UN soldiers accused of atrocities in Somalia: Human rights group urges adherence to Geneva Conventions

THE United Nations force in Somalia (Unosom) is accused of atrocities including killing of unarmed people, the bombing of a hospital, beating civilians and theft, according to a report published in London today.*

Africa Rights, a newly formed human rights body, accuses the United States-led operation of 'grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions' and acting with 'near-total impunity'. Complaints procedures against the UN are woefully inadequate, the report says. It calls on the UN to reverse the policy of militarisation of the aid operation and for strict adherence to the Geneva Conventions.

Its most serious complaints concern the helicopter gunship attacks on buildings on 17 June and 12 July, but it also accuses the UN of the killing of unarmed civilians, the forced relocation of Mogadishu residents and the demolition of their homes. 'These are not cases of undisciplined actions by individual soldiers, but stem from the highest echelons of the command structure,' the report says.

The report will reopen the dispute between the American command in Mogadishu and the Italians and other forces that broke out two weeks ago over repeated American helicopter gunship raids aimed at killing General Mohamed Farah Aideed, the leader of the largest Somali faction. The Italians complained that the attempt to kill Gen Aideed was counterproductive, and demanded a return to the humanitarian aims of the operation.

The report concedes that the UN troops are in a difficult and dangerous position and accepts that Gen Aideed's forces have committed many gross violations of human rights, but says this does not excuse UN atrocities in reply. It adds that in Bardera the UN force has been 'consistently respectful of human rights'. It says that the welcome given by Somalis to US forces last December turned to disappointment, then bitterness and finally anger. 'Unfortunately the bloodiest confrontations are yet to come,' it predicts.

Describing the attack on Digfer Hospital by US, French and Moroccan forces - at least nine patients died - Africa Rights says: 'There is a prima-facie case that the UN command in Mogadishu committed a grave breach of the Geneva Conventions . . . The case warrants detailed and independent investigation to determine whether a war crime has been committed, and if so by whom, and with what level of culpability.'

The report also details actions less well covered by the media. It estimates that Belgian forces in Kismayo killed about 50 Somalis in two big battles, and may have killed some 200 since they arrived last December. The Belgians are also accused of throwing children who could not swim into the Juba river.

Africa Rights points out that very little political progress has been made since the UN intervened in Somalia and says: 'The failure of (the UN forces) to undertake real political reconciliation, disarmament or socio- economic reconstruction has led many Somalis to wonder why the forces are in the country at all . . . there is a growing sense of bitterness and anger against the abusive behaviour of the Unosom troops.'

The report says: 'As a result, foreigners in Mogadishu, and increasingly in other areas of Somalia are confined to their compounds. There is a deepening estrangement between Somalis and foreigners . . . Unosom has become an army of occupation.'

The report has been compiled by Rakiya Omaar and Alex de Waal, who formerly worked for Africa Watch, the US-based human rights organisation. Ms Omaar was sacked last December after she publicly condemned the American intervention in Somalia, and Mr de Waal resigned.

*Somalia Human Rights Abuses by the United Nations Forces, published by Africa Rights.

(Photograph omitted)

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