UN refugee agency urges parties to Somalia conflict to respect international law

[JURIST] The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) [official website] on Tuesday condemned [press release] the violence perpetrated against civilians in Mogadishu, Somalia, during an uptick in fighting between government and militia forces over the weekend, as a violation of international human rights law. Calling the treatment of the civilian population "unacceptable," Guillermo Bettocchi, the UNHCR Representative to Somalia, said that "[a]ll warring parties in this conflict should be reminded of their obligations under international humanitarian and human rights law to protect civilians, to refrain from indiscriminate attacks on civilians and to limit their attacks to military targets." UNHCR was forced to suspend humanitarian aid to roughly 30,000 people southeast of the capitol after fighting between government and opposition forces made access too dangerous. Calling children the "main victims" of the fighting, UN International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF) [official website] Acting Representative to Somalia Hannan Sulieman reminded [press release] those participating in the conflict that the "use of children under 15 years old in combat is a war crime with legal consequences for the perpetrators." According to UNHCR, the latest round of fighting raised the number of people displaced from Mogadishu to 117,000 with 200 people killed in the capitol last month.

Somalia has endured a lengthy civil war and several rounds of failed peace talks [BBC timeline] since the collapse of its last civil government in 1991. In April, the Somali parliament, meeting in Djibouti to avoid violence in Mogadishu, voted to adopt [JURIST report] Islamic Sharia law [CFR backgrounder; JURIST news archive] as part of a cease-fire agreement with the country's Hizb al-Islamiya and Al-Shabaab rebels. Somali President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed [BBC profile] expressed his support [JURIST report] for the adoption of a moderate form of Sharia in March as part of peace talks with the rebels. In December, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] released a report [text, PDF] accusing both rebels and the government of having committed war crimes in the conflict. In January 2007, the transitional government began imposing martial law [JURIST report] over areas under their control.



 

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