militants, 13 per cent to clan militias, 11 per cent to State actors, including the army and the police, four per cent to the African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM), and 12 per cent to unidentified or undetermined attackers.

Civilians were the victims of unlawful attacks – by being directly targeted and through the use of indiscriminate bomb and suicide attacks – by non-State groups. Such attacks, which are prohibited under international human rights and humanitarian laws, are, in most cases, likely to constitute war crimes, and it is imperative that perpetrators are identified and held accountable, the report notes.
The worst incident on a single day was the twin bomb blasts in Mogadishu on 14 October, attributed to Al-Shabaab by Somali government officials and in which at least 512 people are officially recorded to have died as of 1 December, along with 316 injured. The attack received widespread condemnation, including from UNSOM and Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

“This barbaric act was the deadliest attack with an improved explosive device in Somalia’s history and surely one of the worst ever on the continent, if not the world,” said Special Representative Keating at the report’s launch. “Sadly, its impact will be felt for a long time.”

A significant number of recorded civilian casualties – 251 killed and 343 injured – was attributed to clan militias, in areas where federal or state security forces are largely absent. “The drought has intensified clan conflict due to competition over resources. These conflicts are exploited by anti-government elements to further destabilize areas, diminish prospects for lasting peace and weaken civilian protection,” the report states.

Casualties attributed to State actors and AMISOM

It goes on to note that the number of casualties attributed to the Somali National Army and Police, as well as to AMISOM, was significantly smaller than those attributed to Al Shabaab militants.

“Nevertheless, such casualties are of utmost concern as they undermine the Somali population’s trust in the Government and the international community, which in turn expands the space in which anti-government elements continue to operate,” said the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein.

“While achieving the balance between human rights and security is challenging,” he added, “the respect of human rights and the protection of civilians are essential as the foundation of a strong, legitimate State that works for the benefit of all its people.”

Somalia’s National Intelligence and Security Agency routinely disregards international human rights law when carrying out arrests and detentions, according to the report, which adds that journalists and people suspected of belonging to Al Shabaab are often detained without charge.

The report also flags that information on the conditions of people living under Al Shabaab control is scant. Verifying human rights violations and abuses in those areas remains problematic due to the lack of access and fear of reprisals.

Somalia has been plagued by armed violence for decades, as well as poverty, marginalization, natural hazards, insecurity and political instability.

UNSOM is working with the East African country’s authorities to support national reconciliation, provide strategic and policy advice on various aspects of peacebuilding and state-building, monitor and report on the human rights situation, and help coordinate the efforts of the international community.

Briefing Room

Somalia: Al-Shabab Demanding Children

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(Nairobi) – The Islamist armed group Al-Shabab has threatened and abducted civilians in Somalia’s Bay region to force communities to hand over their children for indoctrination and military training in recent months.

Since late September 2017, Al-Shabab has ordered elders, teachers in Islamic religious schools, and communities in rural areas to provide hundreds of children as young as 8 or face attack. The armed group’s increasingly aggressive child recruitment campaign started in mid-2017 with reprisals against communities that refused. In recent months, hundreds of children, many unaccompanied, have fled their homes to escape forced recruitment.

“Al-Shabab’s ruthless recruitment campaign is taking rural children from their parents so they can serve this militant armed group,” said Laetitia Bader, senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “To escape that cruel fate, many children have fled school or their homes.”

Over the past decade, Al-Shabab has recruited thousands of children for indoctrination and to become frontline fighters. Since 2015, the armed group has opened several large Islamic religious schools in areas under their control, strengthened indoctrination methods including by bringing in younger children, and pressured teachers to retrain and teach Al-Shabab’s curriculum in schools.

On a recent trip to Baidoa, the capital of Bay region, Human Rights Watch spoke to 15 residents from three districts in Bay region largely under Al-Shabab control – Berdale, Baidoa, and Burhakaba districts – as well as child protection advocates and United Nations officials. The findings match similar trends in other parts of the country since mid-2017.

Village elders said that in September Al-Shabab ordered them to go to Al-Shabab-controlled Bulo Fulay and to hand over dozens of children ages 9 to 15. A resident of Berdale district said: “They said we needed to support their fight. They spoke to us in a very threatening manner. They also said they wanted the keys to our boreholes [watering points]. They kept us for three days. We said we needed to consult with our community. They gave us 10 days.” Two other community residents said that they received threatening calls, including death threats, after the 10 days ran out, but as of late 2017 they had not handed over the children.

Three residents said that in September Al-Shabab fighters forcibly took at least 50 boys and girls from two schools in Burhakaba district and transported them to Bulo Fulay, which witnesses say hosts a number of religious schools and a major training facility. Two weeks later, a large group of armed Al-Shabab fighters with their faces covered returned to the village, entered another local school, and threatened and beat the teacher to hand over children.

“They wanted 25 children ages 8 to 15,” said the teacher, who resisted the order. “They didn’t say why, but we know that it’s because they want to indoctrinate them and then recruit them. After they hit me, some of the children started crying and tried to run out of the classroom. But the fighters were all around. They caned a 7-year-old boy who tried to escape.”

