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
c. Freedom of Religion
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
d. Freedom of Movement
The law provides that all persons lawfully residing in the country have the right to freedom of movement, to choose their residence, and to leave the country. Freedom of movement, however, was restricted in some areas.
In-country Movement: Checkpoints operated by government forces, allied groups, armed militias, clan factions, and al-Shabaab inhibited movement and exposed citizens to looting, extortion, harassment, and violence. Roadblocks manned by armed actors and attacks on humanitarian personnel severely restricted movement and the delivery of aid in southern and central sectors of the country. In September the government temporarily banned air travel to Kismayo, Jubaland. Some observers complained this suspension was to prevent politicians from attending the inauguration of Jubaland’s president, whose election was disputed.
Al-Shabaab and other nonstate armed actors continued to hinder commercial activities in the areas they controlled in the Bakool, Bay, Gedo, and Hiraan regions and impeded the delivery of humanitarian assistance.
The safety of humanitarian operations remained a key concern due to the volatile and unpredictable security situation. Attacks against humanitarian workers and assets impeded the delivery of aid to vulnerable populations. Through August at least 51 humanitarian personnel were directly affected by security incidents, the majority of which took place in southern and central Somalia.
Somaliland prohibited federal officials, including those of Somaliland origin who purported to represent Hargeisa’s interests in Mogadishu, from entering Somaliland. It also prevented its citizens from traveling to Mogadishu to participate in FGS processes or in cultural activities.
Foreign Travel: Few citizens had the means to obtain passports. In view of widespread passport fraud, many foreign governments did not recognize Somali passports as valid travel documents.
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.
Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process
The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage, but citizens could not exercise that ability.
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
The law provides for criminal penalties for corruption by officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively. Government officials reportedly engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. During the year there were numerous reports of government corruption. President Farmaajo was elected on an anticorruption agenda and initially took a few steps to address corruption.
Corruption: Following years of pressure from the international community, in September, President Farmaajo signed the anticorruption bill into law and undertook to work on the formation of an independent ethics and anticorruption commission. Corruption, however, remained an issue. In October the auditor general, for the first time in the country’s history, publicly released 2018 compliance, financial, and special audits of government institutions. The release highlighted failures to comply with auditing legislation, instances of improper revenue collection and management, weaknesses in internal controls, and inconsistent submission of financial reports by federal government ministries. As part of the report, the auditor general noted that $10.7 billion Somali shillings ($18.4 million) in foreign assistance had not been properly accounted for in reports received from government ministries.
The Financial Governance Committee (FGC)–an advisory body with no legal authority but responsible for reviewing all government contracts for more than 2.8 billion Somalia shillings (five million dollars)–consisted of FGS members from the Ministry of Finance, Central Bank, Office of the President, and Office of the Prime Minister, as well as the chair of the parliamentary finance committee and state attorney general. Four delegates were funded by international financial institutions. The FGC’s 2019 report noted tangible financial governance progress in the security sector, domestic revenue, contract renegotiation, and the development of a core public financial management framework. The FGC also applauded the passage of a Public Financial Management law. At the same time, the FGC highlighted the need for more transparent management of the petroleum licensing process and a clear process for sharing natural resource revenue in order to avoid corrupt practices.
The UN Panel of Experts on Somalia continued to report on the export of charcoal in violation of a UN Security Council ban, although it noted that no significant shipments had taken place in 2019. Charcoal production and export continued in areas controlled by al-Shabaab, the Jubaland administration, and Kenyan AMISOM forces; most of the illegal export was from Kismayo, according to the UN Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea.
Somaliland had a national auditor and a presidentially appointed governance and anticorruption commission, but they did not prosecute any Somaliland officials for corruption.
The UN panel reported on the substantial increase in “taxation” by Al-Shabaab, which extorted high and unpredictable zakat (a Muslim obligation to donate to charity) and sadaqa (a voluntary charity contribution paid by Muslims) taxes in the regions it controlled. In particular the panel noted increased al-Shabaab extortion from the port and airport of Mogadishu. Al-Shabaab also diverted and stole humanitarian food aid.
Financial Disclosure: The law does not require income and asset disclosure by appointed or elected officials. In 2017 Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khayre asked cabinet officials to declare their assets, but the government provided no details on the submission requirements or verification mechanisms, and no officials have voluntarily declared their assets.
Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights
A number of local and international human rights groups operated in areas outside al-Shabaab-controlled territory, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were somewhat cooperative and responsive to their views. Security concerns constrained NGOs’ ability to operate in southern and central areas of the country. International and local NGOs generally worked without major restrictions in Puntland and Somaliland, although clan politics, localized violence, and perceived interference with traditional or religious customs sometimes curtailed NGO activity in these areas.
Authorities sometimes harassed or did not cooperate with NGOs, for example, by dismissing findings of official corruption. Harassment remained a problem in Somaliland.
In August 2018 the minister of planning tweeted the government would request all international NGOs to establish a physical presence, including senior leadership, in the country before January 1, 2019, or risk deregistration. As of April pressure from the FGS to meet these requirements had eased.
Government Human Rights Bodies: The provisional federal constitution calls for the formation of an independent national human rights commission and a truth and reconciliation commission within 45 days and 30 days, respectively, of the formation of the Council of Ministers in 2012, but these provisions have not been implemented. There was no formal government mechanism for tracking abuses.
