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Alarmed by civilian deaths in Somali capital, UN rights chief urges protection

Alarmed by civilian deaths in Somali capital, UN rights chief urges protection

Louise Arbour
The top United Nations human rights official today expressed deep concern over the high number of Somali civilians killed and injured during the recent fighting in the capital, adding her voice to growing UN calls for all sides to respect international law and protect civilians, while also allowing emergency aid to get through to those in need.

High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour also condemned “repeated cases of desecration of bodies witnessed in recent days,” her spokesman said, adding that there was a worry that civilians will again bear the brunt of fighting if the ceasefire in place since Sunday does not hold.

“The High Commissioner urges the parties to respect international humanitarian law and reminds them of their duty to protect the human rights of civilians at all times. This includes granting civilians safe passage and allowing humanitarian aid to reach those who have been affected,” said the spokesman.

Almost 100,000 people have fled Somalia’s capital of Mogadishu over the past two months because of the bloodshed, the UN says, while also expressing concern about the worsening humanitarian conditions for those civilians still trapped in the capital.

The World Food Programme (WFP) today reiterated UN calls for all warring sides to end the violence, and also urged that humanitarian agencies be allowed access to deliver aid. Speaking in Geneva, the WFP’s Simon Pluess also said there had been delays in the transfer of food because of the continued hijacking of its trucks.

In recent days, indiscriminate heavy artillery and mortar shells have rained down on the city, hitting residential areas and resulting in a large but unknown number of deaths and casualties. A hospital was reportedly hit on 30 March, killing one person and injuring others, while other health facilities are saturated with patients. Trapped by the fighting, many wounded are unable to get medical help and lie unattended in the streets.

Yesterday, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Somalia called on all sides to protect civilians, while Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called last Thursday for an immediate end to the fighting.

Violence in the capital has increased since the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), backed by Ethiopian forces, dislodged the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) from Mogadishu and much of the rest of the country at the end of last year. Mortar rounds and other fire have since killed many civilians in residential areas and settlements housing 250,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs).