Protect Medical Facilities and Aid Workers

(New York, November 9, 2007) – Ethiopian troops and insurgents have violated the laws of war in killing and wounding dozens of civilians in new clashes in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, Human Rights Watch said today.

Tens of thousands of civilians remain trapped in the city, many of them wounded and unable to access medical care and other services due to continuing fighting. 

“All the warring parties are responsible for ensuring that civilians are not targeted and that they do not impede access to medical treatment and other relief,” said Peter Takirambudde, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The international community should condemn these attacks and hold combatants accountable for violations of humanitarian law – including mutilating captured combatants and executing detainees.”

In the early hours of November 8, Ethiopian troops and convoys were ambushed by insurgents near the Livestock Market in the Huriwa district of northern Mogadishu. At least one soldier was killed. Crowds dragged his body through the streets to the Hodan neighborhood, southwest of the city.

At 4 p.m., large contingents of Ethiopian troops left their base at the former Ministry of Defense to recover the body, according to Human Rights Watch. The Ethiopian troops then clashed with insurgent groups, and at least 20 civilians were killed as fighting broke out in various parts of the city.

In the evening, an artillery shell reportedly fired by an Ethiopian tank hit Mogadishu’s largest market, Bakara, killing six people.

The next morning, residents of the Livestock Market found the bodies of a dozen civilians. According to Somali journalists, some of the victims had been rounded up by Ethiopian troops the previous day.

Within 24 hours, 30 wounded people turned up at a single Mogadishu hospital, including a 3-year-old boy and a 90-year-old man, both with shrapnel injuries. Doctors claim most of the wounded were non-combatants, and half were children and women. Because of the ongoing clashes and the closure of many roads, the doctors predicted that some victims would not reach the hospital until November 10.

“Fighters on all sides must also respect that hospitals, medical staff, and humanitarian convoys enjoy special protection under humanitarian law,” said Takirambudde.

Tens of thousands of civilians continue to flee Mogadishu, especially the Huriwa, Hamar Jadid, and Gubta neighborhoods, which have been pounded with heavy weaponry.

International humanitarian aid agencies trying to reach people in need have encountered obstacles, some reportedly created by officials of Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government (TFG), who have even been accused of threatening aid workers. The World Food Program, which distributes food to 75,000 people in Mogadishu, temporarily suspended operations following the detention of its director by TFG officials on October 17.

“The TFG also has a responsibility to ensure that aid agencies are able to carry out operations without threats or obstruction, particularly at this critical time,” said Takirambudde.

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