Residents from Berdale district said that in at least four villages, Al-Shabab abducted elders who refused to hand over children. In one village, three elders were released only after they agreed to hand over eight boys from their village.
In May, Al-Shabab pressured elders and other residents in villages in central Somalia’s Mudug and Galgadud regions – from which Ethiopian military forces had recently withdrawn – to hand over children ages 7 to 15. A boy who fled Middle Shabelle region without his parents said: “Our school wasn’t controlled by Al-Shabab. Six weeks ago [late June], they came to our school, took down our names, and took two boys. The teacher managed to escape. They threatened that next time they would come back for us.”

A woman in Burhakaba district said that her four children had witnessed 25 of their classmates being abducted from their school: “The four of them are now so worried about going to school. But if they don’t go to school, and get the fundamentals of the religion, they will go to waste.” Some local religious schools in Bay region are closing fearing further attacks, or because the teachers have fled or been abducted.

Some residents said that their only option to protect their children was to send them, often unaccompanied, to areas outside of Al-Shabab control – a difficult and dangerous journey given the threat of Al-Shabab abduction along the way. Community elders and local monitors said the recruitment campaign has forced approximately 500 people as of October, often unaccompanied children, to flee their homes to Baidoa.

“I heard that children were being captured in neighboring villages and so got very scared,” said a 15-year-old who fled by foot with his 9-year-old brother to the nearest town. “My parents gave me money to come to Baidoa. My brother and I were very scared of being captured along the way, since we went through the bush.”

In August, an official from Adale in Middle Shabelle told the media that his community was hosting approximately 500 children ages 10 to 15 who had fled forced recruitment in Galgudud, Hiran and Middle Shabelle districts. Some children have fled to towns where they have relatives, others end up in dire conditions in internally displaced persons (IDP) camps. Local groups estimate that over half of the children recently displaced to Baidoa now live in IDP settlements. But unaccompanied children, especially those in informal camps, are unlikely to find security or schooling and may be forced to work to survive.

“The government with UN agency assistance should ensure that displaced children, including those without adult guardians, receive protection and appropriate schooling,” Bader said. “Children should not flee one danger zone for a new one.”

The UN Security Council’s Somalia Eritrea Monitoring Group (SEMG) reported that in June, Al-Shabab detained 45 elders in El Bur who refused to provide them with 150 children and only released them on the condition that the children would be handed over. The SEMG found that 300 children were abducted from the area during this period and taken to an Al-Shabab school.

In April Al-Shabab announced over its radio station that it was introducing a new curriculum for primary and secondary schools and warned teachers and schools against “foreign teachings.” A Bay region resident said that Al-Shabab took a dozen teachers for “retraining” around April, and they were only released after paying about US$300 per person. In certain areas, Al-Shabab ordered schools to shut down and communities to send their teachers to Al-Shabab curriculum training seminars, SEMG reported.

Human Rights Watch did not find clear evidence that children abducted in recent drives were taken directly for military training, but interviewees repeatedly raised the concern. The UN monitoring group reported that some of the schools set up by Al-Shabab were linked to military training facilities. Child abductions, notably from schools, and children’s use as fighters by Al-Shabab significantly increased in the second quarter of 2017, the UN monitoring group said. Boys who had been associated with Al-Shabab since late 2015 said that the religious schools and teachers were often used to recruit boys as fighters. These boys said their military training included a mixture of rudimentary weapons training and ideological indoctrination.

The Somali government has taken some steps to protect schools and students, Human Rights Watch said. In 2016 it endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration, an international commitment by countries to do more to ensure that schools are safe places for children, even during war. Somalia has signed but not yet ratified the UN Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on children in armed conflict, which states that armed groups “should not, under any circumstances, recruit or use in hostilities persons under the age of 18 years.”

The government, with the help of international donors, should wherever possible identify Al-Shabab recruitment drives, including their location, scale, and use of educational institutions, that could inform protective measures, Human Rights Watch said. Doing so would also help efforts to assist displaced children, such as addressing their health, shelter, and security needs and providing them free primary education and access to secondary education, as well as appropriate psychosocial support.

“Al-Shabab’s campaign only adds to the horrors of Somalia’s long conflict, both for the children and their families,” said Bader. “The group should immediately stop abducting children and release all children in their ranks. The Somali government should ensure these children are not sent into harm’s way.”

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Diaspora

Sadistic people smuggler who raped and murdered migrants in Libyan desert sentenced to life in prison

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Telegraph — An Italian court has sentenced to life imprisonment a sadistic people smuggler who raped, tortured and murdered migrants trying to reach Europe from North Africa.

Osman Matammud, 22, from Somalia, was found guilty of multiple counts of murder, abduction for ransom and sexual violence against young women and girls.

Matammud was arrested a year ago after being recognised by fellow Somalis in a migrant reception centre in Milan.

He was almost lynched before police stepped in and arrested him.

