(New York) -- Amnesty International today called on the Ethiopian military to release some 41 children held after a raid on Mogadishu's Al Hidya mosque last Saturday, which left 21 people dead.
"The safety and welfare of the children, some as young as nine years old, must be paramount for all parties,"said Amnesty International.
Witnesses have told Amnesty International that Ethiopian forces would only release the children from their military base in north Mogadishu "once they had been investigated" and "if they were not terrorists."
While Amnesty International has received reports that a small number of children were released on Tuesday, the majority are still being held by Ethiopian forces.
Amnesty International strongly condemns the targeted killing of civilians in the raid. Eleven of the 21 dead were killed inside the mosque, including the Iman Sheik Saiid Yahya, Sheik Abdullah Mohamud and several Tabliq Islamic scholars. Eyewitnesses report that those killed inside the mosque were unarmed civilians taking no active part in hostilities. Seven of the 21 were reported to have died after their throats were cut – a form of extra-judicial execution practiced by Ethiopian forces in Somalia. A spokesman for the Ethiopian government has denied the involvement of Ethiopian troops in these killings.
The U.N. Security Council must take steps to end impunity across Somalia by launching an International Commission of Inquiry, or similar mechanism, to investigate human rights violations committed during the armed conflict, said Amnesty International.
"The Ethiopian government and the Transitional Federal Government must allow an independent investigation into these killings, and those found responsible must be prosecuted according to international standards of justice," said Lynn Fredriksson, advocacy director for Africa for Amnesty International USA. "The U.S. government must use its significant influence to call on the government of Ethiopia to ensure accountability for this disturbing incident of egregious human rights violations committed by its armed forces."
The attack on the Al Hidya mosque occurred during two days of fighting between the Ethiopian military and TFG against armed groups opposed to them, in which the Elman Human Rights Organisation documented 81 deaths and more than one hundred injured. It is not known how many of these were civilians. The attack also followed increasing attacks by armed groups opposed to the TFG on towns in southern and central Somalia, including an attack on Beledweyne by Al-Shabab militia on April 13, where local residents reported that militia members killed four teachers. An Al-Shabab leader has claimed the teachers were shot in crossfire.