Developments in Somalia, have as ever been receiving precious little coverage. The big news this week (for the world’s media at least) should have been the release of a report by Amnesty International entitled “Nowhere to Hide: Routine Killings of civilians in Mogadishu.” The report, which is based on first hand testimony from refugees lays bare the brutality of the Ethiopian/U.S. led occupation and the quisling government put in place by the occupiers.

As Michelle Kagari, Deputy Director of Amnesty International’s Africa Programme put it in a press release, “The people of Somalia are being killed, raped, tortured; looting is widespread and entire neighbourhoods are being destroyed [while] 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.”

Amnesty steers a middle way, as per usual, yet this obscures the reality on the ground. Most insurgent attacks target Ethiopian or government forces. The bulk of the atrocities committed in Somalia, and documented by Amnesty, derive from government or Ethiopian reprisals.

AI says that “The Transitional Federal Government, as the recognized government of Somalia, bears the primary responsibility for protecting the human rights of the Somali people. However, the Ethiopian military, which is taking a leading role in backing the TFG, also bears responsibility.”

Yet the Ethiopians and their U.S. paymasters are the occupying force and launched an invasion (forgive the emphases) which has propelled these refugees onto the road and brought chaos to the Horn of Africa. Hence they bear true responsibility, over and above the level of individual responsibility held by soldiers committing rape and murder. It’s worth getting that straight, as reports like this tend to gloss over the nature of their subjects, portraying them as examples of savagery and chaos, rather than instances of imperial, or sub-imperial aggression, which are more easily explicable, and resistable, as Somalia’s insurgents are demonstrating.

The emollient language of the press release (stressing “all parties“) is belied by the report, which is disappointing. Getting the message out about Somalia requires strident criticism of war criminals. Let’s do Amnesty’s job for them and present the report with a little more equity.

The report clearly states that “Amnesty International established patterns of violations of human rights and international humanitarian law including rape and unlawful killings of civilians in neighbourhoods of Mogadishu by all parties to the conflict in Somalia, most notably TFG and Ethiopian forces.”

It goes on to mention that “In [some] cases, troops have carried out attacks often in response to smaller scale attacks by armed groups, sometimes destroying entire neighbourhoods“ – not a minor war crime by any means. Civilians have been routinely collectively punished for “smaller scale attacks” by locals, Islamists and nationalists.

On an individual level, Samara, a 20 year old woman from Mercer in the Lower Shabelle region, told Amnesty that:

My own neighbours were attacked by the resistance, who blew up a military vehicle. In response the Ethiopians cordoned off the area. Then we found people cold bloodedly killed—shot in the forehead.

There have been worse atrocities, however. According to Amnesty, “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 “slaughtering,” or “killing like goats.”…terms [which] refer to extrajudicial killing by slitting of the throat.”

The scale of the atrocities is mindbending – comparable to Iraq at its most bloody.

The cycle of insurgent attacks and government reprisals, coupled with the transitional government’s well-documented penchant for looting and rape is fueling a mass resistance to the occupation. This is developing along religious lines for simple reasons. Take this snippet of information from the report. Speaking about routine looting, the authors report that “One eyewitness reported seeing TFG soldiers seizing mobile phones at the door of a mosque as men were leaving Friday prayers” – presumably to help damage communicaitons between insurgents. But Christian soldiers dispossessing muslims at the door of their place of worship is guaranteed to provoke resistance along religious lines. If incidents like that are common, there is no mystery about why groups like al-Shabab are increasingly successful.

Ethiopian troops have also been most closely associated with the practice of “slaughtering men like goats” while they have clearly wasted no time in planning to accommodate Somali sensitivities. As Galad, a market trader from Mogadishu put it, “One insurgent fired a shoulder borne rocket, after that everyone was at risk. If they see a beard, they say this is an insurgent, or if they see a young boy.” The place of beards in Somali societies being pretty important, inept social profiling like this can’t have endeared the occupiers to their captive population.

