Somalia's minorities have suffered most in the civil conflict and should be recognised and protected in the new constitution currently being drafted, rights groups said Wednesday.
From the Bantu of slave origin to the blacksmiths, leather tanners and other occupational groups considered as second-class human beings by dominant "noble" clans, minorities account for up to a third of Somalia's population.
They "are being subjected to a previously unreported pattern of gross human rights violations including summary executions, reported beheadings and rape," said Minority Rights Group International (MRG) in a report.
A 2004 power-sharing deal adopted by the transitional federal government and dubbed the "4.5 formula" gives half a seat to all minorities combined when each of Somalia's four main clans get one.
The country's transitional charter makes no mention of minorities and MRG demanded that the future constitution "recognise the country’s minorities and guarantee their right to non-discrimination".
Martin Hill, the report's main author, argued that "the pernicious myth of the homogeneity of Somali society" needed to change and the country's diversity acknowledged and protected.
The report explains why the Bantu and "outcastes" have it even worse than the millions of other Somalis trapped in conflict and poverty.
They suffer from popular stigmatisation and exclusion from mainstream economic life. If their rights are violated or they stand accused of a crime, they have limited access to justice and enjoy no clanic support.
"You have to keep quiet and not report the rape because they can always come back and do it again," said one woman from a minority community interviewed in the northeastern Puntland region by the MRG report's authors.
Somalia's largest minority are the Bantu, also known as Jareer ("kinky hair"). They comprise descendants of slaves as well as indigenous farmers.
The other main minority are the Madhiban, also known by the more derogatory term Midgan, who consider themselves to be the aboriginal people of Somalia.
They are castes whose occupation is considered unclean, such as blacksmiths, shoemakers, craftsmen or witchdoctors.
The Benadiri are a richer, coastal mercantile community of Arab origin who have also been marginalised.
Somalia's four main so-called "noble" clan families are the Darod, Hawiye, Dir and Rahanweyn.
The area where minorities suffer the most is the south-central region, which is the worst-hit by Somalia's two-decade-old civil conflict and currently controlled by the Al Qaeda-inspired Shebab group.
Martin Hill spoke of "forced recruitment of minority children, particularly Bantu, into Shebab forces."
Bantu and Madhiban account for a significant proportion of the foot soldiers used by the Shebab, a group which recognises the Muslim nation and not Somalia's clan system.
"One of the Shebab's ideologies is social justice and that is how they approach them (the minorities) but they do it knowing that these communities are vulnerable," Hill said.
With the promise of a few dollars a month or a mobile phone, the Bantu and Madhiban are even more easily lured than others into joining Shebab ranks.
Mariam Yassin, a consultant with MRG, explained that the general economic meltdown has meant that some of the jobs the main clans were happy to leave to the Madhiban are now coveted by all.
"Because people are just trying to survive, you now find more and more people from the majority taking their jobs, like in the slaughterhouses for example," she said.
MRG and the Somali Organisation for Minority Rights Forum which also contributed to the report, nevertheless took heart in the fact that awareness of minority rights appeared to be growing, notably in the diaspora.© ANP/AFP