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U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1995 - Somalia

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1996
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1995 - Somalia, 30 January 1996, available at: [accessed 24 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 has been without a central government since its last president, dictator Mohamed Siad Barre, fled the country in 1991. Subsequent fighting among rival faction leaders resulted in the killing, dislocation, and starvation of thousands of Somalis and led the United Nations to intervene militarily in 1992.

Widespread interclan fighting subsided in 1995, apart from occasional skirmishes in Mogadishu, Baidoa, and the lower Juba, and an ongoing conflict in the northwest. There was no progress, however, in reconciling the rival faction leaders and creating a new national government. In Mogadishu, faction leader Mohamed Farah Aideed was elected by his supporters to head a putative national government, while in the northwest, the breakway "Republic of Somaliland" continued to proclaim its independence. Neither administration, however, was recognized internationally.

The persistent absence of a central government led most regions to establish rudimentary local administrations, most based on the authority of the predominant clan and faction in the area. Local authority remained contested, however, in the lower Juba, parts of the northwest, and Mogadishu.

The United Nations Operation in Somalia (UNOSOM) ended in March, when the last peacekeeping forces were withdrawn. Security is provided by clan-based militias that report to the dominant clan elders and faction leaders in each region. In some cases, these militias are supplemented by local police forces that were established under UNOSOM and continue to function with varying degrees of effectiveness. In the continued absence of national institutions, the judiciary in most regions of the country relies on some combination of traditional and customary justice, Islamic (Shari'a) law, and the pre-1991 Penal Code. In north Mogadishu, the middle Shabelle, and parts of Gedo and Hiran regions, where Shari'a is particularly entrenched, harsh punishments--including amputations--are meted out for certain offenses.

While still a desperately poor country, Somalia's economy continued to improve in 1995 in comparison to the period of mass starvation in 1992. Relative peace in much of the country, coupled with the increased income resulting from the excellent 1994 harvest, contributed to this recovery. Livestock and fruit exports continued to revive, although the latter were disrupted by the closure of Mogadishu seaport during the final 3 months of the year. Somalia remains a chronic food deficit country, however, and poor rains produced a disappointing harvest in 1995 whose effects are likely to be felt by mid-1996. In some urban areas, the departure of UNOSOM dealt a severe blow to local economies that had benefited from U.N. contracts and employment. Lack of income opportunities led to pockets of malnutrition in Mogadishu and some other communities.

Human rights abuses continued throughout the year. Due to the decrease in interclan fighting, however, there were fewer incidents of extrajudicial killing, rape, and violations of humanitarian law than there had been in previous years. Other key problem areas remained the lack of political rights in the absence of a central authority, the reliance of some communities on harsh Shari'a punishments, societal discrimination against women, and the mistreatment of women and children, including the near universal practice of female genital mutilation.

Respect for Human Rights

Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Political or Other Extrajudicial Killing

Political violence and banditry have been endemic to Somalia since the revolt against Siad Barre, who fled the capital in January 1991. Tens of thousands of Somalis, mostly noncombatants, have died in interfactional and interclan fighting (see Section l.g.).

Although many civilians were killed in the course of the fighting during the year, politically motivated extrajudicial murder was less common. In April a foreign businessman was killed by a small fundamentalist group in Burgavo, apparently because of his business dealings with General Mohamed Said Hersi "Morgan," a political rival of the fundamentalists. In July, six members of the Marehan Somali National Front (SNF) were reportedly murdered in south Mogadishu by members of the Habr Gedr subclan linked to General Mohamed Farah Aideed's wing of the Somali National Alliance (SNA).

Partly as a result of the 1993 murder of a 16-year-old Somali youth by Canadian airborne soldiers assigned to UNOSOM, the Government of Canada disbanded the regiment in January. The previous year, Canadian soldiers accused in the case were tried and convicted.

b. Disappearance

There were no known reports of unresolved politically motivated disappearances, although cases might easily have been concealed among the thousands of refugees, displaced, and war dead. Kidnaping remained a problem, particularly for relief workers and critics of the faction leaders (see Section l.d.).

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

There were no reports of use of torture by warring militiamen against each other or against civilians.

Islamic (Shari'a) courts continued to operate in several regions of the country, filling the vacuum created by the absence of normal government authority. Shari'a courts traditionally ruled in cases of civil and family law, but their jurisdiction was extended to criminal proceedings in some regions beginning in 1994. In north Mogadishu, the middle Shabelle, and parts of the Gedo and Hiran regions, these courts meted out severe punishment to persons found guilty of robbery and other crimes (see Section l.e.).

