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Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2007 - Somalia

Publisher International Federation for Human Rights
Author Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders
Publication Date 19 June 2008
Cite as International Federation for Human Rights, Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2007 - Somalia, 19 June 2008, available at: [accessed 27 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.

Political context

In January 2007, the troops of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), backed by the Ethiopian army, regained control over the capital, Mogadishu, and over most of the central and southern parts of Somalia that had formerly been controlled by the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC). The change had no effect on the security of the population. On the contrary, violence and instability increased with the fighting between the insurgents and the TFG/Ethiopian forces. Both sides were guilty of serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law: bomb blasts, blind firing of mortars, suicide attacks, firing on the crowd. It is estimated that street fighting caused the death of several hundred civilians. Admittedly, in March 2007, following the adoption of Resolution 1744 by the United Nations Security Council, 1,600 troops belonging to the African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM) arrived in the country, but their presence did not stop the violence.

Between October and November 2007, fighting further intensified, causing many deaths among the civilian population. Cases of rape, abductions and looting have been reported. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), at the end of the year, around a million and a half persons were in urgent need of assistance and protection.

At the end of 2007, no political solution had been found, and calls for dialogue with the insurgents continued to be thwarted by the demand for the prior withdrawal of the Ethiopian army.

Obstacles to humanitarian action

In such a context of war, the humanitarian organisations are facing considerable obstacles in carrying out their work, in particular in their efforts to protect the civil society: constant checks of their movements, ambushes and robbery of humanitarian convoys, high taxes levied on humanitarian assistance, acts of harassment, arbitrary arrests, abductions. The abduction on December 26, 2007 of two members of Doctors Without Borders (Médecins sans frontières – MSF), Ms. Mercedes Garcia, a Spanish doctor, and Ms. Pilar Bauza, an Argentine nurse in Bossasso, the capital of the Puntland, in the north of the country, drew media attention to the situation of violence and anarchy that has existed in Somalia throughout the year. The two women were released on January 2, 2008.1

The delivery of humanitarian aid by sea is also made difficult by the resumption of piracy off the coasts of Puntland and Southern Somalia, used as a means to finance the war effort. Military escorts have not prevented several vessels from being attacked, jeopardising for instance the activities of the World Food Programme.

Physical attacks and arbitrary arrests of defenders

Anyone attempting to mention publicly the serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law committed in connexion with the conflict in Somalia runs the risk of being targeted by serious acts of reprisal. For instance, an eminent defender, Mr. Isse Abdi Isse, Director of the KISIMA Organisation for Peace and Development, was shot dead on March 14, 2007 while attending a conference held with the support of UNICEF on the socio-psychological support for children affected by the civil war, drought and floods.2

The parties to the conflict are clearly bent on silencing human rights organisations. In such a situation, independent journalists try to fill the gap by denouncing human rights violations, becoming in turn the subjects of serious exactions. Consequently, most of those responsible for independent media have left the country. For instance, according to the Somalia Press Freedom Observer, eight journalists were killed in 2007, half of them in targeted assassinations carried out by contract killers.3 Among them were important media personalities, including the Co-founder of Radio Horn/Afrik and the Director of the publishing conglomerate Shabelle Media. In addition, fifty-three journalists were arrested. And early in the year three journalists, Mr. Ali Abdi Dini, Mr. Mohamed Omar Sheikh Ibrahim and Mr. Ibrahim Mohamed Rashid Farah, were arrested in Somaliland and sentenced to two years' and five months' imprisonment in an unfair trial, after they had published in the Haatuf newspaper a series of articles accusing the President of Somaliland of nepotism and corruption. Mr. Yusuf Abdi Gabobe, editor of Haatuf, was sentenced to two years' imprisonment for "obstruction". The newspaper's publishing licence was withdrawn. And lastly, on December 16, 2007, a French cameraman, Mr. Gwenlaouen Le Gouil, was kidnapped by an armed group while making a film on clandestine emigration in Puntland. He was released on December 24.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders is a joint programme of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH).

1 See MSF Press Releases, December 27, 2007 and January 2, 2008.

2 See Press Release by the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders' Network (EHAHRD-Net), March 16, 2007.

3 The eight journalists killed were: Mr. Ali Mohammed Omar, Mr. Mohammed Abdullahi Khalif, Mr. Abshir Ali Gabre, Mr. Ahmed Hassan Mahad, Mr. Mahad Ahmed Elmi, Mr. Ali Iman Sharmarke, Mr. Abdulkadir Mahad Moallim Kaskey and Mr. Bashir Nur Gedi. In this regard, the Presidency of the European Union "strongly condemn[ed] the killing of two journalists in Somalia and reiterate[d] its support to all who work to promote freedom of expression and strive for impartial media and accurate information. Mahad Ahmed Elmi and Ali Iman Chamarke were prominent voices in Somalia whose work was essential to promote democracy and reconciliation" (See Press Release 12389/07 (Press 190), Declaration by the Presidency on behalf of the European Union condemning the killings of two Somali journalists, August 21, 2007). Likewise, in its Resolution P6_TA (2007) 0544, adopted on November 15, 2007, the European Parliament "condemn(ed) the TFG's systematic harassment of journalists, its closure of media outlets and its failure to investigate the killing of journalists, all of which have deeply damaged independent reporting in Somalia".

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