This report is based on research and extensive interviews conducted by Africa Watch with newly arrived refugees in Djibouti in August 1989, and from June-October in England and Wales, where there is now a sizable refugee community, following the outbreak of war in Somalia.

This is not a comprehensive study of civil and political rights in Somalia. It is a detailed analysis of the conflict in the north, providing information and eye-witness accounts concerning the human rights abuses that preceded the outbreak of way in May 1988, and examines in depth the government’s conduct of the war, relying principally on the direct testimony of eye-witnesses. Wars have broken out more recently in the central and southern regions of the country. Most of those uprooted from their homes as a result of these conflicts are displaced within Somalia, although several thousand people have crossed the border and sought refuge in Kenya and tens of thousands have joined the refugees in Ethiopia. For lack of access to those displaced and refugees, Africa Watch has not been able to gather sufficient information about the wars in the central and southern regions to include relevant material in this report. Con­sequently, the focus of this report is exclusively the conflict in the northern region (Somaliland), which is the oldest and the most bloody of the wars in Somalia.


We sought permission from the Ethiopian government to visit the refugee camps. We regret that the Ethiopian government did not comply with our request. However, given the number of refugees, all recent arrivals in Djibouti and in Europe, we believe that the information we have been able to collect and the testimonies we have gathered are sufficient to enable us to present a comprehensive report about the war in the north. We sought inter­views only with civilian victims of war. None of those we interviewed was a combatant. Interviews were conducted privately, for the most part in people’s homes.

To the extent possible, we have included information about abuses by the Somali National Movement (SNM), the guerrilla movement fighting the government in the north, principally against Ethiopian refugees living in north­ern Somalia. The Somali government’s unwillingness to allow Africa Watch to visit northern Somalia — despite a promise to us by Prime Minister Ali Samatar that we would be allowed to visit — has hampered our ability to gather additional information by interviewing Ethiopian refugees and civilians.

We would like to express our appreciation to the many Somalis who have been generous with their time, and who have provided us with invaluable information and background material. We are particularly grateful to the Somali Advice and Information Office in Cardiff, Wales, which facilitated our interviews with the large Somali community in Cardiff and Newport.

Above all, we wish to thank the many refugees who shared with us their painful memories. In spite of their harrowing experiences, the loss of so many loved ones, the destruction of their homes and their towns, the economic and psychological dislocation of their lives and the constant anxiety about the future, we are impressed by the courage and humor that has helped them to survive this nightmare. We hope that our next report on Somalia will not have to focus so much on the war and related issues. Rather, we hope that it will prove possible for the refugees to return home and that we will be able to monitor their efforts to piece together the lives shattered by war.

An indication of the gravity of the current situation in Somalia is that, unlike most human rights reporting where victims and their families request strict confidentiality, with a few exceptions, every refugee we interviewed stated that we could use their name and affiliation where relevant. Brushing aside the prospect of additional government retaliation against relatives living at home, the spontaneous and unanimous response was “what more could they do to us?”

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