African Union soldiers charged over Somali wedding attack: First int’l justice of its kind to African military mission force members

23 Aug

By Keffyalew Gebremedhin – The Ethiopia Observatory (TEO)

Quoting an African Union (AU) official, BBC Friday reported that three Ugandan soldiers serving with African Union forces in Somalia (AMISOM) hunting the terrorist group Al-Shabab have been charged over the killing last month of a group of civilians at a wedding in Somalia.

This swift action, the first justice of its kind by any regional or international mission against the impunity of the members of its force in Africa, is rather exemplary – especially coming as it does from an unlikely place, the African Union, usually considered a ‘dictators’ club’.

This story of massacre at a wedding is very familiar to this writer, against which he tweeted his anger on August 15, asking why innocent guests at a wedding must be mowed down by machinegun fire.

As an Ethiopian of, course, my first reaction was to think that the authors of such an impunity we have known in our country are “the Obama-hired” members of the TPLF soldiers. I now accept that as bad are Ugandan forces. This puts the onus on Mr. Museveni. He must come to terms with the real meaning of international justice and correct this anomaly without let or hindrance, even though I know that the president has constantly expressed his rejection of it, after 30 years in power and yet now aspiring for more.

Ugandan soldiers from the African Union Forces in Somalia (AMISOM) during an operation at the seaport of Elmaan, near Mogadishu, Somalia on September 4, 2012/Reuters

Ugandan soldiers from the African Union Forces in Somalia (AMISOM) during an operation at the seaport of Elmaan, near Mogadishu, Somalia on September 4, 2012/Reuters

 
If he is to persist in that attitude, the president should give the world a very good explanation why his men-in-uniform should go to a wedding and spray bullets on newly-weds, family members and invited guests that were celebrating time honored rituals and practices that all societies respect and cherish – wedding! If Mr. Museveni ignores this, he would harm Uganda’s image, in particular the reputation of the men-in-uniform in his country and everywhere!

The BBC notes that, in its automatic response, the AU had early on denied that the incident ever took place.

Maman Sidikou at an AMISOM press conference in Somalia, February 2015

Maman Sidikou at an AMISOM press conference in Somalia, February 2015

Nonetheless, there was a change of heart possibly due to international pressure and also the August 12 action by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon firing his Special Representative Mr. Babacar Gaye, Head of the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic, MINUSCA over his failure to curb the alleged sexual abuses. Unexpectedly, Mr. Maman Sidikou, the head of the AU in Somalia, emerged and apologized to the families of the seven Somalis killed in the attack, according to the BBC news report.

AU troops from Uganda began shooting at men at a wedding party after coming under fire, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW). Witnesses said that the troops entered several houses in Merca, 70km (45 miles) south of the capital Mogadishu, after a grenade attack on their convoy.


 
“We have established that, on that occasion, seven civilians died following an incident involving our troops,” Mr Sidikou admitted Friday in a statement.

“I would like, on behalf of the African Union, to offer my sincere apology for these deaths. We regret these deaths,” he added.

The three AU soldiers have now been indicted and are waiting to be arraigned, according to the statement.

“I have instituted a board of inquiry composed of military, civilian and police officers who are not from the contingent concerned in order to ensure impartiality,” Mr Sidikou said.

Witnesses described the incident to Human Rights Watch, as quoted by the BBC.

    “At one house, where the Moalim Iidey family was celebrating a wedding, the soldiers separated the men from the women and shot the six adult men – four brothers, their father, and an uncle,” HRW said in a statement.

    “Four died immediately, one brother hid under a bed after being shot but later died, and the father died during the night after the soldiers allegedly refused to allow the family to take him to the hospital,” it said.

    HRW says witnesses also allege that 11 civilians were killed by AU troops on 21 July in Merca.

    None of the survivors of the two alleged incidents spoken to by Human Rights Watch have yet been interviewed by AU investigators, the rights group said.

    AU troops have been in the Somalia since 2007 helping various UN-backed governments fight the al-Shabab militant group.

    “Our soldiers are operating in a very complex environment,” Mr Sidikou said in the AU statement.
    “We will continue to appeal to our host communities to facilitate the work of our troops in the fight against al Shabab.”

Each and everyone of us must now express our gratitude to HRW, the first human rights organization that called on the African Union to impartially investigate the killing by alleged Ugandan army troops of six men at a wedding on July 31, 2015, in the Somali port town of Merka.

HRW was responsibly clear in requesting the AU to undertake the investigation “with maximum protection for witnesses, and the Ugandan government should fairly prosecute any of its soldiers responsible for criminal offenses.”

I do hope that this would serve as an example to other regional and international missions and forces operating in the region. Once this is put as the real standard operating practice, even horrible African governments whose stenchy dictatorial, repressive records of human rights violations are beyond dispute would take the cues for the future from this latest action against impunity and in favor of justice for ordinary citizens!

This is a good end of tbe week in Africa and good pointer to a better future for Africans!

However, Ethiopians must stll need to be reassured that TPLF troops in Somalia or elsewhere are free from similar impunity,about which thye have shown enormous capacity at cruelty at home to their own fellow citizens!
*BBC map
 

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