SOMALIA: Children's Rights in the UN Special Procedures' Reports

Summary: This report extracts mentions of children's rights issues in the reports of the UN Special Procedures. This does not include reports of child specific Special Procedures, such as the Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, which are available as separate reports.

Please note that the language may have been edited in places for the purpose of clarity.

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Report of the independent expert on the situation of human rights in Somalia, Shamsul Bari


Report published: 17 September 2009

Issues raised:

Children and armed conflict: The independent expert would like to thank some of the key persons met in Nairobi. Foremost among them, the UNDP Resident Representative and Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia, Mark Bowden. As in the past, a meeting with him as well as the debriefing meeting with members of the United Nations country team under his leadership enriched the independent expert’s understanding of the situation in Somalia and of the need to prioritize immediate over long-term issues. The immediate issues that require prompt action from the international community are the security concerns, the protection of civilians, the recruitment and use of children by different parties to the conflict, combating impunity, and the provision of basic social services and economic and social rights, including access to food, education, health care, water and sanitation, among others. The long-term strategy should include institutional and capacity-building as well as recovery and core development needs. (Paragraph 8).

The recruitment, training and use of children in the fighting, especially by armed groups, have caused consternation among parents of young children. Many have chosen to move to other areas or to seek refuge in neighbouring countries. (Paragraph 30).

Malnutrition: The humanitarian crisis in Somalia has continued to deepen owing to the ongoing conflicts, drought, inflation and continued lack of humanitarian access to the most badly affected areas. According to a United Nations food security assessment, in August 2009, some 3.7 million people or 50 per cent of the population of Somalia were in need of livelihood and humanitarian support, up from 3.2 million in January 2009. The drought is worsening in the central regions and has extended to the northern parts of the country. Increased food insecurity is exacerbated by diseases caused by poor access to health services. One in five Somali children is acutely malnourished, compared to one in six in February. On a more positive note, parts of southern Somalia recorded a nearly normal crop production thanks to good rains from April to June 2009. (Paragraph 38).

Violence: Civilians, especially women and children, suffer most from indiscriminate attacks and retaliatory acts from both sides in the Somali conflict, including armed opposition and local clan militias. Punishments such as amputations and stoning illustrate the extent to which violence still substitutes for the rule of law in many areas of Somalia. United Nations 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, including death sentences by stoning or decapitation, and amputation of limbs and other forms of corporal punishment. The lack of accountability, especially with regard to serious violations and abuses of human rights and international humanitarian law, has contributed to a culture of impunity. With the exception of Somaliland and Puntland, rule of law is virtually non-existent in Somalia, in particular in the south-central regions. (Paragraph 43).

A more worrisome development is the extreme interpretations of sharia law by hard-line Islamists in areas under their control. They have led to severe corporal punishment, including the amputation of hands of alleged criminals. According to one report, in an incident on 3 July, Islamist forces in the Marka district of Shabelle Hoose amputated the right hand of a man accused of stealing cattle in Gandabe. The sentence was carried out publicly in front of hundreds of residents. After the amputation, the man was reportedly taken to the hospital for treatment while his hand was paraded around town to serve as a lesson to other residents. (Paragraph 44).

Female genital mutilation: In Somalia, the prevalence of female genital mutilation and cutting is about 98 per cent and is primarily performed on girls aged from 4 to 12 years. The practice is especially widespread in rural communities. (Paragraph 54).

Domestic violence: Domestic violence victimizing women continues to be a major problem in all parts of Somalia. Because of the destruction of formerly functioning clan structures, in many places, women have no access to any formal or traditional protection. Young adolescent girls are often brought by their families to detention centres for “misbehaving” and are held in custody until the family asks for their release. (Paragraph 55).

Children and armed conflict: As elsewhere, women and children are the most vulnerable in places where they live and as they flee from those places, and in some places also when they arrive, such as at camps for internally displaced persons. Grave violations against children and women have been reported throughout the country, including the recruitment and use of children by parties to the conflict, killing and maiming as a result of the fighting, indiscriminate or excessive use of force and rape, and other forms of violence against women and children. (Paragraph 57).

