HRW urges African Union to release probe into 'unlawful' killing of 14 civilians by Ethiopian forces Featured

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A human rights organisation has urged the African Union (AU) to release the findings of its investigation into alleged unlawful killings of 14 civilians by Ethiopian forces serving under the AU mission in Somalia (AMISOM) in July 2016.

On 17 July last year, soldiers from an Ethiopian contingent fired on a hut in Wardinle village, 37km west of Baidoa town in Bay region, during what the AU described as a "shoot-out" between Islamist armed group Al-Shabaab and AMISOM troops.
The AU on 19 July launched an investigation into the killings, adding preliminary investigations found that: "AMISOM forces received credible intelligence information, of an Al-Shabaab's radicalisation exercise in the village and went to investigate. The troops were ambushed as they approached the village and intensive fighting ensued.... It is not clear at this point in time, if the fighting occasioned civilian deaths, as it is being claimed."

Contrary to the findings of AMISOM's initial inquiry that the men were killed in crossfire, seven witnesses told Human Rights Watch (HRW) they had seen no fighting in the village or the presence of Al-Shabaab fighters that day.

Instead, witnesses said, the Ethiopian troops indiscriminately fired on the dwelling where men had gathered to pray for a sick villager, killing 14. The victims included village elders, religious leaders, and Islamic school teachers as well as relatives of the sick man.

Six months down the line, Wardinle villagers have received no reports on the investigation nor compensation for their loss.

"The killing [...] devastated the poor rural community of Wardinle and should not be swept under the carpet," said Laetitia Bader, HRW's Africa researcher. "The AU and Ethiopian leadership needs to hold its forces to account by releasing its findings, ensuring that any wrongdoers are brought to justice, and compensating the victims."

Under international humanitarian law, or the laws of war, parties of an armed conflict are obliged to take all feasible precautions to minimise harm to the civilian population, and attacks that target civilians or civilian targets are prohibited. "The evident absence of Al-Shabaab fighters indicates that the attack on the hut was unlawfully deliberate or indiscriminate, and possibly a war crime," HRW said.

The laws of war require the AU and judicial authorities from Ethiopia to investigate these credible allegations of serious violations that may amount to war crimes, and ensure those responsible are brought to justice. HRW said it is not aware of any investigation by Ethiopia, which officially joined AMISOM in 2014, into the incident.

On 27 January, the UN Security Council is meeting to discuss the situation in Somalia.

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