Somalia is a federal parliamentary republic led by President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed “Farmaajo,” whom the bicameral parliament elected in 2017. Farmaajo is the country’s second president since the Federal Government of Somalia was founded in 2012. The federal parliament consists of the 275-member House of the People and the 54-member Upper House. The country last completed parliamentary elections in January 2017. Caucuses selected House of the People members, with seats distributed according to clan affiliation and a power-sharing formula. State assemblies elected Upper House members. The parliamentary electoral process was widely viewed as marred by 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 controlled its jurisdiction.
The 2012 provisional federal constitution states federal police, overseen by civilian leadership in the Ministry of Internal Security, have responsibility for law enforcement and maintenance of order within the country. Many parts of the country remained outside government control, with the insurgent Islamist group al-Shabaab contesting government control. The African Union Mission in Somalia, under civilian African Union leadership, and the Somali National Army, under civilian leadership in the Ministry of Defense, are the primary internal security providers. Civilian authorities did not always maintain effective control over the security forces. There were credible reports that members of the federal and state security forces committed numerous abuses.
Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: unlawful or arbitrary killings, including extrajudicial killings, by government forces; torture and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment by the government; arbitrary arrest or detention; political prisoners or detainees; serious problems with the independence of the judiciary; serious abuses in a conflict, including reportedly unlawful or widespread civilian harm, enforced disappearances or abductions, torture and physical abuses or punishment, and unlawful recruitment or use of child soldiers; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including violence or threats of violence against journalists, unjustified arrests or prosecutions of journalists, censorship, and the existence of criminal libel laws; substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; inability of citizens to change their government peacefully through free and fair elections; serious and unreasonable restrictions on political participation; serious government corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting members of national/racial/ethnic minority groups; existence or use of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults; and existence of the worst forms of child labor, including recruitment of children for use in armed conflict, forced labor, and commercial sexual exploitation.
Impunity generally remained the norm. Government authorities took some steps to prosecute and punish officials who committed abuses, particularly military and police personnel.
Conflict during the year involving the government, militias, 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 most of the severe human rights abuses, particularly terrorist attacks on civilians and targeted killings, including extrajudicial, and religiously and politically motivated killings; disappearances; cruel and unusual punishment; rape; and attacks on employees of nongovernmental organizations and the United Nations. Al-Shabaab also blocked humanitarian assistance, conscripted child soldiers, and restricted freedoms of speech, press, assembly, and movement. Operations by security forces caused civilian casualties.
Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape, providing penalties of five to 15 years in prison for violations. Military court penalties for rape included death sentences. The government did not effectively enforce the law. There are no federal laws against spousal violence, including rape.
According to the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) and international and local NGOs focused on combatting gender-based violence, after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, residents, particularly women and girls, faced greater risk of gender-based violence, including sexual violence. According to the Somali Women Development Center, more than 50 percent of gender-based violence perpetrators lived in the same home as survivors or were neighbors. Anecdotal and survey data indicated that the closure of schools and some workplaces, as well as a government curfew and social distancing measures, led women and girls to spend more time in the home. This factor placed them at greater risk due to the increased amount of time spent with potential or serial perpetrators, with fewer options to escape abusers. There were some data to indicate that COVID-19 led to a meaningful increase in sexual and gender-based violence in the country.
Government forces, militia members, and individuals wearing what appeared to be government or other uniforms raped women and girls. While the army arrested some security force members accused of such rapes, impunity was the norm. In Lower Shabelle and Wanlaweyn (see section 1.a.), most rapes of local civilians occurred at checkpoints or in farms and villages near checkpoints, which many residents believed were controlled by local militias.
The work of approximately a dozen women’s groups, civil society organizations, and health-care workers in Lower Shabelle helped reduce the effects of rape cases across Lower Shabelle, and to a lesser extent Wanlaweyn, despite the lack of an effective judicial system. The organizations provided treatment, counseling, community coordination, and training on gender-based violence throughout the region and at times joined the Lower Shabelle administration in community engagement once a town was cleared of al-Shabaab. In Wanlaweyn, NGOs provided limited counseling services to rape survivors.
