SOMALIA: US GOV Reports on Human Rights Practices
Executive Summary Somalia is a federal parliamentary republic. President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed “Farmaajo,” following his election by a joint vote of the two houses of parliament in February 2017, led the Federal Government of Somalia (FGS), formed in 2012. Members of the two houses of parliament were selected through indirect elections conducted from October 2016 through January 2017, with House of the People membership chosen on clan affiliation and a power-sharing formula, and Upper House membership chosen by state assemblies. The electoral process for both houses was widely viewed as flawed and marred with corruption, but the two houses of parliament elected President Farmaajo in a process viewed as fair and transparent. The government of the self-declared Republic of Somaliland in the northwest and the regional government of Puntland in the northeast controlled their respective jurisdictions.
The provisional federal constitution states the armed forces are responsible for assuring the country’s sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity. The Somalia National Army is also engaged in a continuing conflict with the insurgent Islamist group al-Shabaab in many parts of the country. The national, federal, and state police are responsible for protecting lives, property, peace, and security. The army reports to the Ministry of Defense, and the Somali Police Force reports to the Ministry of Internal Security. Civilian authorities did not always maintain effective control over the security forces.
Significant human rights issues included: unlawful or arbitrary killing, including extrajudicial killings, of civilians by federal government forces, clan militias, al-Shabaab, and unknown assailants; forced disappearances by al-Shabaab; torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment by federal government forces, clan militias, al-Shabaab, and unknown assailants; arbitrary and politically motivated arrest and detentions, including of journalists by federal government forces and regional government forces; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; political prisoners; arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; the worst forms of restrictions on free expression, the press, and internet, including violence, threats of violence, and unjustified arrests and prosecutions of journalists, censorship, site blocking, and the existence of criminal libel laws; numerous acts of corruption; restrictions on political participation; unlawful recruitment or use of child soldiers by federal government forces, clan militias, Ahlu Sunna Wal Jama (ASWJ), and al-Shabaab; the existence or use of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults; violence against women and girls, partly caused by government inaction; forced labor; and the worst forms of child labor.
Impunity generally remained the norm. Government authorities took minimal steps to prosecute and punish officials who committed abuses, particularly military and police personnel.
Conflict during the year involving the government, militias, the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), and al-Shabaab resulted in death, injury, and displacement of civilians. Clan militias and al-Shabaab continued to commit grave abuses throughout the country; al-Shabaab committed the majority of severe human rights abuses, particularly terrorist attacks on civilians and targeted killings, including extrajudicial and politically motivated killings; disappearances; cruel and unusual punishment; rape; and attacks on employees of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and the United Nations. Al-Shabaab also blocked humanitarian assistance, conscripted child soldiers, and restricted freedoms of speech, press, assembly, and movement. AMISOM troops killed civilians (see section 1.g.).
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
A. ARBITRARY DEPRIVATION OF LIFE AND OTHER UNLAWFUL OR POLITICALLY MOTIVATED KILLINGS
Government security forces and allied militias, other persons wearing uniforms, regional security forces, al-Shabaab, and unknown assailants committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. Government and regional authorities executed persons without due process. Armed clashes and attacks killed civilians and aid workers (see section 1.g.). Impunity remained the norm.
Military courts continued to try cases not legally within their jurisdiction and in proceedings that fell short of international standards. Federal and regional authorities sometimes executed those sentenced to death within days of the court’s verdict, particularly in cases where defendants directly confessed their membership in al-Shabaab before the courts or in televised videos. In other cases the courts offered defendants up to 30 days to appeal death penalty judgements. National figures on executions were unreliable, but the UN Mission to Somalia (UNSOM) tracked 15 executions across the country between January and October 2018. Human rights organizations questioned the military courts’ ability to enforce appropriate safeguards with regard to due process, the right to seek pardon, or commutation of sentence as well as to implement sentences in a manner that meets international standards. In December 2018 Somalia National Army (SNA) members executed by firing squad six men suspected of affiliation with al-Shabaab in Bardera, Gedo Region. The men had been in prison for five months but had not yet been charged.
