UN accuses Ethiopia of using white phosphorus bombs in US-backed occupation of Somalia

This video shows US white phosphorus chemical attacks on civilians in Fallujah, Iraq.

By Brian Smith:

Ethiopia accused of using white phosphorus bombs in US-backed occupation of Somalia

13 August 2007

A new report by United Nations arms monitors accuses Ethiopia’s army of using illegal white phosphorus bombs during the US-backed occupation of Somalia.

The report was compiled by a UN panel of independent experts and analysts and was delivered to the UN Security Council at the end of July. It covers the period from November 2006 to late June 2007.

The most damning accusation in the report is that during a battle in Mogadishu on April 13 between the Ethiopian military and the forces of the United Islamic Courts (known as Shabaab), “Ethiopian military forces resorted to using white phosphorus bombs…. [A]pproximately 15 Shabaab fighters and 35 civilians were killed.”

Residents reportedly said that the bombs literally melted people. The report’s analysts said this was not an isolated incident.

The Ethiopian government denied the accusation, calling it “baseless.” But the UN monitors provided bomb scene photographs and soil sample evidence indicating that the soil at the impact area had 117 times the normal amount of phosphorus.

White phosphorus is particularly dangerous to exposed people because it continues to burn unless deprived of oxygen or until it is completely consumed, in some cases burning right down to the bone. Phosphorus burns carry a greater risk of mortality than other forms of burns due to the absorption of phosphorus into the body, resulting in liver, heart and kidney damage, and in some cases multi-organ failure.

Its use by the US occupying forces against enemy areas in Fallujah, Iraq, was reported as early as April 2004. The US military denied this for 18 months until November 2005, when Pentagon spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Barry Venable confirmed to the BBC that white phosphorus had been used as an antipersonnel weapon, and was quoted stating, “Yes, it was used as an incendiary weapon against enemy combatants” (see “New revelations of US military use of white phosphorus in Iraq”).

1935: Italy invades Ethiopia.

8 thoughts on “UN accuses Ethiopia of using white phosphorus bombs in US-backed occupation of Somalia

  1. Somalia: War Crimes in Mogadishu

    Human Rights Watch (Washington, DC)

    6 August 2007
    Posted to the web 14 August 2007


    Ethiopian, Somali and insurgent forces are all responsible for rampant violations of the laws of war in Mogadishu, causing massive suffering for the civilian population, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Human Rights Watch urged the UN Security Council during its current deliberations on Somalia to include a strong civilian protection mandate in any peacekeeping mission.

    The 113-page report, “Shell-Shocked: Civilians Under Siege in Mogadishu,” is the first independent, on-the-ground investigation of the fighting that wracked Mogadishu in March and April 2007, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of civilians and the displacement of 400,000 people.

    “The warring parties have all shown criminal disregard for the well-being of the civilian population of Mogadishu,” said Ken Roth, executive director for Human Rights Watch. “The UN Security Council’s indifference to this crisis has only added to the tragedy.”

    Human Rights Watch documented numerous war crimes among many other violations of the laws of war by all parties to the armed conflict in Mogadishu.

    Violations by the insurgency, a loose coalition of Somali armed groups, include: the indiscriminate firing of mortar rounds into civilian areas; deployment of forces in densely populated neighborhoods; targeted killings of civilian officials of the transitional Somali government; and summary executions and mutilation of the bodies of captured combatants.

    Ethiopian forces backing the Somali transitional government violated the laws of war by widely and indiscriminately bombarding highly populated areas of Mogadishu with rockets, mortars and artillery. Its troops on several occasions specifically targeted hospitals and looted them of desperately needed medical equipment. Human Rights Watch also documented cases of Ethiopian forces deliberately shooting and summarily executing civilians.

    Somali transitional government forces played a secondary role to the Ethiopian military, but failed to provide effective warnings to civilians in combat zones, looted property, impeded relief efforts for displaced people, and mistreated dozens of people detained in mass arrests.

    “The insurgency placed civilians at grave risk by deploying among them,” said Roth. “But that is no justification for Ethiopia’s calculated shelling and rocketing of whole neighborhoods.”

    The launch of the report coincides with today’s UN Security Council deliberations on Somalia. The Security Council is due to discuss the 1,500-member African Union mission in Somalia and proposals to turn the mission into a UN force.

    The armed conflict in Mogadishu has steadily escalated since the Ethiopian-backed Somali Transitional Federal Government (TFG) established itself in Mogadishu in January 2007. In December 2006, Ethiopian forces with US support ousted the coalition of Islamic Courts from Mogadishu and other areas of south-central Somalia in a lightning offensive.

    Since January 2007, a coalition of insurgent groups, including the Islamic Courts’ militant Al-Shabaab militia, has waged almost daily attacks on Ethiopian and TFG forces, including several suicide attacks, and killed TFG civilian officials. The insurgency repeatedly launched mortar attacks from densely populated neighborhoods of Mogadishu, jeopardizing civilian security, in violation of the laws of war.

    On March 29, Ethiopian forces launched the first of two major counterinsurgency offensives in the city. Ethiopian troops indiscriminately bombarded insurgent strongholds with barrages of “Katyusha” rockets, mortars and artillery, making no apparent effort to distinguish between civilians and insurgent targets.

    A second Ethiopian offensive from April 18 – 26 targeted and destroyed additional areas of the city and added several hundred more civilians to the total death toll. While the precise number of civilian casualties is not yet known, estimates range from 400 to more than 1,300 deaths resulting from both rounds of fighting.

    Ethiopia’s intervention in Somalia is closely linked to regional security concerns, including a proxy war with Eritrea and the presence of two Ethiopian rebel movements in Somalia.

    In January 2007, the United States launched several air strikes in southern Somalia, and again in June in Puntland, in the northeast. These attacks were the first US military interventions in the country since its forces departed in 1994. The US alleged that militants within the Islamic courts were sheltering individuals connected to international terrorism networks, including people wanted in connection with the US embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998.

    “Since the major fighting ended in April, Ethiopian and Somali government forces have routinely violated the rights of civilians on the streets of Mogadishu,” said Roth. “Effective counterterrorism can only be built on respect for basic rights and an end to impunity for serious crimes.”

    Human Rights Watch called on the UN Security Council and key international actors to use their leverage with Ethiopian and Somali government forces to end abuses and encourage respect for international law.

    Concerned countries should also request and support an increased UN human rights monitoring and reporting mission in Somalia.


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