IDPs and members of marginalized clans and groups suffered disproportionately from gender-based violence. Local NGOs documented patterns of rape perpetrated with impunity, particularly of female IDPs and members of minority clans.
Gender-based violence, including rape, continued to affect women and girls when going to collect water, going to the market, and cultivating fields. Dominant patterns included the abduction of women and girls for forced marriage and rape, perpetrated primarily by nonstate armed groups, and incidents of rape and gang rape committed by state agents, militias associated with clans, and unidentified armed men. As of July 31, UNSOM recorded at least 168 incidents of gender-based violence against 15 women, 151 girls, and five boys, including cases of rape or attempted rape, a figure believed to underestimate greatly the true total. Police were reluctant to investigate and sometimes asked survivors to do the investigative work for their own cases. Some survivors of rape were forced to marry perpetrators.
The United Nations recorded hundreds of instances of gender-based violence, including sexual violence against women and girls by unidentified armed men, clan militiamen, al-Shabaab elements, and members of the Somali police and armed forces. The 2020 Somali Health and Demographic Survey (SHDS) noted that cases of gender-based violence were underreported due to a “culture of silence.” According to the United Nations, in most instances families and victims preferred to refer survivors to traditional courts. In some cases these bodies awarded damages to victims’ male family members or directed the perpetrator and victim to marry, in accordance with local customary law. The United Nations customary law and sharia often resulted in further victimization of women and girls, with no justice for survivors and impunity for perpetrators. While the United Nations noted that the FGS approved a national action plan on ending sexual violence in conflict and the Somaliland parliament approved a sexual offenses act (suspended due to opposition from religious authorities), impunity remained the norm.
Authorities rarely used formal structures to address rape. Survivors suffered from subsequent discrimination based on the attribution of “impurity.” For example, on March 31, a Puntland police officer allegedly raped a woman in Bosaso. The Puntland police opened an investigation against the perpetrator but made no arrest.
Those seeking to investigate assault cases and hold perpetrators accountable sometimes faced violence and possible sexual assault themselves. For example, on March 23, four police officers, including the commander of Garowe Central Police Station, physically assaulted and beat the head of the Sexual and Gender-Based Violence and Child Protection Unit in Garowe. The female officer was reviewing the sexual violence cases registered at the police station, and the commander reportedly accused her of interference. A male police officer was also assaulted for trying to assist her. Authorities arrested the alleged perpetrators but released them the same day, and authorities later suspended the investigation into the incident. The Nugaal region police commissioner also reportedly prevented the female officer from further investigating rape cases and prohibited her from visiting police stations in Garowe.
Local civil society organizations in Somaliland reported that gang rape continued to be a problem in urban areas, primarily perpetrated by youth gangs and male students. It often occurred in poorer neighborhoods and among immigrants, returned refugees, and displaced rural populations living in urban areas.
Domestic and sexual violence against women remained serious problems despite laws prohibiting any form of violence against women. Intimate partner violence and coercion remained a problem, since 59 percent of respondents to the SHDS said husbands committed the largest number of violent acts against women in the community, and 12 percent of married women reported spousal abuse within the prior year. While both sharia and customary law address the resolution of family disputes, women were not included in the decision-making process. Exposure to domestic violence was also significantly heightened in the context of displacement and socioeconomic destitution. Survivors faced considerable obstacles accessing necessary services, including health care, psychosocial support, and justice and legal assistance; they also faced reputational damage and exclusion from their communities. In several cases survivors and providers of services for gender-based violence survivors were directly threatened by authorities when such abuses were perpetrated by men in uniform.
