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2019 | Amnesty International Report The Hidden US War in Somalia – Civilian Casualties from Airstrikes in Lower Shabelle

Since April 2017, the United States (US) has tripled the number of air strikes, from both manned aircraft and drones, that it has launched in Somalia. This report investigates five US attacks in the Somalian region of Lower Shabelle, an Al-Shabaab controlled area, between April 2017 and December 2018. Since these attacks caused civilian deaths and injuries they appear to have violated international humanitarian law (IHL) and could, in some cases, constitute war crimes.

The US claims that its strikes have not resulted in civilian casualties. But who is considered a civilian? President Trump’s 2017 declaration that all of southern Somalia is considered an “area of active hostilities” triggered the IHL provisions applicable to non-international armed conflicts (NIAC’s). It is well established that the rules of NIAC shield civilians who are not directly participating in hostilities from attack. But the US’s overly broad interpretation of these rules permits them to target anyone whom they are ‘reasonably certain’ is formally or functionally a member of a non-state armed group, regardless of whether he or she is directly participating in hostilities. As a result civilians who are not directly participating in hostilities may be deliberately targeted. Moreover, in breach of their obligations under international law, the US and Somali governments have so far failed to investigate casualties resulting from US operations in Somalia. A persistent problem is that US strikes generally remain undisclosed and, where they are disclosed, reports often leave out crucial details. This makes it very difficult to assess the compliance of any strike with international law. Furthermore, the US and Somali governments do not have adequate accountability mechanisms in place in Somalia, for reporting and responding to allegations of civilian casualties. Consequently, victims are denied the right to justice, accountability and reparation, including compensation and guarantees of non-repetition.