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Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2009 - Somalia

Publisher International Federation for Human Rights
Publication Date 18 June 2009
Cite as International Federation for Human Rights, Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders Annual Report 2009 - Somalia, 18 June 2009, 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.

Political context

Despite the support of the Ethiopian army since December 2006, the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) has been unable to consolidate the State in Somalia. In 2008, the situation has continued to deteriorate into one of the worst humanitarian and security crises. Fighting was perpetrated in violation of humanitarian and human rights law. Many hundreds civilians died because of indiscriminate shelling and bombings. All major towns in south-central Somalia were captured by one faction or another of the Islamist insurgents except for Mogadishu, where TFG control is contested, and Baidoa. At the end of 2008, the Islamists dominated nearly as much territory as they did before the Ethiopian invasion.1

The signing in June of a UN-facilitated peace accord, known as the Djibouti Agreement, by the TFG and the Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia (ARS), by which both sides agreed to end their conflict and called on the UN to deploy an international stabilisation force, was a positive step. Yet, the failure by important parties to the insurgency, including the extremist movement known as "Al Shabaab", to participate meant that little of the expected outcomes had yet been achieved as of the end of 2008.2 The question of the withdrawal of the Ethiopian troops, which started in January 2009 as part of the Djibouti Agreements, also remained at the heart of the conflict. While noting the progress made in the Djibouti peace process, the UN Secretary General stated in January 2009 that conditions were not yet right for a UN peacekeeping operation in Somalia.3

On December 29, 2008, President Abdillahi Yusuf resigned following a confrontation with Parliament and the Prime Minister. International observers, and in particular the UN Secretary-General Special Representative for Somalia, praised this decision as being the first time in Somalia's modern history that a President decided to leave office peacefully.4 This decision could have a positive impact in the future on the peace process.

In this environment, those who provided assistance to the civilian population and exposed abuses – human rights defenders, journalists,5 humanitarian and aid workers – were themselves targeted by all parties involved in the conflict through abductions, torture and murder.6 The lack of investigation into these violations entrenched firmly impunity in this country and left defenders at even greater risk.7

Threats and intimidation faced by humanitarian workers

The provision of humanitarian assistance in south and central Somalia remained critical in 2008. Convoys delivering food and humanitarian assistance faced illegal "taxation" at numerous temporary checkpoints. Food deliveries by ship were hijacked by pirates in Somali waters.8 Access to humanitarian assistance – such as food and basic amenities, water and sanitation, and primary medical care – was also compromised by threats and intimidation of aid personnel and the targeting of actual aid operations by various parties.9 These acts of violence were mainly committed by local groups targeting some relief agencies but also, increasingly, by some insurgent groups. Local grievances against NGOs usually revolve around "unfair" recruitment policies, insensitive to clan balance, poor salaries and perceived bias in the awarding of contracts. Increasingly, criminal gangs targeted NGOs for their assets. It was also becoming lucrative to kidnap NGO workers for ransom.10

On January 28, 2008, Mr. Victor Okumu, a Kenyan surgeon, Mr. Samien Lehalle, a French logistics expert and their Somali driver, Mr. Mohamed Abdi Ali, were killed near Kismayo in a car attack by a bomb set off by remote control. The car belonged to the Dutch branch of Doctors Without Borders (Médecins sans frontières – MSF). On July 11, 2008, Mr. Mohamed Mohamud Khayre, Deputy Director of "Daryeel Bulsho Guud" (DBG), a local humanitarian organisation, was also killed.11 The increase in attacks and kidnappings of humanitarian workers forced MSF to reduce its operations. Eighty-seven international staff working on 14 projects were evacuated after this attack.12 At the end of March and considering the needs, MSF decided that part of the personnel should return to the areas where the security conditions were acceptable.13 Other international NGOs such as CARE International also suspended their operations in parts of Somalia due to the climate of fear and threats against their personnel. They denounced that in all the cases against local or international organisations, no parties or individuals were held to account.14 At the end of 2008, two international staff from MSF, kidnapped near the Ethiopian border on September 22, and four from Action Against Hunger (Action contre la faim – ACF), kidnapped at Dhusa Mareb airport to the north of Mogadishu on November 5, still remained hostages. The insurgents were claimed to keep them to negotiate the release of Somali prisoners held in Ethiopia.

United Nations staff members were also targeted. For instance, on January 6, 2009, three masked gunmen shot and killed a Somali national working for the World Food Programme (WFP) while he was monitoring school feeding in school.15 Mr. Muktar Mohammed Hassan, a UNICEF staff member, another WFP staff, Mr. Abdinasir Aden Muse,16 and Mr. Osman Ali Ahmed, Head of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Somalia,17 were also killed in 2008.