Residents of Bariire in the Lower Shabelle Region reported in June that al-Shabaab regularly forced locals to attend public executions, amputations, and other punishments as a means of intimidating the local population, particularly ahead of government operations in local areas.
Fighting among clans and subclans, particularly over water and land resources, occurred throughout the year, particularly in the regions of Hiiraan, Galmudug, Lower and Middle Shabelle, and Sool (see section 6). Revenge killings occurred.
Al-Shabaab continued to kill civilians (see sections 1.g. and 6). The killings included al-Shabaab’s execution of persons it accused of spying for and collaborating with the FGS, Somali national forces, affiliated militias, and western security forces.
Unidentified attackers also killed persons with impunity, including judges, SNA soldiers, and other government officials, as well as journalists, traditional elders, and international organization workers.
Although the government rarely took action regarding serious human rights abuses, in August police arrested the security minister of Jubaland State, Abdirashid Hassan Abdinur, on unspecified charges. The UN Somalia and Eritrea Monitoring Group accused Abdinur of serious human rights abuses in 2014 and 2015, including killings, torture, unlawful detentions, and obstruction of humanitarian assistance. It was not clear whether Abdinur’s arrest was due to human rights issues or political conflicts.
In February al-Shabaab attacked a hotel and killed 11 people with a car bomb in what police described as an attempted assassination of an appeals court judge.
There were no reports of kidnappings or other disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities. Al-Shabaab continued to abduct persons, including humanitarian workers and AMISOM troops taken hostage during attacks (see section 1.g.). Pirates continued to hold persons kidnapped in previous years.
Of the four remaining Iranian fishermen kidnapped in 2015 by al-Shabaab in Somali waters near El-Dheer, Galguduud Region, one was released in September on humanitarian grounds.
C. TORTURE AND OTHER CRUEL, INHUMAN, OR DEGRADING TREATMENT OR PUNISHMENT
The law prohibits torture and inhuman treatment. Nevertheless, torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment occurred. In September local media reported the death of a prisoner following alleged maltreatment at the hands of Puntland police officers in Bosaso, Puntland.
Government forces, allied militia, and other men wearing uniforms committed sexual violence, including rape (see section 1.g.).
Federal and regional authorities used excessive force against journalists, demonstrators, and detainees that resulted in deaths and injuries.
In October the managing director of Radio Daljir was released from detention after reportedly being coerced to confess to a series of criminal activities related to his station’s reporting on the Puntland Security Forces or face a lifetime prison sentence.
National Intelligence and Security Agency (NISA) agents routinely conducted mass security sweeps against al-Shabaab and terrorist cells as well as criminal groups, held detainees for prolonged periods without following due process, and mistreated suspects during interrogations.
Al-Shabaab imposed harsh punishment on persons in areas under its control. AMISOM alleged that al-Shabaab tortured residents under its control in el-Baraf for offenses ranging from failure to pay tax to being a government agent (see sections 1.a. and 1.g.).
Clan violence sometimes resulted in civilian deaths and injuries (see sections 1.g. and 6).
PRISON AND DETENTION CENTER CONDITIONS
Prison conditions in most areas of the country remained harsh due to poor sanitation and hygiene, inadequate food and water, and lack of medical care. Conditions were better in Central Mogadishu Prison, but overcrowding was a problem. Two facilities–Garowe Prison in Puntland and Hargeisa Prison in Somaliland–met international standards and reportedly were well managed. Prisons in territory controlled by al-Shabaab and in remote areas where traditional authorities controlled holding areas were generally inaccessible to international observers. Prison conditions in such areas were believed to be harsh and at times life threatening.
Physical Conditions: Overcrowding in urban prisons–particularly following large security incidents involving arrests–sometimes occurred. Authorities sometimes held juveniles and adults together, due in part to the belief juveniles were safer when held with members of their own subclan. There was a report of one female prisoner in Garowe who was housed separately from male inmates, although she lacked access to the vocational training offered to male inmates. Prison authorities often did not separate pretrial detainees from convicted prisoners, particularly in the southern and central regions.
