Piracy is a crime, but it’s not the only one | Press release me, let me go | 21 Feb 2012 | Amnesty International UK

Piracy is a crime, but it’s not the only one

Pirates are known as the scourge of the seas. In history, they go where they will, take what they want without paying for it and use force and terror to keep local populations and other seafarers submissive. In modern day reality, that’s a fair description too.

Somalia has been famed for piracy in recent years; it is a blight on the tourist trade and the reputation of the country internationally. An industry has sprung up around the practice of taking people captive and holding them to ransom until they pay up. The reasons for the growth of piracy are multiple, but a break down in the rule of law and the application of justice is a substantial factor.

As the Independent points out today, David Cameron thinks that the whole world should help Somalia. This may sound a bit hyperbolic, and perhaps it is. But given that Somalia is one of the few countries around the world which is branded a 'failed state', perhaps David Cameron has a point. The Prime Minister was speaking to a group of Somali diaspora who live here in the UK yesterday ahead of an international conference which he'll be hosting here in London on Thursday. Cameron shared his hopes for the conference that the world would support a 'safer, richer and more prosperous country'.

That sounds very positive. But in order to really ensure that Somalia is stabilised, he and the other world leaders have to address the serious human rights concerns impacting the country.  Today Amnesty's produced a media briefing available to any journalists who'd like it. But here is a quick summary of some of our concerns for the country.

  • Ever increasing and brutal fighting between Islamist armed groups, mainly al-Shabab, and the internationally recognised Transitional  Federal Government supported by an African Union peace support operation.
  • The military presence in Somalia has intensified in recent months.  Kenyan troops crossed into southern Somalia, while Ethiopian troops captured the border town of Beletweyne. As is often the tragic case outcome, hundreds of thousands of civilians have been forced from their homes, and caught between armed factions. Even those who are able to make it to camps for the displaced aren't safe as there have been reports of these camps being hit by Kenyan airstrikes and of civilians being killed.
  • Aid workers have been banned from parts of al-Shabab controlled areas of the country and aid workers have themselves been targeted, kidnapped and killed.
  • Child soldiers are being recruited by al-Shabab and other Islamist militant groups, but there is also evidence that the TFG is using child soldiers as well. See this BBC story, which reports  entire classes of school children being  forced to fight. Children are particularly vulnerable in Somalia, and Amnesty is calling on the international community to provide technical and financial assistance for demobilisation, disarmament and reintegration programs for child soldiers, and for the provision of psychosocial support.

Clearly a lot needs to be done to improve the situation in Somalia. In particular Amnesty wants to see better human rights monitoring mechanisms in the country and for all states to respect the UN arms embargo on Somalia (regularly breached).

We also want to see the creation of an independent and impartial UN Commission of Inquiry, or similar mechanism which would investigate and map crimes under international law committed in Somalia

You can find out more about our concerns and recommendations here.

It’s great to hear that David Cameron is putting the spotlight on Somalia and that there might be a chance to amplify international support and intervention there for the humanitarian disaster which is a daily existence for so many. I just hope he focuses on all our concerns and doesn’t neglect human rights and the plight of civilians to  focus on piracy.  To make sure everyone is aware of the full, horrific picture, perhaps he could just read our briefing out word for word at the conference – parrot style.

Update: 22 February

"20 years of lawlessness violence and chaos is enough"

The Somali Prime Minister spoke about the upcoming conference on BBC Radio 4's Today Programme this morning. Hear his views on taking the country out of humanitarian and security crisis:

listen to ‘Somalia PM: 'We will get our country back'’ on Audioboo
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