The UN human rights chief said today that Islamist insurgents in Somalia had executed civilians and set off bombs in residential areas, violations which she said may amount to war crimes.
Navi Pillay, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, cited credible reports that rebels had also set up tribunals which have handed down death sentences by stoning and decapitation and also ordered amputations, Reuters reports.
Civilians, especially women and children, are bearing the brunt of the latest violence in the lawless Horn of Africa country, she said, as government troops try to drive insurgents out of their bases in the capital Mogadishu.
“Witnesses have told UN investigators that the so-called al Shabaab groups fighting to topple the transitional government have carried out extrajudicial executions, planted mines, bombs and other explosive devices in civilian areas and used civilians as human shields,” Pillay said in a statement.
“Fighters from both sides are reported to have used torture and fired mortars indiscriminately into areas populated or frequented by civilians,” she said. “Some of these acts might amount to war crimes”.
Al Qaeda-linked fighters in al Shabaab control much of southern and central Somalia and all but a few blocks of the capital. Neighbouring countries and western governments fear if the Somali government is overthrown, the country will become a safe haven for al Qaeda training camps and militants will destabilise the region.
Pillay, a former UN war crimes prosecutor, said rights activists, aid workers, journalists and the displaced are especially vulnerable. Six journalists have been killed in Mogadishu this year, including four apparently assassinated, she said.
There was also increasing evidence that “various forces” in Somalia are recruiting child soldiers, a serious violation of international human rights and humanitarian law, she said.
“Once order has been restored and one day order will be restored, those responsible for human rights violations and abuses should, and I hope will, be brought to justice,” said Pillay, who is from South Africa.
But for now, regular judicial institutions have ceased to function in Mogadishu and southern and central areas, she said.
“UN human rights staff have received credible reports that in areas controlled by insurgent groups, ad hoc tribunals are judging and sentencing civilians without due process and in violation of Somali as well as international law,” she said.
“The punishment handed down by these tribunals includes death sentences by stoning or decapitation, as well as amputation of limbs or other forms of corporal punishment,” Pillay added.
In the Somali town of Baidoa today, witnesses described how hardline Islamist rebels beheaded seven people for being “Christians” and “spies” in the latest implementation of strict sharia law by al Shabaab.
UN aid agencies say at least 200,000 people have fled their homes in Mogadishu since the offensive led by the al Shabaab and Hisbul Islam militia began in May.
Medecins Sans Frontieres Doctors Without Borders has been forced to close its medical centres in northern Mogadishu due to the fighting, the first time in 17 years its staff had to flee.