Only inmates in Central Mogadishu, the Mogadishu Prison and Court Complex, and Garowe and Hargeisa Prisons had daily access to showers, sanitary facilities, adequate food and water, and outdoor exercise. Inmates in most prisons relied on their family and clan to supplement food and water provisions.
Authorities generally required the families of inmates to pay the cost of health services; inmates without family or clan support had very limited access to such services. Disease outbreaks, such as tuberculosis and cholera, continued to occur, particularly in overcrowded prisons, such as Mogadishu. Such outbreaks could be life threatening during the rainy season.
The UN’s Human Rights and Protection Group reported from an October 2018 prison-monitoring mission the prison in Beletweyne, Hirshabelle, lacked medical personnel. In case of medical emergencies, prisoners were referred to the nearby SNA hospital. Prisoners in Hargeisa and Garowe reported in November 2018 they had access to medical facilities, although the medical wings lacked medication, and care for prisoners with mental health and other special needs was not adequate.
Prison infrastructure often was dilapidated, and untrained guards were often unable to provide security.
Information on deaths rates in prisons and pretrial detention centers was unavailable.
Al-Shabaab detained persons in areas under its control in the southern and central regions. Those detained were incarcerated under inhuman conditions for relatively minor offenses, such as smoking, having illicit content on cell phones, listening to music, watching or playing soccer, wearing a brassiere, or not wearing a hijab.
Administration: Most prisons did not have ombudsmen. Federal law does not specifically allow prisoners to submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship. Somaliland law, however, allows prisoners to submit complaints to judicial authorities without censorship, and prisoners reportedly submitted such complaints.
Prisoners in Central Mogadishu, Garowe, and Hargeisa Prisons had adequate access to visitors and religious observance; infrastructure limitations in other prisons throughout the country impeded such activities.
Independent Monitoring: Somaliland authorities and government authorities in Puntland and Mogadishu permitted prison monitoring by independent nongovernmental observers during the year. Representatives from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime visited prisons in Garowe and Hargeisa several times in 2018. UNSOM representatives, other UN organizations, and humanitarian institutions visited a few prisons throughout the country. Geographic inaccessibility and insecurity impeded such monitoring in territory controlled by al-Shabaab or in remote areas where traditional authorities controlled detention areas.
Improvements: The Mogadishu Prison and Court Complex opened its first phase in February with space for 250 prisoners and accommodation for judges, prosecutors, and defense lawyers to stay during trials.
D. ARBITRARY ARREST OR DETENTION
Although the provisional federal constitution prohibits illegal detention, government security forces and allied militias, regional authorities, clan militias, and al-Shabaab arbitrarily arrested and detained persons (see section 1.g.). The law provides for the right of persons to challenge the lawfulness of their arrest or detention in court, but only politicians and businesspersons could exercise this right effectively.
ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES
The provisional federal constitution provides for arrested persons to be brought before judicial authorities within 48 hours. The law requires warrants based on sufficient evidence and issued by authorized officials for the apprehension of suspects. The law also provides that arrestees receive prompt notification of the charges against them and judicial determinations, prompt access to a lawyer and family members, and other legal protections. Adherence to these safeguards was rare. The FGS made arrests without warrants and detained individuals arbitrarily. The government sometimes kept high-profile prisoners associated with al-Shabaab in safe houses before officially charging them. The law provides for bail, although authorities did not always respect this provision. Authorities rarely provided indigent persons with a lawyer. The government held some suspects under house arrest, particularly high-ranking defectors from al-Shabaab with strong clan connections. In some cases security force members, judicial officers, politicians, and clan elders used their influence to have favored detainees released.
Arbitrary Arrest: Federal authorities, regional authorities, and al-Shabaab arbitrarily arrested and detained numerous persons, including persons accused of terrorism and either supporting or opposing al-Shabaab. Authorities frequently used allegations of al-Shabaab affiliation to justify arbitrary arrests (see section 1.g.). The United Nations reported 218 individuals were arrested during security operations and routine security screening between January and August 2018. Most of those arrested were reportedly suspected of being al-Shabaab members, persons who had not paid taxes, or family members of security force deserters. In January more than 10 businessmen were arrested by Hirshabelle authorities after being accused of paying taxes to al-Shabaab in Jowhar.