Limited resources, inexperienced commissioners, and government bias restricted the effectiveness of the Somaliland Human Rights Commission and Puntland’s Human Rights Defender Office.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Section 7. Worker Rights
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
The law provides for the right of every worker to form and join a trade union, participate in the activities of a trade union, conduct legal strikes, and engage in collective bargaining. No specific legal restrictions exist that limit these rights. The law does not address antiunion discrimination or the reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. Legal protections did not exclude any particular groups of workers. Penalties were not sufficiently stringent to deter violations. The government did not effectively enforce these laws.
Government and employers did not respect freedom of association or collective bargaining rights. The government interfered in union activities. Two unions claimed that in February 2018 government officials called the hotels where they were holding meetings and asked the hotels to cancel the union reservations. The Federation of Somali Trade Unions (FESTU), the largest trade union federation in Somalia, submitted observations to the International Labor Organization (ILO), alleging a continuing pattern of harassment and intimidation, particularly among union leaders in telecommunications.
In June 2018 FESTU became accredited to the ILO’s International Labor Conference to represent Somali workers after the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) submitted an objection to government-accredited persons who attended as workers’ delegates. The delegates were not trade union representatives and not genuine officials of FESTU. The government had accredited representatives during the past four years whom FESTU stated were not genuine trade unionists. The ILO’s Credentials Committee agreed with ITUC’s objection and revoked the credentials of individuals accredited by the government as workers’ representatives, allowing FESTU leaders to be accredited as an official delegation and to represent workers of Somalia at the conference.
In April, FESTU organized a workshop attended by 12 unions affiliated with the federation. Discussions focused on organizing workers in the informal economy, advocating for a minimum living wage, and pressing the federal government to enact the draft national labor bill.
In March, Somali National Army troops in Middle and Lower Shabelle went on strike in protest over unpaid salaries.
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The provisional federal constitution prohibits slavery, servitude, trafficking, or forced labor for any purpose. The government did not effectively enforce the law. The penalties for slavery and forced labor were insufficient to deter violations. There were no known efforts by the government to prevent or eliminate forced labor in the country. The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs did not have an inspectorate and did not conduct any labor-related inspections.
Forced labor occurred. Children and minority clan members were reportedly used as porters to transport the mild narcotic khat (or miraa), in farming and animal herding, crushing stones, and construction. Al-Shabaab forced persons in their camps to move to the countryside, reportedly to raise cash crops for the organization.
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
Existing law does not set a minimum wage for employment. The pre-1991 labor code prohibits child labor, provides a legal minimum age of 15 for most employment, prescribes different minimum ages for certain hazardous activities, and prohibits those younger than 18 from night work in the industrial, commercial, and agricultural sectors, apart from work that engages family members only. Legislation that comprehensively prohibits hazardous occupations and activities for children, however, does not appear to exist. While the pre-1991 law remains on the books it was not enforced. The provisional federal constitution states, “No child may perform work or provide services that are not suitable for the child’s age or create a risk to the child’s health or development in any way.” The provisional federal constitution defines a child as any person younger than 18. The provisional federal constitution does not set a minimum age for employment.
The federal Ministries of Labor and Social Affairs and of Women and Human Rights Development, as well as the Somali National Police, are responsible for enforcing child labor laws. The ministries did not enforce these laws. The legal penalties for child labor are insufficient to deter violations. The government participated in campaigns to remove children from participation in armed conflict (see section 1.g.).
Child labor was widespread. The recruitment and use of child soldiers remained a problem (see section 1.g.). Youths commonly worked in herding, agriculture, household labor, and forced begging from an early age. Children broke rocks into gravel and worked as vendors and transporters of cigarettes and khat on the streets. UNICEF estimated 49 percent of children between the ages of five and 14 were in the workforce between 2009 and 2015.
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The law and regulations prohibit discrimination regarding race, sex, disability, political opinion, color, language, or social status, but the government did not effectively enforce those laws and regulations. The labor code requires equal pay for equal work. Penalties were not sufficient to deter violations. The law does not prohibit discrimination on the basis of religion, age, national origin, social origin, stateless status, sexual orientation or gender identity, or HIV-positive status or other communicable diseases.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
The law does not provide for a national minimum wage.
The pre-1991 labor code provides for a standard workweek of 48 hours and at least nine paid national holidays and 15 days of annual leave. The law requires premium pay for overtime and work performed on holidays, and limits overtime to a maximum of 12 hours per week.
The law sets occupational health and safety standards, although the labor trade organization FESTU claimed they are insufficient to protect workers. The law does not specifically guarantee the right of workers to remove themselves from situations that endanger health or safety without jeopardy to their employment.
The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs is responsible at the federal level for establishing occupational safety and health standards and enforcement. The ministry did not effectively enforce labor laws. There were no labor inspectors. The government did not provide labor inspectors with the capacity to protect workers who wished to remove themselves from situations that endangered their health or safety.
Wages and working conditions were established largely through arrangements based on supply, demand, and the influence of workers’ clans. There was no information on the existence or status of foreign or migrant workers in the country. Most workers worked in the informal sector.