The 62-page report, "Harsh War, Harsh Peace: Abuses by al-Shabaab, the Transitional Federal Government, and AMISOM in Somalia," finds that al-Shabaab forces have brought greater stability to many areas in southern Somalia, but at a high cost for the local population - especially women. Based on over 70 interviews with victims and witnesses, the report describes harsh punishments including amputations and floggings, which are meted out regularly and without due process. People accused of being traitors or government sympathizers - often on flimsy pretexts - face execution or assassination. Al-Shabaab fighters had threatened some of those interviewed with death simply because they lived in government-controlled areas of Mogadishu.
"While al-Shabaab has brought stability to some areas long plagued by violence, it has used unrelenting repression and brutality," said Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. "The population under al-Shabaab's control is paying a very steep price."
Key international actors have often played a counterproductive role in the crisis and have played down abuses by AU troops deployed to Mogadishu to protect Somalia's weak transitional government, Human Rights Watch said.
Many local al-Shabaab authorities devote extraordinary energy to policing the personal lives of women and preventing any mingling of the sexes. Several women told Human Rights Watch that they had been beaten, flogged, or jailed for selling tea to support their families because the work brought them into contact with men. In other cases, women were beaten for failing to wear the precise type of abaya - a bulky head-to-toe garment - prescribed by local edicts. Women often fail to wear the abaya not out of defiance but because their families simply cannot afford them.
"He was raising his hand back and counting, ‘One, two, three, four, five .... '" one woman told Human Rights Watch, describing the beating she got when she ran out of her house after her toddler without an abaya. "It felt so painful that if I had a gun I would have killed that man."
Al-Shabaab has subjected young men and boys to abuses that include forced military recruitment and strict social control. Human Rights Watch interviewed one young man who saw his uncle murdered by al-Shabaab fighters because he refused to reveal the whereabouts of another nephew, a 15-year-old, who had deserted their ranks after being wounded in combat. Beatings or public humiliations are commonly meted out to men for a broad range of offenses such as failing to go to mosque, having long hair, or wearing clothes that al-Shabaab considers Western..more...