African Press International (API)

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Somalia: UN Has Lost Touch With the Reality in Country

Posted by African Press International on May 24, 2008

Publisher: Korir, africanpress@getmail.no source.

ANALYSIS ..Written by Ernest Mpinganjira – Nairobi

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stirred human rights activists in Eastern Africa when he announced last week that the Security Council was waiting for the chaos in troubled Somalia to subside before deploying 20,000-plus international peacekeepers.

US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), which has chronicled gross violations of human rights since war broke out in Somalia, fired off criticism, accusing the council of insensitivity to the plight of those fleeing the country to safety.

HRW accused the Security Council of limiting its discussions mainly to political aspects of the conflict and neglecting human rights abuses in the conflict.

“The Security Council has repeatedly failed to take action to end these horrific abuses of civilians in Somalia. The council should strongly condemn abuses by all the warring parties, and it also needs to establish a commission to investigate and identify those responsible,” says Mr Georgette Gagnon, HRW Africa director.

In the meantime, Ki-moon appealed to AU early this month to maintain its lean force in the anarchic Horn of Africa nation, which has been submerged in civil strife since 1991.

HRW says further delays means Kenya, Eritrea, Tanzania, Uganda and Sudan will continue to pay the price for the savage killings in Somalia as the international community procrastinates.

The Somali crisis is a principal cause of instability in most parts of eastern Africa.

The chaos in the Horn of Africa provide a safe corridor through which small arms and light weapons pass into East and central Africa, which lends credence to the argument that the UN is not committed to restoration of stability in Somalia.

Ki-moon expressed optimism that as soon as the situation in Somalia improves, the UN would deploy more than 20,000 peacekeepers.

He asked AU to extend the mandate of the Amison (African Mission in Somalia) peacekeepers by six months upon expiry in August to enable the UN prepare for its overdue peacekeeping mission.

The 1,600 Amison troops, drawn mainly from Ugandan military, have been on a peace-keeping mission in Somalia for one year, prior to being joined by a contingent of 2,000 soldiers from Burundi this month.

The presence of the African Union force has done little to improve security in the Mogadishu, which is the commercial nerve centre of Somalia. Instead, Amison, which exists side by side with Ethiopian troops, is perceived as an occupation force and elicits strong resentment.

However, in its March-April newsletter, UN humanitarian agency, UNHCR, paints a gloomy picture of the word’s pariah nation. The report negates the UN chief’s optimism that there is likely to be a decline in the violence in Somalia.

UNHCR says in the newsletter: “Somalia (retains) dubious distinction of being the worst humanitarian crisis in the world today… Civilians bear the brunt of a protracted and dirty conflict that has destroyed thousands of lives and caused much suffering.”

The newsletter says it would be expecting too much to think of a sudden decline in fighting in the coming six months because “the parties to the conflict disregard basic international humanitarian law and human rights principles.”

“It is clear that the only way forward for Somalia and for the Somali people, is a commitment to political dialogue and the understanding that conflict and war will not solve the problems, but on the contrary, will aggravate them further,” UNHCR says in its assessment of the conflict that has displaced 700,000 residents of Mogadishu’s one million population in the past one year.

The residents have resigned to living through the horror of killings, destruction of property and an acute shortage of food.

Humanitarian situation

The apparent indifference of the Security Council is thus a source of concern as human rights organisations are of the opinion that it is not doing enough to restore peace in Somalia and the larger Eastern Africa.

HRW is concerned that the human rights and humanitarian situation in Mogadishu and south-central Somalia is dire.

HRW’s latest report says: “Thousands of civilians have been killed and injured since the conflict between Ethiopian and Somali government forces and insurgents escalated early last year. All parties to the conflict have been responsible for serious violations of the laws of war that amount to war crimes.

“On its part, UNHCR is seeking a commitment by the international community to end the chaos in the Horn of Africa.”

UNHCR’s position is a veiled criticism of the Security Council’s recent resolutions, which are no more than lip service to a situation that has been snowballing into potential threat to global security.

The Security Council policies on Somalia are cloaked in apathy and callous ambiguities.

Last week, the Security Council restated its previous resolutions on women, peace and security and stressed the responsibility of all parties and armed groups in Somalia to take appropriate steps to protect the civilian population.

As if to confirm its dangerous aloofness to the suffering in Somalia, the Security Council said the militia groups’ conduct should be “consistent with international humanitarian law, human rights and refugee law, in particular by avoiding any indiscriminate attacks on populated areas.”

The call elicited a strong criticism from HRW, with its Africa director Gagnon saying: “The Security Council needs to send a clear message that crimes committed in Somalia will not go unpunished. Establishing an international commission of inquiry will send that signal to all the warring parties, including the Ethiopians.”

Nothing short of a strong international intervention will lift Somalia from the ravages of war, he said.

But the Security Council appeared oblivious of this when it said it supported “ongoing humanitarian relief efforts in Somalia…protection of humanitarian and United Nations personnel.”

Its call on “all parties and armed groups in Somalia to take appropriate steps to ensure the safety and security of Amisom and humanitarian personnel and grant timely, safe and unhindered access for the delivery of humanitarian assistance to all those in need,” presupposes that there is order in the country.

While it is a fact the Somali imbroglio cannot be ended with a single stroke, the Security Council must begin walking the talk. Somalia is a blot on the conscience of eastern Africa that must be ordered to give Africa a much-needed makeover in the human rights realm.

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African Press International – API

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