Attacks against journalists and restrictions of freedom of expression

The situation of media professionals has been dangerous over the past two years, and in 2008 journalists continued to be persecuted, killed, arbitrarily arrested and harassed in Africa's most dangerous country for the media. Reporting news on the conflict and security issues was indeed considered as a form of treason by all parties to the conflict and independent media were continuously targeted both by the TFG authorities and the insurgents.18 In 2008, two journalists were killed, several journalists were arrested and international reporters continued to be kidnapped while covering stories, and in particular while reporting on human rights abuses in the country. Thus, on June 7, 2008, Mr. Nasteh Dahir, Vice-Chairman of the National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ), and BBC-Somali service reporter, was shot by two insurgents while walking home from an Internet café in Kismayo. The two men followed him from his office in Kismayo, called out his name, and then shot him as he turned around. It appears that his murder was an act of reprisal for his work as he had been reporting on a conflict over distribution of tax revenue in Kismayo.19 On November 25, 2008, Mr. Hilal Sheik Shuayb, the manager of the privately-owned Radio Warsan in Baidoa, was arrested on the orders of the province's Governor after a Baidoa court's verdict in a soldier's trial for murder was broadcast live by the station. He was released four days later.20

The authorities also continued to put pressure on journalists in order to avoid independent reporting on human rights violations, and impeded journalists from leaving the country, thus impairing on their freedom of movement. For example, on January 4, 2008, Mr. Mohammed Shidane Daban of Radio Banadir was arrested by the Federal Government security forces at Mogadishu's international airport. His arrest could be an attempt to stop the continuing exodus of journalists, which phenomenon reflects badly on the Government's image.21

International reporters also continued to be the target of abductions. On November 26, 2008, two journalists from Spain and the United Kingdom, Messrs. Colin Freeman and Jose Cendon, who were in the region for a week to report stories on piracy were kidnapped in Bossasso, Puntland. They were released on January 4, 2009.22

Attacks against women human rights defenders

As showed by the stoning to death on October 27 of a woman who had been charged of adultery with men who had allegedly raped her, the situation in Somalia is one of increased intolerance towards women. In this context, women human rights defenders were particularly targeted, especially in areas where the Islamist insurgency was most present. This year, two were killed. On October 25, 2008, Ms. Duniya Sheikh Doon, Chairwoman of the local branch of the Women's Development Organisation (IIDA), a Somali women's development organisation in the town of Guriel, was killed. The organisation provides housing, counselling, education, training and jobs for women displaced by war and victimised by violence and rape. Likewise, Ms. Mariam Dabayarey Aden Mohamed, Chairwoman of the Bay region Women's Organisation in Baidoa, was killed on November 3, 2008.23 Furthermore, on July 9, 2008, the Coalition for Grassroots Women Organisation (COGWO), a prominent coalition of women's rights organisations based in Mogadishu, was amongst a list of organisations named in a threatening letter that was published and posted in several public places across Mogadishu. In particular, the coalition members were accused of being "infidels" as a result of their efforts to empower women. In addition, on July 13, 2008, a local radio station in Mogadishu broadcast an interview in which an anonymous interviewee threatened to kill COGWO staff members in particular and human rights activists in general. COGWO also received a series of menacing emails notably one on July 15, in which Ms. Sharifa Adow, Chairperson of COGWO, was personally threatened by people believed to be members of the Al-Shabaab militia group.24

1 See International Crisis Group (ICG), Somalia: To move beyond the failed State, Africa Report No. 147, December 23, 2008.

2 See UN News Centre, Press Release, December 22, 2008.

3 See ICG, Somalia: To Move Beyond the Failed State, Africa Report No. 147, December 23, 2008.

4 See UN News Centre, Press Release, December 29, 2008.

5 According to the National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ), 35 Somali journalists have fled to Kenya since May 2007, 15 have fled to Djibouti, four to Ethiopia and three to Uganda.

6 See East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project (EHAHRDP),, and UN Political Office for Somalia, Press Release 0035/2008, December 10, 2008.

7 Once again, in 2008, the UN Independent Expert on the situation in Somalia condemned all attacks on aid workers, journalists and human rights defenders and called upon all Somali authorities to provide full protection and independence to journalists and media personnel, human rights defenders and international humanitarian aid personnel operating in Somalia. See Human Rights Council, Report of the Independent Expert appointed by the UN Secretary-General on the situation of human rights in Somalia, Mr. Ghanim Alnajjar, UN Document A/HRC/7/26, March 17, 2008.

8 See Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières – RSF) Press Release, January 10, 2008.

9 Idem.

10 See ICG, Somalia: To Move Beyond the Failed State, Africa Report No. 147, December 23, 2008.

11 See EHAHRDP Press Release, July 18, 2008.

12 See MSF Press Release, February 1, 2008.

13 See MSF Press Release, March 20, 2008.

14 See CARE Press Release, June 20, 2008.

15 See WFP Press Release, January 6, 2009.

16 See UN News Centre Press Release, November 5, 2008.

17 See EHAHRDP Press Release, July 18, 2008.


19 See EHAHRDP Press Release, June 9, 2008.

20 See RSF Press Release, December 10, 2008.

21 See RSF Press Release, January 10, 2008.

22 See RSF Press Release, November 27, 2008.

23 See Press Release by the Independent Expert on the situation of human rights in Somalia, November 5, 2008.

24 See EHAHRDP Press Release, July 18, 2008.

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