Last Updated: Friday, 27 May 2016, 08:49 GMT

Human Rights and Democracy: The 2010 Foreign & Commonwealth Office Report - Somalia

Publisher United Kingdom: Foreign and Commonwealth Office
Publication Date 31 March 2011
Cite as United Kingdom: Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Human Rights and Democracy: The 2010 Foreign & Commonwealth Office Report - Somalia, 31 March 2011, available at: [accessed 29 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.

The Transitional Federal Government is committed to upholding the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and to preventing human rights abuses in areas of its control. However, it lacks the power and capacity to deal effectively with many of the systematic human rights abuses that occur. Successful presidential elections were held in Somaliland and were judged by international observers to have reflected the will of the voters. The new government in Somaliland made a commitment to improving the human rights situation there.

Continued opposition from insurgent groups in southern and central Somalia prevented the Transitional Federal Government from extending its authority beyond approximately half of the capital city, Mogadishu. Insurgent groups, such as al-Shabaab, remained in control of much of southern and central Somalia and continued to perpetrate serious acts of violence against civilians throughout the region. Somaliland and Puntland in the north offered greater stability, though reports of human rights abuses were still common.

The unstable security situation in 2010 prevented us from directly monitoring and verifying human rights abuses or from being able to apply pressure or push for changes and improvements. Nevertheless, we raised human rights violations with the Transitional Federal Government and the Somaliland government at every appropriate opportunity and met with a number of human rights groups and NGOs throughout the course of the year. The international community remained focused on the human rights situation in Somalia, notably holding a discussion on this issue during the UN Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva in September. As a result of this session, the Geneva Friends of Somalia group was formed, mandated to improve coordination among those working in the human rights and humanitarian assistance fields in Somalia. We were a founding member of this group.

The human rights situation in Somalia is unlikely to improve significantly in 2011. The Transitional Federal Government is due to end its transitional period in August 2011, but this is unlikely to have an impact on the human rights situation in the short term. In the time leading up to the end of the transitional period, we hope the Transitional Federal Government will continue to strive for peace, through the development of the security sector and the provision of public services for citizens.

We will continue to work for greater stability in Somalia, which will allow for better rule of law and improved human rights conditions. We will invest in projects aimed at developing the security sector and communities. This in turn should undermine the influence of extremist groups, such as al-Shabaab. Access to Somalia for UK officials is likely to remain very infrequent and so we do not anticipate a significant improvement in our ability to monitor directly the human rights situation on the ground.


Successful presidential elections were held in Somaliland in June after a delay of almost two years. These elections were deemed by local and international observers to reflect the will of the voters. We provided significant assistance to the Somaliland elections in political, technical and financial terms and were the largest bilateral donor.

Access to justice

The majority of Somalis do not have access to justice. The Transitional Federal Government's judicial system lacks the capacity to deal with war crimes and crimes against humanity. For most people, justice is largely conducted at local and clan levels with little oversight from the state. The law is a mixture of jurisprudence inherited from colonial times, Sharia and clan/customary law. These are inconsistent in implementation and can limit access to justice, particularly for women. Somalia retains the use of the death penalty. The extent of its use is not known.

The Somaliland and Puntland judicial systems have more central control with a hierarchy of courts established up to a Supreme Court. The Somaliland judicial system in particular provides for the right to legal representation; to appeal; to the presumption of innocence; and to appear before a court within 48 hours of arrest. However, only a small number of judges in Somaliland have the necessary legal qualifications to practise law. In 2010 we supported the UN Development Programme in training more judges, supporting the establishment of a new legal framework and providing free legal aid to defendants in both Somaliland and Puntland. However, the security situation and underdeveloped constitutional frameworks limits substantial progress in this area.

In areas under al-Shabaab's control, citizens are often denied access to justice and receive disproportionate punishments for alleged crimes committed. Individuals are often forced to admit to their crime, whether they are guilty or not. Punishments include public floggings, amputations and executions. For example, in October, two teenagers were sentenced to death by firing squad after being accused of spying. Residents were ordered to observe the killing.

Rule of law

As the Transitional Federal Government controlled approximately half of the capital city, Mogadishu, throughout 2010, the rule of law in Somalia was inconsistent. Rule of law remained a priority for us and we focused on the development of local and regional administrations. Developing and enabling rule of law was a key task for the Transitional Federal Government, although progress was hampered by political infighting.