More evidence is emerging on the scale and nature of child recruitment and the use of children by all sides in the conflict. Children are being recruited, very often for use on the front. The majority of the children are aged from 14 to 18 years, though, there is also evidence of children as young as 9 years of age being recruited. Recruitment is systematic, and often involves force or deception. Children are mostly recruited from schools, madrasas and camps for internally displaced persons inside Somalia and from refugee camps in neighbouring countries. Vulnerable or destitute adolescent boys are the ones mainly targeted. There are also reports of girls recruited by the insurgents to marry fighters, provide logistical support and collect intelligence. (Paragraph 58).

UNICEF has been monitoring the violation of children’s rights by parties to the conflict in Somalia for more than three years. Earlier in 2009, UNICEF commissioned a study on the subject, which was conducted by an independent consultant with an extensive network of contacts inside the various armed groups in Somalia. The information received from these sources indicated the number of children recruited by different armed groups, the training camps and their locations where the children are trained, the methods used, the nationalities of trainers and the kinds of children targeted for recruitment. The recruitment of children by Government forces has been found to be somewhat less systematic, targeting a slightly older age group (14-18 years) than the recruitment patterns of some of the insurgent groups. There is nonetheless evidence of recruitment of children by all sides to the conflict. (Paragraph 59).

Education: After two decades of conflict, almost two generations of young Somali boys and girls have been denied the benefit of a full education. Existing education systems, already limited in their scope, have been badly affected by the conflict. Somalis have nevertheless managed to organize strong networks of independent and private schooling in many parts of the country, and Government efforts are focused on extending schooling, albeit with extremely limited funding, especially in the case of secondary education. In addition, given the various existing curricula, the Ministry of Education and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and UNICEF are working to harmonize them. (Paragraph 60).

Human rights in Somililand:

Sexual violence: Sexual violence, including a rise in the number of reported cases of gang rape of teenage girls (and younger), has been reported. A total of 11 cases of rape were reported by UNICEF monitors in the camps for internally displaced persons in Puntland in May alone, and 13 were reported in Somaliland. Some cases involved mentally and physically handicapped children and boys. Beside the brutality often employed, the most disturbing aspect of these cases was the near-universal impunity for perpetrators. Most cases were unreported, and when they were, they were most often settled by clan resolution, involving no direct punishment of the perpetrator. In 2008, in the Hargeisa regional court, only 12 cases of rape resulted in a conviction. (Paragraph 70).

Female Genital Mutilation: Female genital mutilation is almost universally prevalent in Somalia. UNICEF supports community development processes in all zones to seek the collective abandonment of this harmful practice. Simultaneously, UNICEF is working with religious leaders from the Sudan and universities in Puntland and Somaliland to bring about a change in attitude of the Islamic hierarchy in Somalia, towards the prohibition of female genital mutilation. UNICEF has also supported a zero-tolerance policy development with the Ministry of Family Affairs in both Somaliland and Puntland. (Chapter 71).

Education: The mission helped the independent expert to form some ideas in this regard. With regard to education, one thing that struck the independent expert about the armed conflicts in Somalia, apart from the killings, bloodshed and human suffering they have caused for so long, was their impact on the education sector. The fact that almost two generations of Somali children have been deprived of education opportunities that would prepare them for a profession in the modern world and help them to earn a livelihood is terribly saddening. One shudders to think of a Somalia devoid of educated personnel to tend to the affairs of the State when peace returns. The independent expert recalls the reasons many parents gave for fleeing Somalia, the foremost of which was lack of education opportunities for their children and the prospect of their recruitment by the armed forces and groups. Many Somali youths told the independent expert about the lack of educational and livelihood opportunities in Somalia, which compelled many of their friends to join the opposition forces simply to keep them occupied and earn a living at the same time. (Paragraph 82).

With some imaginative planning, it should be possible to arrange for the education of a large number of Somali children and youths, who are the prime targets for recruitment by armed forces and groups. For example, projects could be set up in Puntland, where the President supported the idea. Setting up similar projects in Somaliland should also be feasible. A crash programme for selected students to make up for the lost years of their education and provide them with vocational training could be a good beginning. Innovative thinking may also lead to the productive engagement of youths trained for income-generation activities. If nothing else, it would at least rekindle hope in a nation that has long forgotten it. (Chapter 83).

