The UN Security Council’s relaxing of the international arms embargo on Somalia last year appears to have contributed to a rise in insecurity and human rights abuses that has resulted in hundreds of civilian deaths each month, Amnesty International said as it called for a robust embargo to be restored.
In March 2013, the 21-year-old arms embargo on Somalia was partially lifted by the UN Security Council for one year, allowing the Somali government to import small arms and light weapons but not larger weapons and munitions. The Security Council is due to review this embargo by 6 March 2014 and the government has requested the embargo to be lifted.
“The facts speak for themselves – security for Somalia’s people remains extremely volatile, and the ongoing flow of arms into the country is fanning the flames of armed violence and grave human rights abuses against civilians,” said Michelle Kagari, Africa Deputy Director at Amnesty International.
“Allowing more light arms to be sent into Somalia under the government’s current weak controls is a recipe for disaster. The Security Council must restore the full arms embargo and set up strict monitoring procedures for any exceptions in order to bolster security in the country.”
Since the UN embargo was relaxed last March, arms meant for the Somali Government have reportedly been diverted for end use by parallel armed groups who are not part of Somalia’s armed forces, including al-Shabab.
2012 and early 2013 saw a rise in Somalia’s civilian death toll. More civilian casualties were reported than in 2011, with an estimated 600 fatalities monthly at its highest. Hand grenade attacks doubled in May and June compared to the beginning of 2013, and targeted killings take place almost daily.
When Somalia’s former Deputy Prime Minister Fawsiyo Yusuf Haji Adan asked in February 2013 for the UN arms embargo to be lifted, she committed her government to putting in place “the necessary mechanisms to ensure armaments do not fall into the wrong hands”, and to strengthening the military.
However, recent media reports on a leaked UN report pointed to “systematic abuses” by government forces that resulted in mass diversion of weapons to armed groups since the UN Security Council partially lifted its embargo last year. The same reports pointed to “gaps in information” from light arms supplying states such as Djibouti, Ethiopia and Uganda, as well as the Somali authorities about the quantities and whereabouts of shipments from abroad.
Weapons diverted from the army are said to be widely available on private arms markets in Somalia and have allegedly made their way into the hands of parallel security forces, even being earmarked for an al-Shabab leader.
In early 2010 Amnesty International called for the suspension of arms transfers to the Somali government until there are adequate safeguards to prevent weapons from being used to commit war crimes and human rights abuses. The organization also called on the UN Security Council last year not to lift the arms embargo for this reason.
“The Somali government has been unable to live up to its commitments. Their security forces have not been strengthened, and reports suggest that they have actively allowed arms to fall into the hands of groups that commit atrocities,” said Michelle Kagari.
“It would be short-sighted and dangerous for the Security Council not to restore a much stronger arms embargo as a key step to ending the proliferation and abuse of arms by armed groups responsible for human rights abuses in Somalia.”
Amnesty International is calling on the Security Council to restore the full embargo and ensure stronger monitoring mechanisms are put in place. This should include stricter prior notifications by exporting states to the UN Sanctions Committee for any intended arms transfer to the government, the right of the Committee to refuse transfers should it pose a significant risk of abuse and the installation of an independent UN team to rigorously inspect stockpiles and track arms deliveries.
There was a surge of attacks in the capital Mogadishu in 2013, despite it being under the nominal control of the Somali government.
Al-Shabab retains the ability to stage lethal attacks even in the most heavily guarded parts of the city. Villa Somalia, the seat of the Somali government, suffered a deadly grenade attack as recently as 21 February 2014 – in addition to four such attacks in 2013.
Lack of discipline and command control within Somalia’s armed forces and allied armed groups means that they not only fail to provide civilian protection, but are actually contributing to the overall insecurity. State security forces continue to be infiltrated by criminal, radical or insurgent elements.