afrol News, 19 April - The Islamist armed group al-Shabaab is subjecting inhabitants of the large tracts it controls in southern Somalia to "killings, cruel punishments, and repressive social control," according to new documentation. Women are especially targeted.
This is concluded in a 62-page report released today by the US-based group Human Rights Watch, looking into systematic human rights violations in war-ravaged Somalia. Based on over 70 interviews with victims and witnesses, the report describes harsh punishments including amputations and floggings, which are meted out regularly and without due process.
The report finds that al-Shabaab forces are committing grave human rights abuses against the local population, especially women. "People accused of being traitors or government sympathisers - often on flimsy pretexts - face execution or assassination. Al-Shabaab fighters had threatened some of those interviewed with death simply because they lived in government-controlled areas of Mogadishu," the report says.
"While al-Shabaab has brought stability to some areas long plagued by violence, it has used unrelenting repression and brutality," said Georgette Gagnon of Human Rights Watch. "The population under al-Shabaab's control is paying a very steep price."
But not only al-Shabaab was committing abuses. Key international actors had often played a counterproductive role in the crisis and have played down abuses by African Union (AU) troops deployed to Mogadishu to protect Somalia's weak transitional government, the human rights group said.
Many local al-Shabaab authorities devote extraordinary energy to policing the personal lives of women and preventing any mingling of the sexes. Several women told Human Rights Watch that they had been beaten, flogged, or jailed for selling tea to support their families because the work brought them into contact with men.
In other cases, women were beaten for failing to wear the precise type of abaya - a bulky head-to-toe garment - prescribed by local edicts. Women often fail to wear the abaya not out of defiance but because their families simply cannot afford them.
"He was raising his hand back and counting, 'One, two, three, four, five .... '," one woman told the Human Rights Watch researcher, describing the beating she got when she ran out of her house after her toddler without an abaya. "It felt so painful that if I had a gun I would have killed that man," the Somali woman added.
Al-Shabaab had also subjected young men and boys to abuses that, according to the report, "include forced military recruitment and strict social control." One young man had seen his uncle murdered by al-Shabaab fighters because he refused to reveal the whereabouts of another nephew, a 15-year-old, who had deserted their ranks after being wounded in combat. "Beatings or public humiliations are commonly meted out to men for a broad range of offenses such as failing to go to mosque, having long hair, or wearing clothes that al-Shabaab considers Western," the report says.
"Alongside abuses in al-Shabaab-controlled areas, all sides are responsible for laws-of-war violations that continue unabated in Mogadishu," Ms Gagnon said. "Many Somalis confront indiscriminate warfare, terrifying patterns of repression, and brutal acts of targeted violence on a daily basis," she added. In Mogadishu, the transitional government and the 5,300-member AU mission in Somalia are squared off against a powerful opposition dominated by al-Shabaab.
"There is no easy, obvious way to solve the crisis in Somalia," Ms Gagnon said. "But outside powers should address abuses by all sides instead of ignoring those committed by their allies," she advises.
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