For example, in May the Shari'a court in Jowhar amputated the right hands and left feet of three men convicted of armed robbery. The severed limbs were displayed in the public square of the town. Court officials in Jowhar confirmed that criminals convicted of looting were sometimes stoned to death, although no specific cases were cited. In September a court in the Hiran region ordered a hand and a foot amputated from each of three convicted bandits.

Prison conditions varied by region. Mogadishu's prison was overcrowded, with a significant percentage of prisoners suffering from malnutrition, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). Prisons in Baidoa, Bardera, and Kismayo were rudimentary but not unhealthy or overcrowded. Prisoners were permitted daily outdoor exercise and received food rations either from the community or from the World Food Program (WFP). In Bosasso, conditions were similar, although male prisoners were chained together at the ankles.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

Somali factions and armed bandits continued to engage in arbitrary detention, including the kidnaping of international relief workers. In some cases, the detention was politically motivated. For example, Mohamed Farah Aideed's wing of the SNA placed Khadija Abdi Fandhe under house arrest for 1 week in July after she urged Somali women to support Aideed's rival, Osman Hassan Ali "Atto."

Foreigners were frequently the target of kidnapers. A French employee of Action Internationale Contre La Faim (AICF), was seized near Mogadishu on December 17, 1994, and held for more than a month by Somalis demanding compensation for clansmen who were killed--allegedly, while working as security guards for AICF. Two Italian aid workers were kidnaped on February 28 near Garoe as part of a contractual dispute but were released within a week. A German veterinarian was kidnaped in the northwest in late May and held for 19 days for unspecified reasons. In December an Italian agronomist was kidnaped near Mogadishu and held for several days before being turned over to representatives of General Aideed. In all cases, intervention by local clan elders and the donor community resulted in the detainees' release.

In late August, five foreigners, including two Scandinavian diplomats, were detained in the breakaway Republic of Somaliland for landing at an airfield without authorization. They were charged in a Somaliland court, but the charges were dropped, and all six were released after 8 days. Twelve Pakistani fishermen were detained by General Aideed's forces at the end of January and held for more than 8 months. An Aideed court found them guilty of illegal fishing, but they were subsequently pardoned and released October 6. On September 17, General Mohammed Farah Aideed and members of his militia seized the southwestern city of Baidoa. Aideed's forces occupied the compounds of U.N. and nongovernmental organization (NGO) agencies operating in Baidoa and held 21 expatriates, including 5 Americans, for 5 days. Through negotiations by U.N. officials with Aideed, all the expatriates were released by September 22.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

There is no national judicial system. Some regions have established local courts that depend on the predominant local clan and associated faction for their authority. These courts render judgments based on traditional and customary law, Islamic Shari'a law, the Penal Code of the defunct Siad Barre government, or some combination of the three. In Bosasso, for example, criminals are turned over to the families of their victims, who exact blood compensation in keeping with Somali tradition. In the northwest, the self-proclaimed Republic of Somaliland continues to use the former Somali Penal Code, pending adoption of a new constitution and related laws. In Bardera, courts apply a combination of Islamic Shari'a law and the former Penal Code. In north Mogadishu, the middle Shabelle, and parts of the Gedo and Hiran regions, court decisions are based solely on Shari'a law.

The right to representation by an attorney and the right to appeal do not exist in those areas applying traditional and customary judicial practices or Shari'a law. These rights are more often respected in regions that continue to apply the former government's Penal Code.

Following the capture of Baidoa by Aideed's forces in September, at least five senior members of the local Rahanweyn community were detained and taken to Mogadishu. Some of them reportedly remained in custody as of year's end. There were no reports of political prisoners being held by the various other factions.

f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

Looting and forced entry into private property continued but at levels reduced from previous years when large urban areas were forcibly occupied by invading militiamen. Such looting occurred in January and May, however, during heavy fighting between militia forces of the Abgal and Murosade subclans in Mogadishu. U.N. properties in Mogadishu were looted in January by the Abgal and in February by both the Habr Gedr and Abgal. A hospital operated by Indian peacekeepers in Baidoa was looted in January, soon after their withdrawal. The premises of a Dutch NGO in Garbahare were forcibly entered on February 25 by nine armed Somalis who shot and seriously wounded one international staff member and stole $16,000. All but one of those responsible were subsequently arrested, and the money was recovered by community leaders. NGO warehouses in Kismayo and Baidoa were also looted during the year.

