Last Updated: Tuesday, 31 May 2016, 12:25 GMT

Annual Report on Human Rights 2008 - Somalia

Publisher United Kingdom: Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Author United Kingdom Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Publication Date 26 March 2009
Cite as United Kingdom: Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Annual Report on Human Rights 2008 - Somalia, 26 March 2009, available at: [accessed 31 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.


Somalia's human rights record remains poor. Violence and fighting continue throughout much of the country – particularly in Mogadishu and other areas of South and Central Somalia. Many factions and splinter groups contribute to the general instability. Widespread abuse against civilians continues. Further north, the Puntland and Somaliland regions are more stable, but human rights advocacy organisations continue to report human rights problems.

The Transitional Federal Government of Somalia has made little progress in implementing a transitional period of government, writing a constitution or organising elections. Drought and famine are causing an increasing number of Somalis to rely on international aid. In Somaliland elections originally scheduled for 2007 were postponed twice. But voter registration has taken place and we believe the elections will now go ahead in March 2009.

Current concerns

Somali human rights organisations report that it has become increasingly difficult to operate within Somalia. Many human rights workers and other humanitarian organisation employees have been targeted. Some have received death threats, others have been killed. The insurgents known as the Shabaab are widely believed to be responsible for the direct targeting of aid workers in Somalia.

The freedom of the press is also under threat. Both the government and the insurgents are accused of suppressing journalists. A BBC journalist said: "No reporter in Mogadishu will ever say that any Shabaab have been killed or that they killed civilians. It is more than his life is worth. If we say that civilians have been killed you have to read between the lines and assume Shabaab killed or doing the killing.

During 2008, reports from Mogadishu indicate that it has become increasingly difficult to determine which groups are responsible for violence and attacks in civilian areas of the city. Insurgents regularly launch attacks against Ethiopian troops from civilian areas to draw return fire. They are then able to blame the Ethiopians for civilian deaths. Somali government forces and Ethiopian troops are reported as responding with disproportionate force, which they deny. Those who object to Shabaab presence are killed. Civilians are caught between the rival factions and troops and put at increased risk. Ethiopian troops present in Somalia are accused of criminal activity and human rights abuses. The Ethiopian government denies that their soldiers perpetrate abuses as a matter of policy. On 25 November, the Ethiopian government wrote to the Secretary General of the UN to announce its intention to withdraw military forces from Somalia at the end of 2008.

Violence against women, including sexual violence, is widespread. In October, a 13-year-old girl who had been raped was stoned to death in Kismayo, accused of adultery Women and children who have become internally displaced or are living in refugee camps are particularly vulnerable. The use of child soldiers is widespread.

Reports indicate that the stoning incident has led to many Somali people protesting and questioning the use of such punishments within their own community. There is growing frustration about the lack of a functioning justice system.

UK action

Engaging in effective state-building will address human rights in the long term. The UK is leading the international effort to re-build the Somali state, shaping UN Security Council policy and through our membership of the Contact Group. We continually press for greater focus on human rights capacity-building in Somalia.

The UK has raised its concerns with the Ethiopian government regarding alleged human rights abuses by its troops in Somalia.

To be effective and have a sustainable impact, measures to combat human rights abuses should be part of a broad approach to peacebuilding. We have asked the UN to produce a comprehensive plan, and to build capacity to monitor and report on the human rights situation in Somalia.

We supported the Human Rights Council resolution on 20 March to renew the mandate of an independent expert and requesting the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to strengthen its presence in Somalia. We ensured that the mandate renewal was linked to UNSCR 1814 in May.

We co-chair the donors group and are the second largest bilateral humanitarian and development donor. The UK is also the second largest donor for the African Union Mission to Somalia. We remain one of the few major donors to the UN Development Programme led effort to develop a full justice system, including more professional and better trained police, a judiciary and proper prisons.

In March, we sponsored a meeting in New York of members of the UN Security Council and the NGO community to discuss human rights and humanitarian issues and exchange views on how to achieve progress in Somalia. We were the only Security Council member to call for this meeting.

We regularly meet human rights organisations, including Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and others. We appreciate their efforts at gathering information and evidence on human rights. Given the difficulties and complexity of the situation, there is little opportunity to monitor the limited institutional system, to gather and verify facts or to understand fully what's actually happening on the ground.

Forward look

Several organisations have frequently called for a UN commission of inquiry investigating alleged humans rights abuses to be established for Somalia. We support the establishment of a commission of inquiry, but the timing must be right. It is difficult to gather verifiable information and evidence that would stand up to scrutiny. Launching an inquiry at the wrong time could have unintended consequences and increase the threat to the humanitarian community and the UN.

Insecurity in Somalia makes monitoring human rights and gathering reliable evidence very difficult. We work with EU and UN agencies to find solutions to improving monitoring without endangering victims or the individuals tasked with investigating allegations. We urge the Somali government to embrace its responsibility to protect the human rights of its citizens. We believe that governance and rule of law in Somalia is the best way to improve human rights and are working closely with international partners and the Somali government to achieve this.

The announced withdrawal of troops from Somalia may lead to increased stability in Southern Somalia, with a reduction in conflict and human rights issues.

During talks in Djibouti in November, the Somali political leaders held a workshop on justice and reconciliation, which concluded with agreement to "possibly establish a Commission of Inquiry and an international court to address violations of human rights and international law and impunity in their country". The Somali leaders also declared that a joint working group has been established to follow up on the preparation of a conference on justice and reconciliation in 2009.

The UK will work to support the agreements reached in Djibouti and endeavour to support the success of the working group on justice and reconciliation. Recognition by the Somali political leaders that human rights violations need to be tackled provides the opportunity to develop a Somali-led and Somali-owned process for addressing impunity and bringing justice to the victims of violations.

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