Puntland and Somaliland also made a real commitment to developing the rule of law in their regions, with the latter committing itself to abolish the extra judicial "security committees". These committees often sent citizens to prison without due process of law.

Prisons and detention issues

We were not aware of any reports during 2010 of the use of widespread or systematic arbitrary detentions, or of detentions of political prisoners. Prison conditions are harsh and do not meet international standards. Police stations in Mogadishu were monitored by civil society groups through the UN Development Programme and as a result, a number of prisoners were released when it was found that the police had not followed due process. However, the difficult security situation in Mogadishu meant that the monitoring of police stations was ad hoc.

We encouraged the UN Development Programme, working with the UN Office for Drugs and Crime and the Counter Piracy Programme to build a new prison in Hargeisa, Somaliland, which opened in late 2010. The UN Office for Drugs and Crime and the Counter Piracy Programme also focused on improving living conditions in prisons in Puntland in 2010 and began work on building a new prison which should open in 2011.

Torture and other ill treatment

There is no clear evidence of the use or extent of torture, but media reports indicate that al-Shabaab use serious acts of violence, such as public amputations and lashings to enforce its law. The Somaliland government was subject to accusations of mistreatment in 2010, despite the Somaliland constitution forbidding the use of any kind of "cruel and physical treatment".

Human rights defenders

Human rights defenders continued to have a low profile in Somalia as they operate in very dangerous conditions. Simply by being present they are risking their lives. Our officials seek to support the work of these individuals wherever possible. To this end the UK contributed to the revised EU guidelines for human rights defenders in Somalia in November.

Freedom of expression

International and local journalists operate in extremely difficult environments. The National Union of Somali Journalists found that most attacks against journalists in 2010 were attributed to armed insurgent groups, such as al-Shabaab and Hizb-ul Islam. However, there were reports that both the Puntland government and its security forces and the Transitional Federal Government have been responsible for a number of abuses against media freedom.

Journalists experienced severe restrictions throughout 2010. Three journalists were killed in 2010, compared to nine in 2009 but insurgent groups stepped up their attacks on media houses to prevent independent reporting. In April, Hizb-ul Islam banned media houses in Mogadishu from playing any music or commercials.

Throughout 2010 al-Shabaab imposed reporting restrictions on media houses and seized broadcasting equipment on a number of occasions.

The press climate in Puntland worsened in 2010, particularly in the latter part of the year. Journalists faced restrictions in reporting the continued conflict in the disputed areas of Sool and Sanaag. A Puntland journalist was imprisoned for six months without trial for interviewing rebel forces. The EU lobbied the Puntland government on this issue and the UK called both publicly and privately for greater press freedoms in the region.

The Transitional Federal Government lacks the power and capacity to tackle freedom of expression and media freedoms effectively. However, it has made some advances. In May, with support from the international community, the Transitional Federal Government facilitated the opening of a media safe house. This was a positive first step.

Somaliland enjoys greater media freedom than other regions in Somalia, though in the run-up to the 2010 elections reports indicated that a number of journalists had been arrested for short periods for political purposes. A media monitoring group was formed to cover the election period and we raised the issue of press freedom with the Somaliland government.

Women's rights

Somalia is not party to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. Women continued to be forced into marriage or sold to settle disputes. Female genital mutilation is widespread in Somalia. It is estimated that as many as 97% of women have been subjected to some form of it, typically during childhood. In areas under al-Shabaab's control, women face extremely severe restrictions on their freedom. For example, women are not permitted to work or to leave the house without an abaya. Violence against women, including rape, continues to be widespread. Women also continue to be under-represented politically.

Children's rights

Children, particularly those living in southern and central Somalia, continued to live in extremely challenging environments. The percentage of children receiving education across Somalia, including Somaliland, remained extremely low. In southern and central Somalia, al-Shabaab continued to interfere in school curriculums and introduced mandatory lessons in jihad.

The ongoing conflict in and around the capital, Mogadishu, had severe repercussions for children. The UN cited al-Shabaab, Hizb-ul Islam, the Transitional Federal Government, Ahlu Sunnah Wal Jama'a and other militia groups as recruiting and using child soldiers. In particular, al-Shabaab systematically recruited child soldiers from schools in areas under its control and was reported to be training an estimated 2,000 children in camps in southern Somalia. The Transitional Federal Government was also accused of using child soldiers in its armies, though when the international community made representations to the government in the early part of 2010, it was denied. The Transitional Federal Government has since pledged to work towards an action plan to end the recruitment of child soldiers in Somalia.

