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Somalia: Controls on military assistance must be tightened

In a new report published today [21 Jan], Amnesty International has called for arms transfers to Somalia to be suspended until there are adequate safeguards to prevent weapons from being used to commit war crimes and human rights abuses.

Just yesterday in a statement made to the House of Commons, the Prime Minister promised increased capacity-building in Somalia.

Amnesty’s report lists the UK as reportedly developing a standardised programme of instruction for Transitional Federal Government (TFG)’s basic infantry recruits, in collaboration with the African Union’s peacekeeping operation (AMISOM).

The UK government has said that any assistance to the Somali government is in line with the UK's human rights responsibilities and obligations, but does not include specific human rights content, into these arrangements.

Amnesty is calling on all states that train or who are considering training Somali government forces – including the UK Government – to ensure that safeguards are put in place so that this assistance is not used to facilitate human rights abuses.

Amnesty International has urged that all states providing, financing or planning military and police training for the TFG must also provide training in international humanitarian law and on arms management. They should also press for the establishment of oversight procedures for TFG forces.

Amnesty International’s UK Arms Programme Director, Oliver Sprague said:

“In deciding to work closely with Somalia’s security sector, the UK Government must ensure that human rights standards and practices are enshrined within any training or instruction programme they carry out.

“Somalia is a fragile state which has seen many bloody conflicts and countless human rights abuses. It’s essential that any international attempt to improve the security within Somalia is combined with ensuring that international human rights standards are valued and upheld.” 

Amnesty’s report also provides details of the US shipments of arms, including mortars, ammunition and cash for the purchase of weapons for Somalia’s government.

These transfers were made despite substantial risks that weaponry could be used in indiscriminate attacks by TFG forces, or diverted to armed groups opposed to the TFG, who have also committed gross and widespread abuses.

Amnesty International’s Africa Programme Deputy Director, Michelle Kagari said:

“International concern for the future of the Somali government has not been matched by an equal concern for the human rights of civilians. Mortar attacks continue to claim lives – it is time for international donors to apply tighter controls to their support for the government.”

Amnesty’s report also details growing international programmes of military and police training for TFG forces, despite a lack of adequate oversight procedures. The training is delivered in Somalia itself and in Ethiopia, Kenya, Djibouti and Uganda. The European Union, France, Germany and Italy are all involved, or have pledged funding for it.

A UN arms embargo on Somalia has been in place since 1992 but states can apply to the UN Sanctions Committee for exemptions to supply security assistance to the Somali government.

Amnesty is urging the committee to refuse any requests for exemptions to the arms embargo that may contribute to war crimes and human rights abuses.

To be effectively implemented, Amnesty International argues that such criteria should be enshrined in international law and universally applied to all arms transfers. The organisation is calling on states to establish such common standards in an international Arms Treaty.


Somalia has been mired in armed conflict since the collapse of the Siad Barre government in 1991. Conflict intensified and unlawful killings of civilians increased after Ethiopian troops entered Somalia at the end of 2006 to help the TFG fight against several armed opposition groups from whom it has been seeking to regain territorial control.

Despite a peace agreement between the TFG and one armed group, the appointment of a President issued from the former armed opposition and the withdrawal of Ethiopian troops from Somalia, armed opposition groups have continued attacks against the TFG. In May 2009, they launched a major offensive against the TFG, which currently controls only a small part of the capital Mogadishu.

In 2009, indiscriminate attacks by all parties to the armed conflict resulted in thousands of civilians being killed and hundreds of thousands more being displaced. The number of people internally displaced within Somalia is now 1.5 million and some 3.7 million are dependent on humanitarian assistance for their survival.

  • read the report

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