Human Rights Priority Country update report: January to June 2016
Somaliland continues to use the death penalty. The government carried out 4 military executions and 3 civilian executions in January. In response, the British Embassy continues to lobby the President, Foreign Minister, Minister of the Presidency, Minister of Interior, Minister of Justice, Chief Justice, Attorney General and First Lady to return to a de facto moratorium. FCO Minister for Human Rights, Baroness Anelay, tweeted disappointment at the executions and the EU issued a statement condemning them. The then FCO Minister for Africa, James Duddridge, reinforced these messages when he met the Somaliland Foreign Minister on 5 January.
Freedom of expression and the arrest of journalists continue to be an issue. Eleven journalists were arrested between 10 December 2015 to 1 April 2016.Three more journalists were arrested and subsequently released in May, on order of the courts. Criminal charges have been brought against the Chairman of Ogaal newspaper by the President and First Lady, and against both the Chairman and Editor-in-Chief of Hubsad newspaper. The Chairman of Foore newspaper was taken into custody on 29 May. Codka Shacabka and Ogaal newspapers were suspended in March. Hubsad has been suspended since November 2015 and Haatuf since 2014. The Somaliland Journalists Association (SOLJA) has filed a lawsuit against the Interior Minister who, with his bodyguards, is alleged to have hijacked, arrested and beaten a journalist on 26 March. A Pakistani citizen was arrested and sentenced with spreading Shiite ideology. The UK is providing training to the government to improve its relations with the media and its understanding of the importance of freedom of expression.
Other issues of concern include:
- rape (according to the US State Department, 30% of cases are gang rape, 55% of which are perpetrated against minors)
- women’s access to justice
- limited political space for opposition parties
- limited political participation of women and minorities;
- unlawful detention, including of the mentally ill
- harassment of people with disabilities
Human rights progress in Somalia continues to be blighted by serious abuses and violations perpetrated by various parties involved in the ongoing internal conflict and by a culture of impunity.
Somalia continues to face humanitarian challenges which impact on the human rights situation. Climatic and environmental factors, including el Niño, have exacerbated the humanitarian crisis. Almost 5 million people are in need of assistance, over one million of these are internally displaced persons (IDPs); approx one million people in Somalia face a humanitarian and emergency crisis and 3.7 million face food security stress (May report from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs). Puntland and Somaliland continue to suffer from the impact of drought and severe outbreaks of cholera and acute watery diarrhoea are occurring in the South. DFID’s 4-year (2013-2017) £149m humanitarian programme is focusing on building people’s resilience to humanitarian shocks, including El Niño, and responding quickly to live-saving needs when they arise. Work to provide support and protection to and to address the specific needs of IDPs and those likely to return from refugee camps in Kenya is currently under design.
There has been some progress at the political level. The law establishing a Human Rights Commission was passed on 6 June with overwhelming support from MPs. The Ministry of Women and Human Rights Development continued to be active, promoting the National Action Plan on Human Rights, and the Minister made Somalia’s presentation to the Universal Periodic Review Process of the UN Human Rights Council in January.
There has also been some progress towards a more inclusive electoral process in 2016, which should be a stepping stone towards one-person-one-vote elections in 2020. Somali leaders have committed to 30% seats for women in both houses of parliament, and the UK and international community is encouraging them to find a mechanism for achieving this.
Human Rights Watch published a report in May on the dangers of being a journalist in Somalia and the lack of protection for freedom of expression. The report highlighted the continued concerns around freedom of the media in Somalia, which “has come under threat from all sides in ongoing fighting between governmental forces and various non-state armed groups”. The journalist Sagal Osman was shot in Mogadishu on 6 June by unknown armed men. In response, the British Embassy in Mogadishu emphasised that it was vital for journalists to be able to express views in a safe environment.
Somalia continues to apply the death penalty. In April, over the course of 3 days, 3 men were executed by firing squad. Abdirisak Mohamed Barrow and Nassan Nur Ali, members of Al Shabaab, were executed for the death of the journalist, Hindiyo Haji Mohamed, in December 2015. Hassan Hanafi, a former journalist and Al Shabaab’s media officer, was executed for the killing of 5 Somali journalists. Hanafi’s trial came after he had been held for 15 months in solitary confinement, with no charge. Puntland recently sentenced over 43 Al Shabaab captured fighters to death but the sentences have not yet been carried out. EU Ambassadors to Somalia wrote a joint letter to the President of Puntland expressing serious concerns about the death penalty as well as the holding of juvenile combatants (see below).
The media regularly report on extrajudicial killings by all parties. In June, Al Shabaab reportedly executed four of its fighters who were alleged to be Western/CIA supported spies. In the same month, reports circulated that Somali authorities in Kismayo displayed the bodies of 4 Al Shabaab members they had targeted and killed outside of a conflict situation.
There are frequent reports of civilian casualties, attributable to all sides in the ongoing conflict, and more localised conflicts between clan militias. In April, there was an incident in Lower Shabelle involving AMISOM (African Union Mission to Somalia) which resulted in 4 civilian deaths. AMISOM openly reported the incident in a press release and have committed to investigate it, and have involved the new Civilian Casualty Tracking, Analysis and Reporting Cell (CCTARC) in the process.
Al-Shabaab’s ability to mount indiscriminate attacks across Somalia continued with civilians targeted. In January, more than 15 civilians were killed when Al Shabaab attacked a seaside restaurant in Mogadishu. In June, Al Shabaab attacked the Ambassador Hotel in Mogadishu resulting in over 10 dead, including two British-Somali MPs. In response to this attack, the Foreign Secretary stressed Britain’s support to Somalia and the African Union to tackle Al Shabaab. There was a further attack by Al Shabaab on a hotel in Mogadishu on 25 June where a number of civilians, including the Environment Minister, were killed.
Access to Justice in Somalia remains a concern due in part to the continued use of military tribunals for non-military cases instead of civilian courts. There are concerns over the ability of the military courts to follow due process and Somali law. In May, 10 Somalis were found guilty of involvement in the bombing of the Daallo flight from Mogadishu to Djibouti. Their trial took less than a week and was conducted without public or media access. One was convicted in absentia, despite not having been apprehended during the investigation, and he was one of two reportedly found guilty of murder, even though the suicide bomber was the only fatality. The court did not impose the death penalty.
Sexual violence against women, particularly those from minority and IDP communities is widespread. The Sexual Offences Bill is under discussion in parliament having cleared the Cabinet in May. It is, however, unlikely to be passed until after the electoral process. The National Gender Policy was also approved by the Cabinet in May, and this will pave the way for future legislation to support gender equality. The UK provides support to the Ministry of Women and Human Rights Development to build capacity in this area. AMISOM introduced new measures to counter sexual exploitation by its troops following a 2015 inquiry report. So far, according to the Special Representative of the Chair of the African Union Commission in June, there have been no reports of complaints against AMISOM troops on the crisis phoneline set up for such eventualities.
There are ongoing concerns over children in armed conflict. Reports indicate that both the Somali National Army (SNA) and Al Shabaab have used children to varying degrees. Reports from Puntland state that authorities there have over 50 juveniles in custody following a successful operation by Puntland security forces against Al Shabaab in March. The juveniles were apparently forced to fight by Al Shabaab. In June, EU Ambassadors wrote jointly to the President of Puntland to raise concerns about juvenile detainees and to ask the government of Puntland to work with the UN Office on Drugs and Crime and the UN Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) to ensure that any minors would be transferred to UNICEF-approved facilities. The UK is supporting the biometric profiling of the SNA which helps ensure that child soldiers are not recruited.