Government and regional authorities arbitrarily arrested journalists and others perceived as critics. In January a poet who composed a poem criticizing police brutality, arbitrary detention, and degrading treatment of prisoners in Somaliland was arrested and charged with “insulting the police and the government.” A regional court in late February acquitted and released him.
Government forces conducted operations to arrest without warrants youths they perceived as suspicious.
Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention was common, although estimates were unavailable on the average length of pretrial detention or the percentage of the prison population being held in pretrial detention. The large number of detainees, a shortage of judges and court administrators, and judicial inefficiency resulted in trial delays.
E. DENIAL OF FAIR PUBLIC TRIAL
The law provides for an independent judiciary, but the government did not always respect judicial independence and impartiality. The civilian judicial system, however, remained largely nonfunctional across the country. Some regions established local courts that depended on the dominant local clan and associated factions for their authority. The judiciary in most areas relied on a combination of traditional and customary law, sharia (Islamic law), and formal law. The judiciary was subject to influence and corruption and was strongly influenced by clan-based politics. Authorities often did not respect court orders. Civilian judges often feared trying cases, leaving military courts to try the majority of civilian cases.
In Somaliland functional courts existed, although there was a serious shortage of trained judges, limited legal documentation upon which to build judicial precedent, and widespread allegations of corruption. Somaliland’s hybrid judicial system incorporates sharia, customary law, and formal law, but they were not well integrated. There was widespread interference in the judicial process, and government officials regularly intervened to influence cases, particularly those involving journalists. International NGOs reported local officials interfered in legal matters and invoked the public order law to detain and incarcerate persons without trial.
Puntland courts, while functional, lacked the capacity to provide equal protection under the law and faced similar challenges and limitations as courts in Somaliland.
Traditional clan elders mediated conflicts throughout the country. Clans frequently used and applied traditional justice practices. Traditional judgments sometimes held entire clans or subclans responsible for alleged violations by individuals.
The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, but the lack of an independent functioning judiciary meant this right was often not enforced. According to the law, individuals have the right to a presumption of innocence. They also have the right to be informed promptly and in detail of the charges against them in a language they understand, although the law is unclear on whether the right to translation applies through all appeals. Detainees have the right to be brought before a competent court within 48 hours of arrest, to communicate with an attorney of their choice (or have one provided at public expense if indigent), and to not be compelled to incriminate themselves. Authorities did not respect most rights relating to trial procedures. Clan politics and corruption often impeded access to a fair trial. The law does not address confronting witnesses, the right to appeal a court’s ruling, the provision of sufficient time and facilities to prepare a defense, or the right to present one’s own evidence and witnesses.
Military courts tried civilians. Defendants in military courts rarely had legal representation or the right to appeal. Authorities sometimes executed those sentenced to death within days of the court’s verdict (see section 1.a.). Some government officials continued to claim that a 2011 state of emergency decree gave military courts jurisdiction over crimes, including those committed by civilians, in areas from which al-Shabaab had retreated. There were no clear indications whether this decree remained in effect according to government policy, statements, or actions, although the initial decree was for a period of three months and never formally extended.
In Somaliland defendants generally enjoyed a presumption of innocence and the right to a public trial, to be present at trial, and to consult an attorney at all stages of criminal proceedings. The government did not always inform defendants promptly and in detail of the charges against them and did not always provide access to government-held evidence. The government did not provide defendants with dedicated facilities to prepare a defense but generally provided adequate time to prepare. The government provided defendants with free interpretation or paid for private interpretation if they declined government-offered interpretation from the moment charged through all appeals. Defendants could question witnesses, present witnesses and evidence in their defense, and appeal court verdicts.
Somaliland provided free legal representation for defendants who faced serious criminal charges and could not afford a private attorney. Defendants had the right not to be compelled to testify or confess guilt. A functioning legal aid clinic existed.
