World ignored U.S. war crime in Somalia

The 2011 famine in Somalia was a U.S.-created war crime, according to journalist Alex Perry, and nobody paid much attention.

In an interview on CBC Radio’s The Current, journalist Alex Perry discusses how the United States deliberately withheld food aid from al Shabab-controlled areas of Somalia during the 2011 famine that killed nearly 260,000 people.  He covered this extensively at the time to no avail. Now he has a book out hoping the world will pay attention this time.

Al Shabab, which is affiliated to al Qaeda, was known for stealing a proportion of the food aid delivered to its areas during the war against the Transitional Federal Government. In 2009, the U.S. Department of State listed al Shabab as an international terrorist group, which greatly contributed to the deteriorating situation in Somalia.  According to Perry,

…the U.S. […] enforc[ed] a food aid ban on southern Somalia to put pressure on al Shabab. [They] went to all the major Western and U.S. aid agencies and made the argument that sending food aid to an area where al Shabab operated was a form of support to a prescribed terrorist group.

As a result, when famine reached its height in 2011, food aid delivery in the region was seriously hampered, and thousands of people died. In his book Alex Perry comments:

The US strategy of blocking aid to a few thousand al-Shabab fighters had denied emergency food to a few million starving Somalis.

The journalist does not pull any punches and affirms, point-blank, that the 2011 Somali famine was a U.S. -created war crime.

The Americans are not the only ones to blame, however. The journalist reports that Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government also deliberately prevented food aid from reaching areas under al Shabab’s control as part of a military strategy to put pressure on the rebel group.

Officials from the Transitional Federal Government aren’t shy about saying that they consider the famine, which has substantially weakened al Shabab, a real strategic boost. Their plan: defeat al Shabab first, and only then allow aid.

Denying food to civilians as a military strategy is a war crime,  prohibited under international humanitarian law. It also violates core human rights obligations with regard to the right to adequate food, health, and the right to life.

The USA-led coalition against Islamic State has been very vocal about condemning President Assad’s use of this very tactic in Syria.

Yet silence prevails regarding American actions in Somalia. And there has been an equal reluctance to condemn coalition ally Saudi Arabia, which stands accused by the UN of war crimes in Yemen.

How can we ever hope to prevail against violent extremism if we use, condone, or are silent about such flagrantly illegal and immoral behaviour by the United States and other coalition allies?

For the full interview and other extensive background materials, including a failed Congressional attempt to amend the policy in 2013, click here (The Current,, 18 January 2016).

Photo credit: Dominic Nahr/Magnum for Time

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