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Somali Insurgents, AU Forces Violate Laws of War, Group Says

Somalia’s main Islamist insurgent group, the Western-backed government and African Union forces that support it violate the laws of war by shelling residential areas in the capital, Mogadishu, Human Rights Watch said.

While the United Nations, the U.S. and the European Union condemn abuses and attacks by al-Shabaab, they turn “a blind eye” to violations by the transitional government, known as the TFG, and the 5,300-member AU mission, the New York-based group said today.

“Mortars fired by al-Shabaab and African Union troops deployed to protect the internationally backed TFG continue to kill civilians and ravage the city,” Human Rights Watch said in a 62-page report. “All sides have violated the laws of war by conducting indiscriminate attacks and other abuses.”

Somalia has one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises, with about 1.5 million people internally displaced and more than 560,000 living as refugees in neighboring countries, the UN Refugee Agency said in January.

Al-Shabaab, which the U.S. says has links to al-Qaeda, has used repression and a strict interpretation of Islamic law to impose stability in many areas of Somalia, which hasn’t had a central administration since the ouster of the former dictator, Mohamed Siad Barre, in 1991, Human Rights Watch said.

The militia employs punishments such as execution, flogging and amputation, it said. Men who fail to go to the mosque or wear Western clothes often face beatings. Women have been arrested and whipped for engaging in activities, such as selling tea, that lead to mixing with men, Human Rights Watch said.

Islamic Dress

“In many areas, al-Shabaab officials require women to wear a particularly heavy type of abaya, a traditional form of Islamic dress that covers everything but the face, hands, and feet,” it said.

At least 100,000 people have been forced to flee their homes in Mogadishu since the start of the year, the UN humanitarian office said.

About 900 civilians were wounded in fighting in Mogadishu in March, with more than 100 of those injured being children under the age of five, Mark Bowden, the UN coordinator for Somalia, said in an e-mailed statement on April 14. At least 30 civilians were killed last month, he said.

Human Rights Watch urged the U.S. to halt shipments of mortars to the transitional government.

“The U.S. government should stop sending mortars and mortar shells to the TFG in Mogadishu, as it had in 2009, so long as the weapons are used without regard to the laws of war, destroying homes and shattering families,” it said.

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