Extreme violence in Somalia, attacks and threats against the media and a lack of humanitarian access in the strife-torn country, where more than 700,000 civilians have been forced to flee their homes, remain matters of deep concern, according to an independent United Nations expert. Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Somalia Ghanim Alnajjar, who visited the Horn of Africa country last week, said his meetings UN staff, representatives of the international community, Somali civil society, clan and tribal leaders, and senior officials of the Transitional Federal Institutions (TFI) underscored the continued deterioration in the human rights situation. Civilians faced severe violations by all parties to the conflict including of the right to life, disappearance, torture, recruitment as child combatants and sexual and gender-based violence, as well as continued obstacles to the right to food, health and education. Mr. Alnajjar discussed the humanitarian needs of the civilian population, including the more than 700,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs), and threats and attacks on aid workers, underlining once again the importance of preserving “humanitarian space.” Journalists and human rights defenders continue to live in an increasing climate of fear and intimidation, he noted. Since January, seven journalists have been killed and dozens more threatened into silence for their work. Several have fled Mogadishu, the capital, he said. Citing the lack of separation of powers in the TFI, he condemned the arrest of the President of the Supreme Court, Yusuf Ali Harun, and another judge as well as the dismissals of Attorney-General Abdullahi Dahir and his deputy, saying these steps disregarded rules and procedures and clearly violated the independence of the judiciary. Mr. Alnajjar also voiced concern at the potential negative effects of a conflict between neighbouring countries and highlighted new calls for the Security Council to establish a UN peacekeeping operation to further stabilize the country and allow for a phased withdrawal of Ethiopian forces. He was briefed about the intense violence and allegations of serious violations of human rights in Mogadishu over the past nine months since the TFI, backed by Ethiopian troops, expelled Islamist groups from the capital.The UN High Commissioner for Refugees UNHCR reported today that it had begun distributing much-needed relief supplies 24,000 people in Afgooye, 30 kilometres west of Mogadishu, many of whom had fled intensified violence over the last two weeks. Plastic sheeting, blankets and jerry cans are being distributed over a three-day period. Nearly 65,000 people have fled the volatile capital since the beginning of June, 11,000 of them in September. Although the TFI said in May insurgents had been ousted after three months of fighting which uprooted almost 400,000 civilians, ongoing violence sparked a second wave in June. Only 125,000 people have returned to Mogadishu. More than 40,000 residents of Mogadishu have been displaced in Afgooye since February, and the 22 IDP settlements are feeling the pressure of the new arrivals. “Our staff report that families are still fleeing Mogadishu every day due to an increase in violence,” UNHCR spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis told a news briefing in Geneva today, reporting a new exodus after the TFI ordered residents of three northern districts to vacate their homes, claiming that they were backing insurgents after several soldiers and their commander were killed in a fight with insurgents there. Mogadishu is now divided into two parts, she said. The northern part is becoming deserted as residents flee clashes between the Ethiopian-backed TFI forces and insurgents, whereas the southern part is calm. The streets of northern Mogadishu are so empty during the day that only a handful of people can be seen, a UNHCR staff member reported. The Bakara market, once one of the biggest in East Africa, is barely functioning as it is regularly closed to vehicles because of insecurity such as fighting, assassinations and killings linked to robbery. “People are scared to walk close to the market with only the most desperate still going, risking their lives to sell a few vegetables as they have no other way of keeping their children from starving,” the staffer said. Somalia has been riven by factional fighting and has had no functioning central government since Muhammad Siad Barre’s regime was toppled in 1991. 28 September 2007Extreme violence in Somalia, attacks and threats against the media and a lack of humanitarian access in the strife-torn country, where more than 700,000 civilians have been forced to flee their homes, remain matters of deep concern, according to an independent United Nations expert.