Fatal insecurity: Attacks on aid workers and rights defenders in Somalia

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An escalating wave of attacks on humanitarianworkers, peace activists and human rights defendershas been weeping southern and central Somalia. At least 40 Somali human rights defenders and humanitarian workers were killed between 1 January and 10 September 2008 alone.

Amnesty International has investigated 46 cases in which humanitarian workers and members of Somali civil society organizations were reported to have been killed in 2008. Some were killed in robberies or kidnappings that went wrong, and in at least three cases the victims were bystanders, rather than direct targets of the violence. However, the majority were victims of targeted killings. The information in this report has been drawn from a number of different confidential sources. Some humanitarian organizations were unable to comment on attacks to Amnesty International for fear of provoking further attacks.

As a result of these attacks, a number of humanitarian and civil society organizations have been forced to suspend programmes and withdraw staff even though they are in the middle of a humanitarian emergency. Many Mogadishu-based human rights defenders and other civil society members have this year been forced to flee Somalia for the first time since the end of the government of former President Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991. One human rights defender told Amnesty International: "This was the first time I have been forced to flee from Mogadishu. I had been there throughout all the previous fighting since the fall of the Siad Barre regime, and only left the country to attend conferences. Now I have to flee for my life."

The fall-out of this violence targeting humanitarian workers and Somali civil society has been the further deterioration of human rights and humanitarian conditions for the majority of the population of southern and central Somalia. The restrictions on the freedom of humanitarian agencies to deliver emergency humanitarian services - food, shelter andessential medical services - form one of the leading factors contributing to widespread malnutrition and death from starvation or preventable diseases throughout the area. One humanitarian worker said: "We are not able to start new programmes because our staff can't go in. There is acute malnutrition in Mogadishu, but we're not able to respond quickly enough, we have to work by remote control, and quality suffers."

Those who command and execute the targeting of humanitarian workers and members of civil society are partially responsible for creating this humanitarian crisis. Whether they are opposition armed groups, Transitional Federal Government (TFG) militias, or criminal gangs, they must be held to account. The TFG and Ethiopian forces supporting them must immediately act to end the insecurity driving the human rights and humanitarian crises. Otherwise, both governments risk failing to fulfil their respective obligations under human rights law and international humanitarian law - to protect Somali civilians from violations and abuses, and to bring those who target them to justice. Armed opposition groups also have obligations under international humanitarian law to refrain from attacking civilians and to avoid indirect targeting of humanitarian workers and other civilians.

The increasing attacks against humanitarian and civil society workers also testify to the international community's failures in Somalia. The state-building efforts of UN agencies and donor governments have borne little fruit; AMISOM peacekeeping forces are not fully deployed and their mandate in too narrow and inappropriate for the situation. As a result, they are largely ineffectual. The agendas of the international community vary widely and are often contradictory, with some nations prioritizing the targeting of individuals and groups they believe are linked to international terrorism, others working to develop the capacity of the TFG, and others again focusing on supporting peace and reconciliation between parties to the conflict. These agendas have been further complicated by the actions of governments in Somalia, motivated by their own security concerns and given tacit acceptance by the international community, and by the actions of the government of Eritrea, which is attempting to engage in a proxy war in Somalia and bog down its Ethiopian rivals in an intractable insurgency.

The international community must begin to prioritize the needs of the people of Somalia, if humanitarian workers and Somali civil society are to operate safely in Somalia once more. The TFG, armed opposition groups and the government of Ethiopia do not face consistent international pressure to ensure that their armed forces cease committing human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law. A unified osition is needed on the part of those in the international community with influence in Somalia to demand the protection of civilians and respect for human rights and international humanitarian law. The interlinked human rights and humanitarian crisis in southern and central Somalia must be made a priority by the international community. Donor countries, the UN Security Council and multilateral agencies have so far failed to take effective measures to end mass human rights abuses and impunity for those abuses, and they have failed to ensure assistance and protection to vulnerable civilians across southern and central Somalia. Accountability and humanitarian access must be given the same level of attention as regional security concerns.