Al-Shabaab also committed gender-based violence, primarily through forced marriages. Al-Shabaab sentenced persons to death for rape. The organization forced marriages on girls and women between the ages of 14 and 20 in villages under its control. The families of the girls and young women generally had little choice but to acquiesce or face violence.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): Although the provisional federal constitution describes female “circumcision” as cruel and degrading, equates it with torture, and prohibits the circumcision of girls, FGM/C was almost universally practiced throughout the country. According to the SHDS, FGM/C remained widespread in the country, with 99 percent of women and girls between 15 and 49 having received the procedure.
A 2018 fatwa issued by the Somaliland Ministry of Religious Affairs condemned the most severe forms of the practice of FGM/C and allowed FGM/C victims to receive compensation but did not specify punishments for the practice. Health workers from the Somaliland Family Health Association traveled from village to village to explain that FGM/C had no health benefits and could lead to health complications. Type III (infibulation), which is considered the most extreme form of FGM, was the predominant type.
Other Harmful Traditional Practices: Adultery in al-Shabaab-controlled areas was punishable by death. Child, early, and forced marriages frequently occurred (see section 6 on Children).
Sexual Harassment: The law provides that workers, particularly women, shall have a special right of protection from sexual abuse and discrimination. Nevertheless, sexual harassment was believed to be widespread.
Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities. The country had not established a legal and policy framework on family planning. According to the SHDS, 38 percent of women expressed a desire for greater birth spacing than was preferred in their families, and only 3 percent reported that desire met. Most women surveyed said six or more children was the ideal family size, and the majority of births were wanted. Immediate and long-term reproductive health consequences were associated with the dominant form of FGM/C practiced, Type III infibulation, ranging from menstrual and urination disorders to prolonged and obstructed labor, sometimes resulting in fetal death and obstetric fistula. (See the Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C) subsection for additional information.).
The country’s legal and policy framework on family planning was not in place, but contraceptives were available. Fewer than 1 percent of women of reproductive age had their needs for family planning satisfied with modern methods; discussions concerning sexual and family planning matters remained limited to close family and friends. Government officials reporting to the international Family Planning 2020 Initiative (FP2020) stated “multidimensional barriers” frustrated the expansion of family planning services. The officials also noted that traditional beliefs and a lack of support from community and religious leaders negatively impacted the acceptance of family planning services. Academic research indicated that religious leaders, an important source of influence in society, remained open to the use of contraceptives for birth spacing but not for limiting births.
According to the 2020 SHDS, by the age of 49, 68 percent of married women were aware of one method of contraception. Only 50 percent of married girls ages 15-19 had heard of at least one. Despite this awareness, the SHDS found that contraceptive use was 10 percent for girls ages 15-19 and 7 percent for women ages 30-34. According to FP2020, the Somali government remained committed to expanding quality reproductive health services and sought to put in place legal policy and strategic frameworks for family planning, but progress was slow.
According to the SHDS, 68 percent of mothers received no antenatal care, and only 32 percent of births were delivered with the assistance of a skilled health-care provider, with access strongly associated with education levels and wealth. The United Nations attributed these shortcomings to the high cost of health care and distance to health facilities. Additionally, the practice of seeking consent from a spouse or male relative presented a cultural barrier to seeking care. In 2020 the Danish Immigration Service reported that medical facilities in some areas dominated by one clan may bar female patients from another clan or group, specifically from minority and marginalized groups, from accessing health care in those locations.
According to the SHDS, 17 percent of female survivors of gender-based violence ages 15-49 sought care after an assault. The government provided limited and largely donor-funded access to sexual and reproductive health services for sexual violence survivors, according to NGOs.
The high maternal death rate of 1,168 per 100,00 live births was attributed to numerous factors. Health facilities were unevenly distributed countrywide. Delivery care and involvement of skilled birth attendants were limited. Women’s cultural and geographic isolation compounded these factors.
The SHDS reported 99 percent of women underwent FGM/C. Citizens were generally not aware of its implications for maternal morbidity, but 72 percent of respondents believed that FGM/C was a religious requirement.
The adolescent birth rate was 140 per 100,000 women.
