Children on the frontlines of Somalia’s famine

While an increasingly devastating famine continues to drive Somalis from their homes, many families are citing another reason for leaving: the forced recruitment of child soldiers. A recent Amnesty International report revealed that al-Shabab has intensified its recruitment process in order to gain more control of Central and South Somalia.

Primary schools are raided for soon-to-be soldiers and children are abducted from local playgrounds. Some are bribed with money and phones. Those who run away are often shot in the back, deemed traitors.

A Somali woman who lost several young family members at the hands of the armed rebels told Amnesty International:

"Those recruited by al-Shabab do not come back."

Boys, sometimes as young as eight, are given guns and forced to fight alongside grown men. Girls are used as servants for al-Shabab members, and in some instances, even wives. One testimony of a 16-year-old boy described how young girls are charged with adultery if they refuse to comply with the marriages. Floggings are a common punishment, sometimes ending with the death of the child. Girls and women accused of being raped (yes, accused) have been beaten or stoned to death - even though refugees have told Amnesty International that al-Shabab was responsible for the rape themselves.

Interviews with youth in the region have produced evidence that the Islamist militant group may be using children as suicide bombers, although Amnesty International cannot verify this. A 15-year-old boy described al-Shabab's recruitment tactics:

"They have a methodology, they say you will fight a jihad and then go to paradise. One friend was recruited by them and then he came to the village asking us to join...He had an AK47 and he said he was given lots of money."

While al-Shabab has been criticized for using children as weapons of war, the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), which is internationally-backed and U.S.-funded, has been listed on the UN's annual list of parties that recruit children for armed conflict for seven years in a row —although they dispute the accusation. During a meeting in Geneva, Switzerland on May 4, 2011, TFG members cited a lack of birth certificates and international financial assistance as the main causes of child recruitment. Human Rights Watch, alongside Amnesty International and other humanitarian organizations, have expressed grave concern over TFG training camps that hold refugee children against their will in neighboring Kenya, which has also denied allegations of using child soldiers.

An ex-child soldier who fled to Kenya told Amnesty International:

"I am not feeling safe. I am stressed. I have flashbacks. I am scared that al-Shabab will come here too. I want a better future, better security, further education. I live in fear here."



Egyptians fear justice delayed may be justice denied

The trial of former interior minister Habib el-Adly, the mukhabarat (intelligence) boss for 14 years under President Mubarak, was postponed for the third time on Sunday. His trial, now scheduled for August 3, will be a combined affair with Mubarak, who also stands accused of ordering the deaths of almost 900 protesters during Egypt's 18-day revolution.

The intelligence chief was expected to stand trial for murder in May -- after being sentenced to 12 years on corruption charges -- but a Cairo judge pushed the start date back a month after angry protesters attempted to swarm the courtroom.  His trial was postponed a second time -- without explanation -- on June 24, igniting four days of protests that left more than 1,000 people injured when security forces clamped down using tear gas and rubber bullets.

Anger at El-Adly's interior ministry boiled over during this year's protests. Crowds of Molotov cocktail-toting protesters laid siege to the building in the early days of the revolution, defying ministry snipers who opened fire on them using laser sights.  

During El-Adly's tenure, the ministry detained and tortured with impunity, using its estimated 500,000-member police force to terrorize the public into submission. At the height of the protests in January, El-Adly is also thought to have withdrawn police officers from the street and turned prisoners loose in an effort to scare democracy activists back into their homes.

It comes as little surprise, therefore, that the postponement of his trial was met with a mixture of cynicism and outrage by many Egyptians. Wael Eskandar, a blogger and journalist for Ahram Online, told Foreign Policy in a phone interview that "most protesters don't believe that [the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF)] is serious about trying Adly." They are irked for the most part, he said, but "they are not expecting any real form of justice."

There is increased concern, moreover, that a Mubarak-Adly trial won't materialize in August, either. As Kristen Chick, the Cairo correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor, said in an email, people are "increasingly worried and jaded that the military does not intend to prosecute Mubarak." Adding to their concern is the fact that Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting, falls in August this year, making it highly unlikely that a trial will get underway. As the New York Times recently put it, during Ramadan "most Egyptians fast all day, feast much of the night, and little else gets done."

But the sleepy month of Ramadan will be less of a problem than SCAF's unwillingness to hold the old regime accountable, according to Eskandar. "The police who killed protesters are still in their places while they are waiting for trial," he said.  Meanwhile, many families who lost loved ones during the revolution have been offered bribes to drop charges against ministry officials, according to Eskandar. "When they don't accept bribes, they are threatened with [trumped-up] drug charges," he said.

Similar reports of police bribery surfaced in June, when families of victims of police brutality claimed that they were offered blood money by informants affiliated with the Imbaba police department.

Not all justice dispensed by SCAF is justice delayed, however. For many of the protesters rounded up during the revolution, retribution has been swift. Human Rights Watch reports that at least 5,600 civilians have been sentenced by military tribunals since Mubarak was unseated on February 11. One such civilian was 26-year old Maikel Nabil Sanad who was sentenced to three years after he wrote on his blog that "the army and the people were never one hand," a reference to one of the revolution's widely used refrains. Sanad did not even have the luxury of legal counsel during his sentencing, since his lawyer had been fed misinformation about when it would occur.

Inconsistency between SCAF's handling of the trials of former regime officials and those of protesters is wearing the people's trust thin, and has translated into popular unrest on more than one occasion. "While people here right now may not agree on a lot of things, nearly everyone agrees that they'd like to see Mubarak hanged," said Chick.