He had crossed the Mediterranean in a boat full of migrants and had tried to pass himself off as an asylum-seeker.

He was accused of the horrific abuse of migrants at a squalid detention camp at Bani Walid in the Libyan desert, 100 miles south-east of Tripoli, with prosecutors comparing him to a Nazi concentration camp guard.

During his trial in Milan, 17 witnesses told the court how they had been raped, beaten or tortured by Matammud. He will spend the first three years of his incarceration in solitary confinement.
He was sentenced after a five-hour deliberation by the Court of Assizes in Milan.

He had denied all the charges and his lawyer said he would appeal the verdict. His trial revealed the squalid conditions and violent abuse endured by migrants as they try to cross the Sahara on their way to the coast of Libya, from where they pay smugglers to send them in boats towards Italy.

“I’m not Somali, I’m not Muslim – I’m your boss,” he allegedly told migrants and refugees when they arrived at the camp.

Several Somali women told investigators in Italy that they had been repeatedly raped by Matammud, who is from Mogadishu. The violence was in part to exert pressure on their families to pay more money for their passage across the Mediterranean.

Matammud would allegedly place plastic bags on the backs of migrants and set them alight so that molten plastic blistered their skin.

One teenage girl told Milan prosecutors: “The first night, he came into the hangar, he grabbed me and he ripped off my clothes in front of everyone. He penetrated me. I fainted but when I came to, there was blood everywhere. I was raped many times by him – every night.”

“In a career spanning 40 years, I’ve never come across such horrors. And what is going on in Bani Walid is going on in all the transit camps,” said chief prosecutor Ilda Boccassini, who has spent much of her career fighting the Mafia.

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Human Rights

European Commission seeks to resettle 50,000 refugees

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The European Commission has unveiled a new plan that would allow for 50,000 refugees – mostly from a host of African countries – to be resettled to Europe over the next two years.

The proposal on Wednesday by the European Union’s executive branch involves admitting asylum seekers under the bloc’s resettlement programme, which was introduced at the height of a major refugee crisis in 2015.

“We need to open real alternatives to taking perilous irregular journeys,” European Union Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos told a news conference in Brussels.

The commission said that it had set aside 500 million euros ($590m) to support the resettlement effort. Member states will be free to participate in the scheme on a voluntary basis.

The EU’s executive arm said that while resettlement from Turkey and the Middle East is to continue, an increased focus should be put on resettling vulnerable people from Libya, Egypt, Niger, Sudan, Chad and Ethiopia.

“Europe has to show that it is ready to share responsibility with third countries, notably in Africa. People who are in genuine need of protection should not risk their lives or depend on smugglers,” Avramopoulos said.

23,000 people resettled

Libya is the main jumping-off point for many people willing to brave potentially dangerous sea journeys across the Mediterranean in search of better lives in Europe. Egypt, Sudan, Chad and Niger – one of the main migrant transit countries in Africa – all border Libya.

Resettlement is managed by the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which selects refugees who have a continued need for international protection.

European countries are individually responsible for deciding on resettlement numbers so they cannot be legally bound by Brussels to take more people in.

Last year, the main beneficiaries of UNHCR-facilitated resettlement programmes were refugees from Syria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq and Somalia.

The EU has already resettled 23,000 people from refugee camps in countries outside the EU under the scheme, mainly Turkey and Jordan, which were overwhelmed with people fleeing the war in Syria.

The resettlement programme is different from the EU’s compulsory refugee quotas, which involved moving asylum seekers who had already reached Italy and Greece to other EU countries.

The latter scheme, which ended on Wednesday, saw just 29,000 people out of a planned 160,000 shared out around EU states to ease the pressure on the overstretched Greek and Italian authorities.

The commission also said it wants to ensure that those not permitted to stay in Europe are returned to their home countries more quickly.

“We have to be clear and brutally honest, people who have no right to stay in Europe must be returned,” Avramopoulos said.

He also said that the commission would propose a temporary extension to allow countries such as Germany, Austria, Denmark and non-EU country Norway to keep systematic ID checks in place.

Schengen border controls

Separately, the EU also released plans on Wednesday to allow countries in the passport-free Schengen area to reintroduce border controls for security reasons for up to three years.

Countries in the 26-country Schengen travel area can currently reintroduce frontier checks for six months for security reasons, and two years if that is combined with a threat to borders.

“Under today’s proposals, member states will also be able to exceptionally prolong controls if the same threat persists,” the commission said in a statement.

Avramopoulos however said this should be a “last resort”, and that keeping the Schengen area open for travel should be a priority.

Several countries, including France and Germany, have called for the extension after a series of attacks. France reinstated the checks after the November 2015 Paris attacks.

Border checks introduced by Germany, Denmark, Austria, Sweden and Norway in May 2016 to deal with a huge influx of refugees and migrants into Europe from Syria and North Africa are set to expire in November.

The reintroduction of so many checks raised concerns about the collapse of the Schengen zone, seen by many in Europe as a symbol of unity and freedom.

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