Last year was the deadliest for civilians in Somalia since 2017 after the Islamist Al-Shabaab group stepped up its insurgency, the UN's Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has stated.
"The continued attacks by Al-Shabaab, which have resulted in human rights violations, sexual violence and a sharp increase in the number of civilian casualties, are worrying," Guterres wrote in a report submitted to the UN Security Council on Wednesday.
Between September 2022 and February 2023, the UN mission in Somalia recorded a more than 150 percent increase in the number of civilian casualties, to 1,059 including 382 dead, most of them attributed to Al-Shabaab, he said.
After returning to power in May 2022, President Hassan Cheikh Mohamoud stepped up the military's campaign to defeat the Islamist group. The offensive, supported by the African Union force in Somalia and US airstrikes, made it possible to reconquer vast chunks of two states in the centre of the country, Hirshabelle and Galmudug.
Al-Shabaab who have been fighting for 15 years, continue to control large swaths of territory and regularly carry out deadly attacks including in the heart of the capital Mogadishu, other cities and military installations.
In his report, Antonio Guterres urges the Somali authorities to ensure that their "counter-terrorism" measures do not infringe on freedom of expression. He said he was "deeply concerned" by the arbitrary arrests of journalists and media professionals.
According to the UN, insecurity and clashes, which are major obstacles to humanitarian operations, drove more than 600,000 people from their homes last year.
About 1.3 million people have also had to flee the severe drought affecting the Horn of Africa. A total of 8.3 million people will need humanitarian aid this year, the UN states.