While data on access to menstruation hygiene was difficult to obtain, UNFPA reporting in May indicated that most young girls in Mogadishu had missed classes during their menstruation period, affecting their performance in school. The UN agency highlighted circumstances in which this problem drove women and girls to drop out of school. This particularly affected female IDPs. Based on cultural norms, most adolescent girls who became pregnant either were not in school or dropped out due to motherhood duties.
Discrimination: Women did not have the same status as men and experienced systematic subordination to men, despite provisions in the law prohibiting such discrimination. Women experienced discrimination in credit, education, politics, and housing.
Only men administered sharia, which often was applied in the interests of men. According to sharia and the local tradition of blood compensation, anyone found guilty of the death of a woman paid to the victim’s family only one-half the amount required to compensate for a man’s death.
The exclusion of women was more pronounced in al-Shabaab-controlled areas, where women’s participation in economic activities was perceived as anti-Islamic.
While formal law and sharia provide women the right to own and dispose of property independently, various legal, cultural, and societal barriers often prevented women from exercising such rights. By law girls and women could inherit only one-half the amount of property to which their brothers were entitled. There were legal barriers to women working the same hours as men and restrictions on women’s employment in some industries.
Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination
More than 85 percent of the population shared a common ethnic heritage, religion, and nomad-influenced culture. In most areas the dominant clan excluded members of other groups from effective participation in governing institutions and subjected them to discrimination in employment, judicial proceedings, and access to public services.
Minority groups, often lacking armed militias, continued to be disproportionately subjected to killings, torture, rape, kidnapping for ransom, and looting of land and property with impunity by faction militias and majority clan members, often with the acquiescence of federal and local authorities. Many minority communities continued to live in deep poverty and to suffer from numerous forms of discrimination and exclusion. Some observers believed minority clans’ resentment concerning abuses made them more vulnerable to recruitment by al-Shabaab. Bantu advocacy groups stated the community’s isolation from the government’s security sector integration efforts pushed some Bantu youth into joining al-Shabaab.
Bantu communities, primarily living between the Juba and Shabelle Rivers in the southern part of the country, continued to face discrimination, including verbal abuse and being forced to adopt Arabic names. The discrimination also occurred in IDP camps, where Bantu women were not protected by traditional clan structure.
Fighting between clans resulted in deaths and injuries (see section 1.g.).
Birth Registration: Nationality is derived at birth from a Somali national father but not from the mother, nor from birth in the country’s territory. Children of Somali mothers may acquire Somali nationality after two years. The provisional federal constitution provides that there is only one Somali citizenship and calls for a special law defining how to obtain, suspend, or lose it, but as of year’s end, parliament had not passed such a law.
Authorities reportedly registered only a small percentage of births in the country. Failure to register births did not result in denial of public services such as education.
Although birth registration occurred in Somaliland, numerous births in the region were unregistered.
Education: The law provides the right to a free education up to the secondary level, but education was not free, compulsory, or universal. In many areas children did not have access to schools. Nearly two-thirds of the school-age population remained out of school due to barriers such as poverty in rural areas, lack of security, lack of schools or long distances to schools, and competing household and labor demands. NGOs and nonstate private actors attempted to fill this gap, but they used different curricula, standards, and languages of instruction. Preprimary Islamic education continued to be prevalent and often led to late primary student enrollment. Girls faced additional obstacles such as early marriage and low prioritization of girls’ education, leading to even lower attendance (see subsection Women, Reproductive Rights.) IDP children had much lower rates of attendance than nondisplaced children. There was an insufficient supply of qualified teachers, particularly female teachers.
The government failed to provide effective education countrywide, a gap partially filled by NGOs and nonstate private actors; education opportunities were often limited to more secure urban areas.
Child Abuse: Child abuse and rape of children were serious problems, and there were no known efforts by the federal government or regional governments to combat child abuse. Children remained among the chief victims of societal violence.
The practice of asi walid, whereby parents place their children in dhaqan celis (“returning to (Somali) culture”) boarding schools, other institutions, and sometimes prison for disciplinary purposes and without any legal procedure, continued throughout the country. Physical abuses and sexual assault in these facilities were common.
Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: The law requires both marriage partners to have reached the “age of maturity” and defines a child as a person younger than 18 but does not specifically outlaw child marriage. It notes marriage requires the free consent of both the man and woman to be legal. Early marriages frequently occurred. UNICEF estimated in 2006 that 45 percent of women married before age 18 and 9 percent before age 15. According to the SHDS, more than 62 percent of married women and 74 percent of unmarried women ages 15-49 indicated they understood forced marriage as a form of domestic violence. In areas under its control, al-Shabaab arranged compulsory marriages between its soldiers and young girls and used the lure of marriage as a recruitment tool for its soldiers. There were no known efforts by the government or regional authorities to prevent child, early, and forced marriage.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law does not expressly prohibit using, procuring, and offering a child for commercial sex, pornography, or pornographic performances. Additionally, children exploited in commercial sex are not protected from criminal charges under the law. There is no statutory rape law or minimum age for consensual sex. The law does not expressly prohibit child pornography. The law on sexual exploitation was rarely enforced, and such exploitation reportedly was frequent.
Displaced Children: There was a large population of IDPs and children who lived and worked on the streets. UNICEF estimated that 1.9 million of the 2.9 million total IDPs were children. Approximately 50 percent of refugees and asylum seekers were younger than 18 years old.
International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. See the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data/reported-cases.html.
There was no known Jewish community, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
The law provides equal rights before the law for persons with disabilities and prohibits the state from discriminating against them. Authorities did not enforce these provisions, and disability rights organizations reported a widespread lack of equal access to education, health services, public buildings, and transportation. The law does not discuss discrimination by nongovernmental actors.
The needs of most persons with disabilities were not addressed. According to Amnesty International, persons with disabilities faced daily human rights abuses, such as unlawful killings; violence including rape and other forms of gender-based violence; forced evictions; and lack of access to health care, education, or an adequate standard of living. Government responses to such reports remained inadequate. Children and adults with all types of disabilities were often not included in programs aimed at supporting persons in the country, including humanitarian assistance. IDPs with disabilities were often victims of multiple forced evictions. Domestic violence and forced marriage were prevalent practices affecting persons with disabilities. Women and girls with disabilities faced an increased risk of rape and other forms of gender-based violence, often with impunity, due to perceptions that their disabilities were a burden to the family or that such persons were of less value and could be abused.
Without a public health infrastructure, few services existed to provide support or education for persons with mental disabilities. It was common for such persons to be chained to a tree or restrained within their homes.
Local organizations advocated for the rights of persons with disabilities with negligible support from local authorities.
Persons with HIV or AIDS continued to face discrimination and abuse in their local communities and by employers in all regions. The United Nations reported that persons with HIV or AIDS experienced physical abuse, rejection by their families, and workplace discrimination and dismissal. Children of HIV-positive parents also suffered discrimination, which hindered access to services. There was no official response to such discrimination.
The law criminalizes “carnal intercourse with a person of the same sex” with a penalty of three months’ to three years’ imprisonment. Under Sharia homosexuality is punishable by death. There were no known executions during the year under this law; however, there were accounts over the past decade of militant Islamist groups such as al-Shabaab executing men for alleged homosexual acts. There remained a pervasive social stigma against same-sex relationships, and the law does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. There were few, very discreet, and mostly online-based LGBTQI+ organizations that held events.
There were few reports of societal violence or discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity due to severe societal stigma that prevented LGBTQI+ individuals from making their sexual orientation or gender identity known publicly. Anecdotal information indicated that some families sent children they suspected of being homosexual to reform schools in the country or forced them to enter heterosexual marriages but reporting on conversion therapy largely stayed out of the public sphere. There were no known actions to investigate or punish those complicit in abuses. Hate crime laws or other criminal justice mechanisms do not exist to aid in the prosecution of bias-motivated crimes against members of the LGBTQI+ community.
In Somaliland the situation was largely the same. Same-sex relationships were illegal and socially taboo.