Most properties that were forcibly occupied during militia campaigns in 1992-1993, notably in Mogadishu and the lower Shabelle, remained in the hands of persons other than their prewar owners.

g. Use of Excessive Force and Violations of Humanitarian Law in Internal Conflicts

Warring factions continued to commit violations of humanitarian law, including the killing of civilian noncombatants. In early January, fighting between Abgal and Murosade militiamen led to scores of civilian dead and hundreds wounded. Both sides resorted to shelling in densely populated neighborhoods, and there was heavy fighting around one hospital. Also in January, following an abortive Hawadle attack on Beletweyn, Habr Gedr militiamen burned several Hawadle villages in retaliation. Fighting in Burao between forces loyal to self-styled Somaliland president Mohamed Ibrahim Egal and those of a rival militia led to hundreds of deaths as well as significant civilian displacement, with an estimated 80,000 to 150,000 people forced from their homes. The town was subsequently mined, impeding the civilians' return. In May renewed clashes between the Abgal and Murosade in Mogadishu again led to noncombatant casualties, with 17 killed and 54 injured, mostly civilians. Indiscriminate shelling in late August, during hostilities in Mogadishu between Habr Gedr and Abgal militiamen, led to dozens killed and scores wounded. Aideed's capture of Baidoa was achieved with little fighting but resulted in displacement of up to half the town's population according to some estimates.

During the year the ICRC was permitted to visit and verify that both the 534 prisoners of war held by the self-declared Republic of Somaliland as well as prisoners held by the opposition militia were well-treated.

The last of the UNOSOM peacekeeping troops were withdrawn without incident on March 3 under rearguard cover provided by U.S. forces.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

Most Somalis obtain news from foreign news broadcasts, notably the British Broadcasting Corporation, which transmits a daily Somali-language program. The major faction leaders in Mogadishu, as well as the authorities of the self-declared Republic of Somaliland, operate small radio stations.

The print media consist largely of short, photocopied dailies, published in the larger cities and often linked to one of the factions. Several of these papers are nominally independent and are critical of the faction leaders.

Two journalists were detained in south Mogadishu during the year after writing stories critical of General Mohamed Farah Aideed's administration. In July, Adan Mohamed Ali, a stringer for the Reuters News Agency, was held for nearly 2 weeks under house arrest and then later in the Mogadishu Central Prison, which is controlled by Aideed. A U.N. agency successfully negotiated Adan's release on condition that he leave Mogadishu. In September Aideed's forces detained Ali Musa Abdi, a stringer for the Agence France Presse News Agency and the British Broadcasting Corporation. He was seized while en route to cover an announcement by opponents of Aideed. Ali Musa Abdi escaped from Aideed in September. Aideed's administration announced plans in August to register all foreign journalists and began issuing press passes by late September.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Many clans and factions held meetings during the year without incident, albeit usually under tight security. Lengthy conferences were organized by local clan leaders in Baidoa, Afmadou, and Gardo. In Mogadishu both Aideed and Mohammed Ali Mahdi held conferences of their respective allies early in the year.

Although Somalis are free to assemble in public, the lack of security effectively limits this right in many parts of the country. Few public rallies took place during the year. In the weeks prior to UNOSOM withdrawal, supporters of General

Aideed held several demonstrations against plans to deploy a U.S.-led rearguard force to protect the departing peacekeepers. At least one of these rallies was forcibly dispersed by militiamen loyal to Osman Hassan Ali Atto, a rival to Aideed. In May a group of Aideed supporters sought unsuccessfully to disrupt a meeting of the Somali National Alliance Central Committee, convened by Atto in a further challenge to Aideed's leadership.

Some professional groups and local NGO's operate in Somalia as security conditions permit.

c. Freedom of Religion

Somalis are overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim. Local tradition and past law make it a crime to proselytize for any religion except Islam. Some local administrations in Somalia have made Islam the official religion in their regions, in addition to establishing a judicial system based on Shari'a law (see Section l.e.). Non-Sunni Muslims are often looked on with suspicion by more mainstream Somalis. There is strong social pressure to respect Islamic traditions, especially in fundamentalist enclaves such as Luuq, in the Gedo region. There is a small, low-profile Christian community. Christian-based international relief organizations operate without interference.

d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

Freedom of movement continued to be restricted in most parts of Somalia. Checkpoints manned by militiamen loyal to one clan or faction inhibit passage by other groups. In the absence of a recognized national government, most Somalis do not have documents needed for international travel. As security conditions improved in many parts of the country, refugees and internally displaced persons continued to return to their homes. Despite sporadic harassment--e.g., theft of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees food packages by militiamen--repatriation generally took place without incident.

