By Zach Waksman
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa
MOGADISHU, Somalia – Al-Shabab, a militant Islamist group, ordered the International Committee of the Red Cross to cease its humanitarian aid operations in the areas of Somalia that it controls on Monday. Despite international concerns about the effects, the group made this decision due to alleged concerns about the way the ICRC handled food distribution.
In a statement delivered on multiple forums, including Twitter, Al-Shabab said that the ICRC “repeatedly betrayed the trust conferred on it by the local population and, in recent weeks, falsely accused the mujahideen [al-Shabab fighters] of hindering food distribution.” Its Office for Supervising the Affairs of Foreign Agencies claimed to have conducted an inspection of food in ICRC warehouses and found that “70 per cent of the food stored for distribution was deemed unfit for human consumption.” The organization also claimed to have set more than 2,000 tons of expired food on fire.
The Red Cross was one of the last international humanitarian organizations permitted to continue operations in regions under the organization’s control. In November, the Al-Shabab banned 16 aid organizations, including several under the auspices of the United Nations, from continuing their operations. It asked those that it considered to have “engaged in activities deemed detrimental to the attainment of an Islamic state” to leave. It claimed, among other allegations, that some groups tried to exaggerate the scale of the situation for political reasons and even attempted to convert Muslims to Christianity.
On January 12, the ICRC decided to suspend distribution to more than 1.1 million people in southern and central Somalia after local armed groups interfered with delivery of food and seeds for farmers. It continued to provide emergency aid and clean water. The timing could not have been worse. Those regions are still in the midst of a massive drought that has created famine conditions for over a year.
In response to the ban, the UN called for Al-Shabab to reconsider, believing that its decision would make conditions worse.
“Over the past couple of months, ICRC distributed food to over one million Somalis in crisis; leaving so many vulnerable Somalis without food will endanger their lives and could also result in pushing a large number of people back into famine, reversing any gains made,” said Mark Bowden, the UN’s Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia. “We appeal to all factions in Somalia to allow humanitarian actors to reach people most in need, wherever they are.”
An aid worker who asked to remain anonymous told IRIN that the best move might be to work with the organization instead of against it.
“They [Al-Shabab] are seeing everything as an attempt to destroy or harm them,” he said. “Maybe it is time to open channels of communication, preferably by the international community. Surely, if they [the international community] can talk to the Taliban, they can talk to Al-Shabab to save lives.”
On Thursday, possibly in response to Al-Shabab, Turkey and the Turkish Red Crescent sent 5.8 million kilograms of food and other equipment to Somalia.
For more information, please see:
Hiiraan — Turkish Red Crescent Sends Aid to Somalia — 02 February 2012
CNN — Militant Group Kicks Aid Group Out of Regions in Somalia — 31 January 2012
IRIN — Somalia: UN Calls for Access to the Needy — 31 January 2012
Al Jazeera — Al-Shabab Bans Red Cross from Somalia — 30 January 2012
BBC — Somalia’s Al-Shabab Militants Ban Red Cross Aid Work — 30 January 2012