Minorities and other discriminated groups

Many minority groups continue to face persecution in Somalia and minority religions are heavily restricted. The clan structure is of great significance and importance in Somalia and four main clans continue to dominate politics, the economy and urban life. Minority clans are not proportionately represented in local and regional governments.

Minority groups do not have the protection that the traditional clan structure affords. They are therefore more exposed to marginalisation and victimisation. During 2010, they suffered abuse at the hands of local governments as well as members of more dominant clans. In southern Somalia, Bantus and Christians faced violent attacks from al-Shabaab. Reports indicated that al-Shabaab beheaded a number of Christians in 2010.

The situation in Somaliland and Puntland was better than in other regions as they consist largely of one clan in each region: the Isaq in Somaliland and Darod in Puntland. However, in Somaliland, violations against the Gaboye people occurred throughout 2010. The Gaboye reportedly suffered verbal abuse and restrictions in their day-to-day life.

Our lack of access, because of the poor security situation, prevented us from closely monitoring minority rights in most of Somalia. However, we raised minority rights with the Somaliland government in 2010 and will continue to push for equal rights in all areas of Somalia.


Over the course of 2010, hundreds of civilians were killed and injured as a result of being caught up in the conflict in southern and central Somalia and especially in Mogadishu. The UN Inter Agency Standing Committee Protection Cluster, that provides a coordinated humanitarian response to protection and humanitarian needs, recorded more than 1,000 killings throughout 2010 and more than 1,600 weapon-related casualties between September and November alone – including 127 children under the age of five. Insurgent groups frequently stationed themselves in densely populated civilian areas such as markets where they then launched attacks on government forces and African Union soldiers. Civilian casualties have been reported as a result of African Union and Transitional Federal Government forces defending themselves against insurgent attack. We worked closely with the Transitional Federal Government and the African Union throughout 2010 to explore ways in which to minimise the risk to civilians.

We contributed to the EU mission to train Somali forces in Uganda. Upon completion of training, the troops are stationed in Mogadishu to work with the African Union and existing Transitional Federal Government soldiers. This training includes a mandatory human rights module for all new recruits.

Throughout 2010 there continued to be sporadic clashes in the disputed territories of Sool and Sanaag on the Puntland/Somaliland border, and elsewhere throughout Somalia, with clan militias and insurgent groups. Regional administrations and clan elders continued to mediate between conflicts. The new Somaliland government made significant efforts in the latter part of 2010 to mediate between and reconcile local clan conflicts, which are usually over land. We provided support to the Somaliland security services, to help reduce the conflict on the Puntland/Somaliland border.

Protection of civilians

There was no improvement in the protection of civilians in 2010. The Transitional Federal Government was extremely limited in its capacity to provide adequate protection for Somali citizens and civilian casualties, and forced displacement continued to rise. Although many people were able to return home only a few weeks after fleeing, others are displaced for much longer. More than 1.46 million people were displaced at the end of 2010, including 410,000 people in the Afgooye corridor near Mogadishu – the highest concentration of internally displaced persons in the world. There were also more than 600,000 Somali refugees in the region. With 4,000 arrivals a month, Kenya was hosting more than 338,000 refugees by the end of 2010, including 268,000 in Dadaab – the largest refugee camp in the world.

Displaced people often lose their clan protection when they are forced to move to other parts of the country, leaving them more vulnerable. There were numerous reports in 2010 of the abuse and rape of women, particularly those from minority groups, in internally displaced persons camps. Repeated displacement, violence and killings were also frequently reported. Conditions in the camps, where access for humanitarian agencies is difficult, are often appalling, with severe overcrowding in unsanitary surroundings.

The UN estimates that 2 million people in Somalia, or 27% of the population, require emergency humanitarian or livelihood support. This includes the 1.46 million internally displaced people, most of whom are in southern and central Somalia where access for humanitarian agencies is most difficult. In the financial year 2010/11, we provided almost £20 million in support to humanitarian agencies, including UNICEF, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and a number of NGOs such as Oxfam, Action Against Hunger and MedAir to reach more than 700,000 vulnerable Somalis, including internally displaced persons, with emergency assistance such as clean water, health care, food and shelter.

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