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 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Expression, Including for the Press
The law provides for freedom of speech, including for the press, but neither federal nor regional authorities respected this right. The Somali penal code criminalizes the spreading of “false news,” which it does not define, with penalties including imprisonment of up to six months. The government; government-aligned militias; authorities in Somaliland and Puntland, South West State, Galmudug, Jubaland, ASWJ, al-Shabaab; and unknown assailants killed, abused, and harassed journalists with impunity (see sections 1.a., 1.d., and 1.g.).
Somaliland law prohibits publication or circulation of exaggerated or tendentious news capable of disturbing public order, and officials used the provision to charge and arrest journalists.
Puntland law limits freedom of opinion and expression through broadly worded limitations–including conformity with moral dignity, national stability, and personal rights of others–and allows for exceptions from the right to freedom of expression in times of war or other public emergency.
Freedom of Expression: Individuals in government-controlled areas risked reprisal for criticizing government officials, particularly for alleged official corruption or suggestions that officials were unable to manage security matters. Such interference remained common outside the capital, particularly in Puntland and Somaliland.
In March a senior official in the FGS Ministry of Foreign Affairs was fired after posting a story on Twitter calling for his country to establish ties with Israel and echoing his support for such an idea. He went into self-imposed exile, claiming that his safety and security had been undermined by the publicity of his firing.
In April and May, the Somaliland government arrested a journalist, an opposition youth leader, a civil servant, and a member of parliament for criticizing the government, either in online media or in public settings. Two were sentenced to six months in prison, one was released after 32 days of detention, and the other was awaiting trial (see also section 1.d., Arbitrary Arrest and Detention).
Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views, although self-censorship was common due to a history of arbitrary arrest of journalists and of search and closure of media outlets that criticized the government. Eight outlets were closed, suspended, or blocked by government authorities, including four in Somaliland. Reports of such interference occurred in Mogadishu and remained common outside the capital, particularly in Puntland and Somaliland. Government authorities maintained editorial control over state-funded media and limited the autonomy of private outlets through direct and indirect threats. Threats were often applied through unilateral actions of security and other institutions.
Somaliland authorities continued to fine and arbitrarily arrest journalists for defamation and other alleged crimes, including meeting with colleagues. Prison terms ranged from a few days to several months, and fines could be as high as 573,000 shillings ($1,000). Journalists were intimidated and imprisoned for conducting investigations into corruption or topics deemed sensitive, such as investment agreements regarding the Berbera Port or the conflict between Somaliland and Puntland over the disputed Sool and Sanaag regions.
Puntland authorities in September demanded all journalists register with the information ministry, threatening that those who acted “unprofessionally” could be barred. Police also raided a privately owned radio station for reporting that a detainee had died during interrogation. Police also issued an arrest warrant for the station’s editor.
Violence and Harassment: Between January and December, the National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ) documented 25 cases of arbitrary arrests or prolonged detentions of journalists and other media workers, of which nine occurred in Somaliland and eight occurred in Hirshabelle. Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for three killings of journalists during the year. During the year the NUSOJ reported 17 instances in which journalists faced physical intimidation, including beatings, bullets being fired, and equipment being confiscated. In a July 2018 case, a soldier in Mogadishu killed a television cameraman; the death allegedly resulted from a personal property dispute. In July the government made public a military court verdict sentencing the soldier in absentia to five years’ imprisonment. The soldier fled and remained a fugitive.
Although security forces often acted with impunity against journalists, in a few cases the government took action against abusers. In March, Somalia’s court of armed forces took two soldiers from the Presidential Guard Brigade into custody after they had been charged with abusing and threatening two journalists. Another member of the Presidential Guard was accused in June of kicking and punching a journalist covering the commemoration of the country’s independence day.
There were several incidents during the year similar to the following one: In March armed police officers raided the office of Universal TV in Mogadishu in the middle of a live broadcast and reportedly began firing inside the building. No injuries were reported, but the minister of internal security vowed to initiate an investigation into the incident.
In July, two journalists were killed in an al-Shabaab attack and overnight siege on a hotel in Kismayo along with 24 other persons. They were the first journalists killed during the year.
In January a Radio Daljir journalist was reportedly accosted during a Puntland Security Force press briefing, following similar reports of targeted harassment in November and December 2018.
According to the Somaliland Journalists Association, local authorities continued to harass and arbitrarily detain journalists systematically. In June, Somaliland authorities shut down two privately owned television stations for two weeks. Authorities lifted the ban after they reached a “mutual understanding” with the stations. Most observers saw this as pressure on the stations to self-censor their content (see also section 1.e., Political Prisoners and Detainees).
Journalists based in the Lower Juba region continued to report that local security authorities harassed them.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: Journalists engaged in rigorous self-censorship to avoid reprisals.
In February a regional court in Somaliland suspended the publication Foore for one year and fined its editor in chief three million Somaliland shillings ($350) after claiming the publication had printed false news and antinational propaganda when it ran an October 2018 article about construction of a new presidential palace.
Al-Shabaab banned journalists from reporting news that undermined Islamic law as interpreted by al-Shabaab and forbade persons in areas under its control from listening to international media outlets.
Libel/Slander Laws: Laws providing criminal penalties for publication of “false news” existed in all three entities. Puntland and Somaliland authorities prosecuted journalists for libel.
National Security: Federal and regional authorities cited national security concerns to suppress criticism and prevent press coverage of opposition political figures.
b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association
f. Protection of Refugees
The country hosts approximately 35,000 refugees and asylum seekers, primarily from Yemen and Ethiopia, with smaller numbers from other countries, including Syria, Tanzania, and Eritrea. Economic migrants also use the country as a transit corridor en route to the Gulf, Yemen, and Europe that exposed them to exploitation and abuse, primarily by human traffickers.
FGS and Somaliland authorities cooperated with UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration to assist refugees, returning refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern. As of September, UNHCR supported the return of more than 2,800 refugees. Another 7,700 Somalis were registered as having returned spontaneously from Yemen without the support of UNHCR.
There were frequent disruptions in return movements to Somalia due to continuing violence and conflict.
Refoulement: The law provides that every person who seeks refuge in the country has the right not to be returned or taken to any country in which that person has a well-founded fear of persecution. There was no official system, however, for providing such protection to refugees.
Access to Asylum: The law recognizes the right to asylum in accordance with international treaties; however, the FGS had yet to implement a legal framework and system to provide protection to refugees on a consistent basis. Authorities, however, granted prima facie status to Yemenis while most other nationalities underwent individual refugee status determination procedures.
Employment: Employment opportunities were limited for refugees, Somali returnees, and other vulnerable populations. Refugees often engaged in informal manual labor that sometimes exposed them to abuses from members of the host community.
Refugee returnees from Kenya reported limited employment opportunities in the southern and central sections of the country, consistent with high rates of unemployment throughout the country.
Access to Basic Services: The FGS continued to work with the international community to improve access to basic services, employment, and durable solutions for displaced populations, although this remained a challenge primarily due to security, lack of political will, and financial constraints.
Durable Solutions: In November 2018 the FGS established a federal-level Durable Solutions Secretariat to strengthen its response to internal displacement in the country, and it began operations in January. In addition FGS continued to lead the Sub-Working Group on Migration, Displacement and Durable Solutions, under the framework of the National Development Plan.