/ 7 May 2008

Somali refugees speak of horrific war crimes

Soldiers, insurgents and bandits are routinely attacking Somalian civilians, carrying out murder, rape, and robbery on villagers, and destroying entire districts, Amnesty International said on Tuesday.

Gang rape and throat cutting — referred to locally as ”killing like goats” — is prevalent. Incidents of gouging out eyes, beheadings and castration have also been reported. Amnesty’s report is based on interviews with scores of traumatised refugees who fled the war-ravaged country, where 6 500 civilians have been killed in the past year.

Unarmed civilians are reported to be caught up in the battle between Ethiopian soldiers and Somalian government troops fighting the remnants of the Islamic Courts Union, which was ousted by Ethiopian forces in 2006. Amnesty said the blame for civilian deaths was shared by all parties but it highlighted an ”increasing incidence” of gruesome methods employed by Ethiopian forces following incidents in which the bodies of several Ethiopian soldiers were dragged through the streets of the Somali capital, Mogadishu, by Islamist insurgents.

Ethiopia’s government dismissed Amnesty’s report as unbalanced and ”categorically wrong”. A spokesperson said hundreds of Ethiopian troops had died fighting the Islamist insurgency.

Guled, a 32-year-old refugee, described seeing neighbours with their throats slit, and their corpses left in the street. ”Some had their testicles cut off,” Guled said, adding that a newly married woman who lived next door to him was raped by more than 20 Ethiopians. Another interviewee told Amnesty of a report that Ethiopian soldiers had cut the throat of a young child in front of the mother. ”Even schools are being used as cemeteries, because people cannot take bodies outside the city,” Galad, a 60-year-old journalist, was quoted as saying.

Michelle Kagari, the deputy director of Amnesty’s Africa Programme, said: ”The people of Somalia are being killed, raped, tortured; looting is widespread and entire neighbourhoods are being destroyed. 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 Amnesty report said: ”Among the most common violations reported were an increased incidence of gang rape, and scores of reports of a type of killing locally referred to as … ‘killing like goats’.”

It quotes Butaaco, a 30-year-old refugee from Mogadishu, as saying: ”I saw girls get raped in my neighbourhood and on the streets. I saw people get slaughtered. I saw people killed in their houses, their bodies rotting for days.”

Somalia has been in a state of chaos since 1991, when warlords overthrew the dictator Mohamed Siad Barre after 21 years in power and then turned on each other. Last year, Islamist militants took control of most of southern Somalia, including Mogadishu. Ethiopia sent in troops in December 2006 and ejected them. Since then, Mogadishu has been caught up in a guerrilla war between the government and its Ethiopian allies and the Islamist insurgents. Up to one million Somalians are internally displaced.

Amnesty urged the UN Political Office for Somalia to be strengthened, and that the African Union’s Mission to Somalia — and any succeeding UN peacekeeping mission — be mandated to protect civilians and include a strong human rights component with the ability to investigate violations. – guardian.co.uk Â