The Somali government denied claims by a rights group that its forces and their Ethiopian allies were committing atrocities against the civilian population - even as a civil society source said the report did not go far enough.
Government spokesman Abdi Haji Gobdon told IRIN on 7 May that in a war situation "some people may get caught in a crossfire but no civilian is deliberately targeted", insisting that neither the TFG forces nor their Ethiopian allies committed atrocities.
Gobdon said the report was "pure propaganda and fabrication". He was reacting to a report issued on 6 May by Amnesty International (AI), which has accused all parties to the conflict of committing war crimes against the civilian population.
"The people of Somalia are being killed, raped, tortured; looting is widespread and entire neighbourhoods are being destroyed,” Michelle Kagari, Amnesty's Africa programme deputy director, said in the report.
In one incident, a 56-year-old woman described to Amnesty officials how Ethiopian troops raped a neighbour's 17-year-old daughter in 2007 and that when the girl's two brothers, 13 and 14 years old, tried to help her, Ethiopian soldiers gouged out their eyes with a bayonet.
In another, Amnesty reported, a 32-year-old man said he saw his neighbours “slaughtered”, adding that he saw many men whose throats were slit and whose bodies were left in the street.
"Some had their testicles cut off," the man told Amnesty. He also saw women being raped.
Yet the real scale of Somalia's "dire" rights crisis remained unknown because international aid agencies were under heavy pressure not to expose the abuses they witnessed, Amnesty said, and local journalists were often silenced by threats.
A civil society source in Mogadishu agreed and said the report "only scratches the surface" and did not go far enough. "It touches on a very small portion of what actually happens here," said the source, who requested anonymity.
He said that killings, rape and disappearances were daily occurrences in Mogadishu.
|The testimony we received strongly suggests that war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity have been committed by all parties|
"As I speak to you we are looking for two young men, Osman Mohamed Haji and Ahmed Abdulle Soomane, who disappeared on 24 March." He said no one knew who took them or why. "This is becoming normal in Mogadishu," he said. "I have no doubt in my mind that war crimes and crimes against humanity are being committed with tot al impunity."
Amnesty’s Kagari said: "The testimony we received strongly suggests that war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity have been committed by all parties to the conflict in Somalia – and no one is being held accountable."
The report also quoted witnesses who accused the insurgent group Al Shabaab militia of indiscriminate attacks on civilians and threatening journalists perceived as not favourable to them.
The report said the transitional government, as the recognised government of Somalia, bore the primary responsibility for protecting the human rights of the Somali people, adding that the Ethiopian military, which is the main backer of the TFG, also bore responsibility.
It called for the “attacks on civilians by all parties to stop immediately. Also, the international community must bear its own responsibility for not putting consistent pressure on the TFG or the Ethiopian government to stop their armed forces from committing egregious human rights violations.”
Up to one million Somalis are internally displaced, while an estimated 6,500 civilians have been killed since 2007.
Some 2.6 million Somalis need assistance. The figure is expected to reach 3.5 million by the end of the year, if the situation does not improve, according to the UN.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions
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