In Puntland clan elders resolved the majority of cases using customary law. The administration’s more formalized judicial system addressed cases of those with no clan representation. Defendants generally enjoyed a presumption of innocence, the right to a public trial, the right to be present and consult an attorney at all stages of criminal proceedings, and the right to appeal. Authorities did not always inform defendants promptly and in detail of the charges against them. Defendants had the right to present their own witnesses and evidence. Authorities did not provide defendants with dedicated facilities to prepare a defense but generally provided adequate time to prepare. Puntland authorities provided defendants with free interpretation services when needed. The government often delayed court proceedings for an unreasonable period.
There was no functioning formal judicial system in al-Shabaab-controlled areas. In sharia courts, defendants generally did not defend themselves, present witnesses, or have an attorney represent them.
POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES
Government and regional authorities arrested journalists as well as other persons critical of authorities, although arrests and harassment in Mogadishu substantially subsided since President Farmaajo’s election in 2017. Neither government nor NGO sources provided any estimate of the number of political prisoners.
In December 2018 the candidate for South West State presidential election and prominent defector from the al-Shabaab leadership, Mukhtar Robow, was detained by AMISOM soldiers and brought to Mogadishu, where he was placed in the custody of NISA and later moved into house arrest.
Somaliland authorities continued to detain Somaliland residents employed by the federal government in Mogadishu, sometimes for extended periods. Somaliland authorities did not authorize officials in Mogadishu to represent Somaliland within or to the federal Somali government and viewed such actions as treason, punishable under the law of Somaliland. In September, Somaliland authorities arrested the editor of a news website and the director of a television station and shut down both the website and the station.
In September, Somaliland authorities arrested the editor of a news website and the director of a television station and shut down both the website and the station.
CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES
There were no known lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, human rights abuses in any region during the year, although the provisional federal constitution provides for “adequate procedures for redress of violations of human rights.”
In Mogadishu the government and nonofficial actors evicted persons, primarily internally displaced person (IDP) returnees, from their homes without due process (see section 2.d.).
F. ARBITRARY OR UNLAWFUL INTERFERENCE WITH PRIVACY, FAMILY, HOME, OR CORRESPONDENCE
According to the provisional federal constitution, “every person has the right to own, use, enjoy, sell, and transfer property” and the private home is inviolable. Nonetheless, authorities searched property without warrants.
Government and regional authorities harassed relatives of al-Shabaab members.
G. ABUSES IN INTERNAL CONFLICTS
Killings: Conflict during the year involving the government, militias, AMISOM, and al-Shabaab resulted in death, injury, and displacement of civilians. Islamic State-Somalia claimed attacks against Somali authorities and other targets in Puntland, where it is based, and around Mogadishu, but there was little local reporting on its claims. State and federal forces killed civilians and committed sexual and gender-based violence, although there was a reduction in reported abuses. Clan-based political violence involved revenge killings and attacks on civilian settlements. Clashes between clan-based forces and with al-Shabaab in Puntland and Galmudug, Lower Shabelle, Middle Shabelle, Lower Juba, Baidoa, and Hiiraan regions also resulted in deaths.
According to the most recent UNSOM reports, between January and October 2018, security force attacks against al-Shabaab, other armed groups or individuals, and civilians resulted in civilian deaths, with casualties attributed to state security actors (238 total deaths and injuries) and AMISOM (eight deaths and injuries). Al-Shabaab caused significant civilian casualties, including 611 deaths and injuries, during that period. Other militias were responsible for 77 deaths and injuries.
In addition the UN’s Country Task Force on Monitoring and Reporting recorded 222 children killed and 481 children maimed from January through December, the majority at the hands of al-Shabaab.
According to UNSOM reports, 1,117 cases of civilian casualties, including killings and injuries, were recorded between January and October 2018.
Al-Shabaab committed religiously and politically motivated killings that targeted civilians affiliated with the government and attacks on humanitarian NGO employees, UN staff, and diplomatic missions. Al-Shabaab often used suicide attacks, mortar attacks, and improvised explosive devices (IEDs). It also killed prominent peace activists, community leaders, clan elders, electoral delegates, and their family members for their roles in peace building, and it beheaded persons accused of spying for and collaborating with Somali national forces and affiliated militias. Al-Shabaab justified its attacks on civilians by casting them as false prophets, enemies of Allah, or as aligned with al-Shabaab’s enemies.
Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for a daylong siege in March of a hotel in Mogadishu in which 25 persons were killed and more than 130 injured.
Abductions: UNSOM recorded 176 abductions of civilians between January and August 2018, of which al-Shabaab committed a majority.
Between January and December, the UN Monitoring and Reporting Mechanism reported more than 1,150 verified incidents of children abducted by al-Shabaab, clan militias, or unknown armed elements.
Physical Abuse, Punishment, and Torture: Government forces, allied militias, men wearing uniforms, and AMISOM troops used excessive force, including torture, and raped women and girls, including IDPs. While the army arrested some security force members accused of such abuse, impunity was the norm.
Al-Shabaab also committed sexual violence, including through forced marriages.
According to the UN Mine Action Service, IEDs killed at least 280 persons and injured 220 between January and September 2018, with civilians constituting 43 percent of casualties. Lower Shabelle and Benadir were the primary regions affected by IEDs.
Child Soldiers: During the year there were continued reports of the SNA and allied militias, the ASWJ, and al-Shabaab using child soldiers.
UN officials documented the recruitment and use through March of more than 600 children, primarily by al-Shabaab, with the SNA, clan militias, the ASWJ, and other armed elements also reportedly recruiting children.
Implementation of the government’s 2012 action plan with the United Nations to end the recruitment and use of children by the national army remained incomplete.
Between January and December, the Ministry of Defense Child Protection Unit (CPU) carried out six screenings of hundreds of SNA soldiers at Somali bases in order to raise awareness about child soldier recruitment and verify the numbers of children in Somali Security Sector units. As of December the CPU found four child soldiers at one of the bases it examined. The four children were returned to their families. The unit acknowledged the difficulties it had in reaching some other bases and noted the risk of child recruitment in areas of Benadir, South West State, Hirshabelle, and Galmudug due to the presence of strong militias. The CPU continued the use of biometric registration and reported it had been a useful tool for increasing accountability in the police and military and helped detect and deter child soldier recruitment.
In the absence of birth registration systems, it was often difficult to determine the age of national security force recruits.
Al-Shabaab continued to recruit and force children to participate in direct hostilities, including suicide attacks. According to the UN’s Country Task Force on Monitoring and Reporting, from January to December, 1,495 children were recruited and used by armed forces and groups in the country. Al-Shabaab accounted for the majority of that number.
Al-Shabaab raided schools, madrassas, and mosques, and harassed and coerced clan elders to recruit children. Children in al-Shabaab training camps were subjected to grueling physical training, inadequate diet, weapons training, physical punishment, and religious training. The training also included forcing children to punish and execute other children. Al-Shabaab used children in combat, including placing them in front of other fighters to serve as human shields and suicide bombers. In addition al-Shabaab used children in support roles, such as carrying ammunition, water, and food; removing injured and dead militants; gathering intelligence; and serving as guards. The organization sometimes used children to plant roadside bombs and other explosive devices. The Somali press frequently reported accounts of al-Shabaab indoctrinating children at schools and forcibly recruiting students into its ranks.
Also see the Department of State’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
Other Conflict-related Abuse: Armed groups, particularly al-Shabaab but also government forces and militia, deliberately restricted the passage of relief supplies and other items indispensable to the survival of the civilian population as well as access by humanitarian organizations, particularly in the southern and central regions.
Humanitarian workers regularly faced checkpoints, roadblocks, extortion, carjacking, and bureaucratic obstacles. As of August there were reports of 51 incidents in which humanitarian access was denied by armed groups or security incidents.
In January al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for an indirect fire attack on the main compound of the United Nations in Mogadishu, injuring two UN staff members and one contractor.
Al-Shabaab seized relief supplies. From January to December, there were 51 verified incidents of denial of humanitarian access. Conflict in contested territories of Sool and Sanaag, between Somaliland and Puntland, escalated early in the year, particularly around Tukaraq in the Sool region, restricting humanitarian access. NGOs reported incidents of harassment by local authorities in both Somaliland and Puntland.