An independent United Nations human rights expert today called on the international community to step up efforts to protect civilians in Somalia, where the world body is hoping to boost its presence in a bid to advance the peace process in the war-torn country.
I am deeply disturbed by the continuing endless reports of civilian casualties " many of them women and children " caused by ongoing fighting in [the] south-central region and in [the capital] Mogadishu, " Shamsul Bari, the UN Independent Expert on the situation of human rights, said in a news release.
One hospital alone in Mogadishu has reported 1,400 war-wounded people in the first half of this year, said Mr. Bari, who has just wrapped up visits to Somalia, Kenya and Uganda.
Many children and young people risk being recruited by armed groups and used in the front lines and there are generations who have known nothing but violence and conflict, " he warned.
The death toll in the first seven months of this year is higher than of the same period last year, with reports of nearly 1,000 civilians having died and more than 2,500 others having been injured. Most of the casualties resulted from shelling by warring groups in the capital.
Somalia is facing one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world today, with one in every seven Somali children dying before the age of five and one in very five children in the south-central region being malnourished, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
The Independent Expert called on the international community to explore all possible means " to stop many scourges: summary executions, including the beheadings of innocent people; amputations; flogging; whipping; forcible marriage of young girls to militiamen; use of civilians as human shields; the imposition of strict dress codes on women; prohibition on the use of public mass media; and bans on listening to music and public gatherings.
For his part, Augustine Mahiga, the top UN envoy to the Horn of Africa nation, voiced hope today that the increased representation of the UN Political Office in Somalia (UNPOS) will help to further the peace process in the country.
The Office, which is headed by Mr. Mahiga, has been based in Nairobi due to security concerns.
Within the next few months, UNPOS will have increased numbers of both international and national staff in Garowe and Hargeisa in the self-declared autonomous regions of Puntland and Somaliland, respectively, to join national staff already on the ground, he said.
After this, UNPOS will crucially need to be in Mogadishu although for security reasons we will have to take a cautious approach, " noted Mr. Mahiga, who is Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon`s Special Representative.
He noted that there are many tasks, including collecting information and interacting with the Somali Government, the African Union`s peacekeeping mission (AMISOM) and other partners, which can only be done on the ground.
Currently, there are more than 60 international UN staff based inside Somalia`s borders, as well as nearly 800 national staff from various UN agencies delivering humanitarian aid and implementing recovery and development schemes.
The world body has continued to deliver relief " including health and nutrition activities " to 3.2 million people in the country. Although the UN World Food Programme (WFP) has temporarily suspended its distributions in parts of southern Somalia, it continues to feed 340,000 people in Mogadishu.
The UN works hard to be as close to those suffering the effects of the conflict as possible, " Mr. Mahiga stressed.