Civilian Combat Harm Must Be Priority at London Somalia Conference
WASHINGTON, DC—Preventing and addressing civilian combat harm should be front and center at the London Somalia Conference, said civilian victims advocacy group CIVIC. With discussions set to begin regarding a new international approach to the country, the well-being of Somali civilians in the midst of ongoing military operations should be at the heart of any dialogue.
“Somalis want what everyone wants—to feel safe in their homes, to be able to walk down the street without fear. Recent military gains by AMISOM in Mogadishu mean some Somalis can return home, but the population continues to live with insecurity and devastating losses to life, limb, and livelihood," said Sarah Holewinski, executive director of CIVIC, who traveled to Mogadishu last year.
Last year, CIVIC conducted over one hundred interviews in Mogadishu and displacement camps to document Somali civilians’ experiences in the conflict, their desire to have combat losses formally recognized, and their expectation of being offered assistance toward rebuilding their lives.
CIVIC also advised the African Union and AMISOM on civilian protection priorities over 2011, including guidance toward avoiding civilian casualties, investigating incidents of harm and making amends for losses. This month, the African Union adopted an Indirect Fire Policy focused on responsibility for civilian harm mitigation within AMISOM’s combat operations. That policy now requires international donor support to be fully implemented.
Military coordination is also of concern with new AMISOM-allied nations conducting combat operations without consistent training on civilian protection or coordinated harm response policies. CIVIC also noted that the ability of Transitional Federal Government (TFG) forces to mitigate civilian harm during their own operations is problematic.
“All the key actors involved in Somalia are gathered in London, but we haven’t seen specific civilian protection issues highlighted on the agenda. It would be a shame to let this important moment pass without clearly addressing coordination among military allies, prioritizing civilian protection at a political level, and endowing AMISOM with the tools it needs to minimize civilian harm," said Holewinski.
“Somali civilians have been through hell. Their safety in the midst of ongoing combat deserves to be at the top of any agenda.”