But then, that’s the way occupations go – chasms of misunderstanding, fear and loathing develop, resistance and repression builds up. The whole bloody business implodes well… bloodily.

It’s worth adding more testimony to give a sense of what is going on:

Ceebla’a, aged 63, from Wardhiigley, said she fled Mogadishu on 15 November 2007 with her young children after some shooting in the area. One day she saw three men leaving their shops being picked up by Ethiopian soldiers for investigation. The next morning she saw the bodies of the three men on the street. One was strangled with electrical wire. The second had his throat cut. The third had been chained ankle to wrist, and his testicles had been smashed

Guled, aged 32, from Hawl Wadaag, said he saw his neighbours “slaughtered.” He saw many men whose throats were slit and whose bodies were left in the street. Some had their testicles cut off. He also saw women being raped. One incident took place next door to him where a newly wed woman whose husband was not home was raped by over 20 Ethiopians in a queue.

Haboon, aged 56, from Hamar Jajab in Mogadishu, said her neighbour’s 17-year-old daughter was raped and their sons were killed in mid-2007 by Ethiopian troops. The daughter is in a coma in Mogadishu, as a result of injuries sustained in the attack. The boys (aged 13 and 14) tried to defend their sister but the soldiers beat them and took out their eyes with a bayonet. She doesn’t know what happened to them after that. Even their mother didn’t wait to see, she just fled.

Zakaria, aged 41, from the Black Sea area, near Bakara Market, in Mogadishu: “I was among 41 who were arrested by the Ethiopians. We were taken to the military base. I could see the battle wagons, and more than 15 technicals [Technicals are jeeps with heavy machine guns mounted on the back]. I was questioned by a Somali guy who was working with the Ethiopians. We were all asked the same question: ‘Why are you here?’ We said we were just living in our homes. When the questions ended, nine of us were taken away and dropped into a lorry. I think these nine were taken to Ethiopia. I think this is because two of them were mullahs with long beards. Others looked ‘normal,’ mostly teenagers, under 20. I used to hear that when the Ethiopians made arrests they pick up people who look like Islamists, and they take them to Ethiopia.”

Apologies for the images that this provokes, but the report provides access to the reality in Somalia, access that two years of mainstream coverage has utterly failed to provide.

But what of the resistance? Well, interestingly, the report notes that “Many displaced persons who provided testimony to Amnesty International indicated that they were aware of the involvement of armed groups in fighting in their local communities, but had never seen them personally, or they did not know if they had seen them because it was difficult to identify the members of armed groups.”


Somalis demonstrating against high food prices, and the Ethiopian occupation last week (AP)

Regardless of their anonymity, “Anti-TFG and anti-Ethiopia armed forces were referred to in a number of ways, including “the resistance,” “those who are defending the land,” the “opposition” or “terrorists”“ – indicating a broad level of approval, and some disgust at their activities. Clearly there is a strong nationalist appeal. Moreover, if Amnesty is correct, there is no explicitly Islamist term to describe them – warriors of god, jihadists, martyrs and the like.

The report also provides very little information about insurgent abuses, yet does repeatedly, and somewhat lamely, chide them for “the intentional killing of people who are not taking an active part in hostilities” – an accusation leveled mainly on the basis of hearsay. As its authors admit, “An international source told Amnesty International, “We’re not hearing about insurgent abuses except in the context of a skirmish.”

Clearly, the resistance is not as keen on gang rape, looting and neighborhood cleansing as the occupiers and their stooges. Let’s be clear about that one.

A final thing worth remembering, which Amnesty omits to discuss, is that Dyncorp is being paid to train peacekeepers in Somalia. The AU force in Somalia is assisting the TFG with policing, so it’s likely that Dyncorp staff have been involved as well. It’s well documented that Dyncorp employees have a tendency to involve themselves in sundry aspects of the black economy. What they are doing in Somalia is anybody’s guess.

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