The number of Somali refugees in Kenya dropped to approximately 140,000 as of the end of the year, down from more than 400,000 at the height of the humanitarian crisis in 1992. In Ethiopia, however, the number of Somali refugees increased by some 90,000 during 1995 to a total of approximately 275,000, due to the influx of persons who fled fighting in the northwest. A small number of Ethiopian refugees remained in Somalia, mostly in the northeast near Bosasso.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens To Change Their Government

Citizens did not have this right. There was no national government recognized domestically or internationally. In most regions, however, local clan and faction leaders function as de facto rulers. They derive their authority in a variety of ways. In most of the Gedo region, the dominant Marehan subclan's faction, the Somali National Front, rules through regional and district councils established under UNOSOM auspices. In the northwest, the self-declared Republic of Somaliland was endorsed by clan elders in 1991 and 1993 and has since created functional administrative institutions, albeit in only a small portion of the territory it claims to rule. In Kismayo the dominant faction leader seized the town militarily in 1993 but is dependent on elders from several subclans in order to govern the community. In June allies of General Mohamed Farah Aideed elected him as president of a putative central government, which functions as the de facto authority in parts of south Mogadishu and the lower Shabelle. Ali Mahdi and his Abgal subclan supporters, in cooperation with leaders of the Islamic Shari'a courts function as the governing authorties in north Mogadishu and the middle Shabelle. In Baidoa, formation of a "Supreme Governing Council" was agreed consensually in May after lengthy negotiations among members of the Rahanweyn clan and its associated faction, the Somalia Democratic Movement. Aideed's forces ousted the "Supreme Governing Council," however, when he captured Baidoa in September.

Although several women are important behind-the-scenes figures in the various factions, women as a group remain outside the political process. No women hold prominent public positions and few participated in regional reconciliation efforts.

Section 4 Governmental Attitudes Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

There were no local human rights organizations active during the year. ICRC delegates were permitted to visit prisons in some parts of the country, as were Western diplomats. A representative of Africa Watch traveled to Somalia several times during the year to document human rights conditions, and Amnesty International also published a report during the year. International humanitarian NGO's and U.N. agencies continued to operate, but the poor security situation limited their activities in some areas.

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status

Societal discrimination against women and widespread abuse of children continued to be serious problems.


Women suffered disproportionately in the Somali civil war and in the strife that followed. During the past year, however, there were no reports of systematic attacks on women in connection with the continuing civil strife.

Women are systematically subordinated in Somalia, which has an overwhelmingly patriarchal culture. Polygyny is permitted, but polyandry is not. Under laws issued by the former government, female children could inherit property, but only half the amount to which their brothers were entitled. Similarly, according to the Somali tradition of blood compensation, those found guilty in the death of a woman pay only half as much (50 camels) to the aggrieved family as they would if the victim were a man (100 camels).


Children remain among the chief victims of the continuing violence in Somalia. Boys as young as 14 or 15 years of age have participated in milita attacks, and many youths are members of the marauding gangs known as "Morian."

Female genital mutilation (FGM), which is widely condemned by international experts as damaging to physical and mental health, is widely practiced in Somali culture and society. An independent expert in the field estimates that 98 percent of Somali females have been subjected to FGM.

People with Disabilities

There were no laws mandating accessibility to public buildings, transportation, or government services for the disabled before the collapse of the state. No functioning government is yet in place that could address these issues.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

More than 80 percent of Somalia's people share a common ethnic heritage, religion, and nomadic-influenced culture. The largest minority group consists of "Bantu" Somalis, who are descended from slaves brought to Somalia about 300 years ago. In virtually all areas of Somalia, members of groups other than the predominant clan are excluded from effective participation in governing institutions and are subject to discrimination in employment, judicial proceedings, and access to public services.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

The 1990 Constitution provided workers with the right to form unions, but the civil war and factional fighting negated this provision and shattered the single labor confederation, the then government-controlled General Federation of Somali Trade Unions. Given the extent of Somalia's political and economic breakdown and the lack of legal enforcement mechanisms, trade unions could not function freely in the country.

b. The Right To Organize and Bargain Collectively

Wages and work requirements in traditional Somali culture are largely established by ad hoc bartering, based on supply, demand, and the influence of the clan from which the worker originates.

Labor disputes sometimes led to use of force or kidnaping. For example, during a contractual dispute in the northwest region, security guards who had been dismissed by a French NGO worker responded by firing shots and throwing a grenade at their former employer. In another case, workers blockaded the World Food Program compound in Mogadishu for 3 days to press demands for severance pay (see also Section l.d.).

There are no export processing zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

Local partners of multinational fruit export firms reportedly used forced labor in some areas of the lower Shabelle.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

Formal employment of children was rare, but youths are commonly employed in herding, agriculture, and household labor from an early age.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

There was no organized effort by any of the factions or de facto regional administrations to monitor acceptable conditions of work during the year.

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