For all previous reports by the Independent Expert -

Special Rapporteur on Violence against women
(Visit undertaken from 9-16 December 2011)

Report not available


Report of the Representative of the Secretary-General on the human rights of internally displaced persons, Walter Kälin* **

Visit: 14 – 21 October 2009

Issues raised:

Violence: An assessment based on reports by media or organizations and witnesses on the ground collected by members of the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) protection cluster monitoring system between January and July 2009, suggests that the top four reported violations were: (a) physical assaults (658 reported incidents); (b) killings and deaths of individuals (515 incidents); (c) rape, attempted rape and domestic violence (243 incidents); and (d) violence against children, including recruitment into armed groups, abandonment and child labour (168 incidents). Such acts are not only a major cause of displacement, but may also amount to war crimes or crimes against humanity under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.23 This evaluation also indicates that such atrocities may be committed by all parties to the conflict, including Al Shabaab as the major perpetrator, other anti-Government groups, militias and organized criminal groups, but also Transitional Federal Government forces as well as supporting militias and foreign troops. Reports include allegations of repeated shelling of civilian populated areas of Mogadishu by AMISOM troops in the context of counter-attacks against Al Shabaab. While the Representative is not in a position to verify or confirm any of these reports, they indicate the existence of a very high level of violence raising concerns under international law and highlighting the need to address the issue of impunity. (Paragraph 37).

Health: During flight, the displaced reportedly encounter serious protection risks. Testimonies indicate that these include the rape of women and girls, looting of transport vehicles, physical assaults and murder inflicted by militia groups and gangs. Other protection challenges relate to the hardship of the flight, which poses severe physical challenges, in particular if IDPs cannot afford transport and have to flee on foot. This is exacerbated by the lack of food and potable water that has even resulted in fatalities among children, as testimonies from newly arrived IDPs in Bossasso indicate. Risks to health and lack of access to health care are concerns in particular for pregnant women, especially if they give birth during flight. The Representative has further learnt that armed elements, who have set up illegal checkpoints, interfere with the right of all Somalis to seek safety in another part of the country, by, inter alia, asking for payment to pass, stripping the displaced of their last possessions, or committing even worse crimes. He recalls that governmental authorities are not only obliged to refrain from such acts, but also have the obligation to protect the displaced from such actions by private actors. (Paragraph 43).

Children and armed conflict: The security situation in south and central Somalia did not allow the Representative to get a first-hand impression of the situation of those displaced within these areas. Information made available to the Representative, as well as testimonies by IDPs coming from these areas, reveal grave levels of violence and appalling conditions, in particular in the Afgooye corridor, including severe overcrowding, a destitute shelter and sanitary situation, critical food situation, rapes and even mass rapes of women, recruitment of children into armed groups, and killings. This situation is further exacerbated by severe restrictions or even lack of access for humanitarian organizations, looting of compounds and other difficulties organizations face in delivering humanitarian aid to beneficiaries. This has resulted in pitifully insufficient quantities of humanitarian aid being distributed, given the overwhelming needs of the population. (Paragraph 44).

Gender-based violence: Major protection concerns encountered in IDP settlements both in Puntland and Somaliland but reportedly also in the southern and central region include:

(a) Overcrowding, with the overwhelming majority of residents being women and children, who often live without adequate shelter and access to basic services, including health care, education, potable water and sanitation, or education. Specific support structures for persons with special needs, such as the disabled, traumatized persons or victims of sexual and gender-based violence, are virtually non-existent. Outbreaks of fire in the overcrowded settlements are another concern;

(c) Lack or inaccessibility of education programmes for internally displaced children and youth and lack of opportunities for vocational or skills training leaving them with no or little prospect for their future;

(d) Economic exploitation of children and, in particular in southern and central Somalia, also their recruitment into armed groups;

(e) Lack of physical security, rapes, gang rapes and other instances of sexual and gender-based violence in and around the settlements31 as well as domestic violence. This is exacerbated by a lack of medical and psychosocial care, legal counselling, access to justice, rehabilitation and livelihood support for victims. The subordinate socio-economic position of Somali women is one of the root causes of the sexual violence faced by internally displaced women and girls; (Paragraph 49).




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