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U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1993 - Somalia

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1994
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1993 - Somalia, 30 January 1994, 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.

Following 2 years of civil war and total anarchy, Somalia continued in 1993 to be without central authority of any kind. In the 2 years since the fall of Siad Barre in January 1991, traditional means of social control and administration of justice have not been reestablished. Even with the presence of United Nations peacekeepers, many Somalis remain beyond the rule and protection of recognized law and social order. Almost 20 percent of the population is displaced or has sought refuge abroad. Communities, ravaged by war and famine, have disappeared in some regions. Somalis of every clan and faction live in fear for their lives and property. Traditional authorities, unable to cope with the unprecedented conditions of the country, have often withdrawn from their historical function, leaving the clans and subclans without the restraints that would serve to protect human rights.

The United Nations Operations in Somalia (UNOSOM) and its predecessor the United Nations Task Force (UNITAF) have attempted to protect the lives and property of both Somalis and foreign relief workers. However, in doing so and in attempting to carry out its mandate to support a broad agreement by Somalis in March, 1993 in Addis Ababa, U.N. forces were attacked and drawn into violent confrontations in which they and Somalis were killed, creating an atmosphere of wariness between the peacekeepers and some of those they were sent to protect. Some foreign forces were accused of mistreatment, even murder, of Somalis and in several instances from June to October, 1993, U.N. peacekeepers were attacked and killed by Somalis. In response, under the authority of the United Nations, U.S. forces attacked and apprehended Somalis believed to be responsible for the attacks upon U.N. peacekeepers. UNOSOM detained these Somalis without trial. All but eight were released by year's end.

In the months before the attacks on the peacekeepers, the United Nations was largely successful in ensuring the flow of food to the starving population by ending large-scale looting of relief supplies and extortion of humanitarian agencies by bandits and warlords. The early months of 1993 saw a rapid drop in death and malnutrition rates measured by international relief agencies. Despite this amelioration, lawlessness continued in parts of Somalia. Conditions varied widely. In some towns, a semblance of civic order remained, with local populations respecting the traditional authority of clan elders. However, no central authority was acknowledged; power rested in the hands of clan-based warlords and heavily armed gangs of looters; more than half a million refugees fled to neighboring countries over the past few years; and there was no functioning network of police, courts, or civil administration. In the second quarter of 1993, the United Nations made a start in addressing these problems.

The Addis Ababa accords, which the 15 major Somali faction leaders signed in March, outlined steps toward political reconciliation and the formation of a Transitional National Council (TNC). The accords committed all signatories to disarmament and the reconstruction of Somali society in a fashion consistent with the Geneva Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Building on the March accords, the U.N. Security Council (UNSC) passed several resolutions establishing and defining UNOSOM II. UNOSOM II, created under UNSC Resolution 814, had broad responsibilities, including the basic reconstitution of Somali civic society and the creation of preconditions for the observance of human rights. It was tasked with creating a secure environment; promoting political reconciliation; disarming clan factions; re-establishing the police and judiciary; and prosecuting those responsible for serious violations of international law.

Informal talks held among faction leaders in Addis Ababa in November and December did not produce agreement on how to implement the Addis Ababa accords, but did not repudiate their commitments to these accords.

As UNOSOM II began the task of disarmament in Mogadishu, it met sudden, violent resistance from one of the signatories of the Addis Ababa accords. In response to a UNOSOM arms sweep, the SNA (Somali National Alliance, led by Mohamed Farah Aideed) reportedly organized an ambush of UNOSOM Pakistani troops on June 5, killing 24 and wounding another 50. On June 6, the UNSC passed Resolution 837, condemning the armed attacks upon U.N. peacekeepers and authorizing the U.N. Secretary General, under Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter, to take all necessary measures against those responsible for the attacks, including arrest, detention, trial, and punishment. In November the UNSC created a commission of inquiry to investigate this and other incidents.

Throughout June, July, August and September, UNOSOM II forces, including U.S. forces working with UNOSOM contingents, made efforts to capture Aideed and other key SNA personnel in accordance with UNSC Resolution 837. SNA forces countered by conducting ambushes of UNOSOM forces in which armed attackers were shielded by civilians, especially women. Peacekeepers from Italy, Pakistan, Nigeria, the United States, and Morocco, as well as hundreds of Somalis, died during such incidents. In September and October, SNA rocket and mortar attacks on the U.N. facility and U.S. Liaison Office in South Mogadishu became more frequent. SNA forces unlawfully detained two peacekeepers, a Nigerian and an American (see Section 1.d.), the American after an attack October 3 on an SNA stronghold in Mogadishu.

Outside Mogadishu, progress was made in reestablishing local police forces and courts and with the establishment of new district and regional councils.

Faction militia, bandits, and clan militia are routinely charged with using intimidation, detention, rape, kidnaping, murder, and looting to gain or maintain power over the Somali population but these charges have been difficult to investigate. Relations between UNOSOM forces and local populations varied widely from region to region, and were often dependent on relations between UNOSOM and local faction or traditional leaders. In general, the forces enjoyed good relations with the people, but there were some complaints that Belgian, Canadian, and U.S. forces used extreme or inappropriate force against Somalis, including incidents which resulted in deaths. The governments involved launched investigations, some of which continue, of these incidents.


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

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

Political violence and banditry have been endemic to Somalia since the overthrow of Siad Barre. Levels of violence were significantly reduced with the establishment of UNITAF, followed by UNOSOM II. Within areas controlled by UNITAF, the efforts of volunteer, unpaid former policemen appear to have aided the return of stability. However, in the past year, attempts have been made on the lives of several politically active Somalis. Although large scale interclan clashes in Mogadishu diminished with an interclan cease fire in October, gun fights between rival factions were still common and lethal attacks by bandits in the city increased, as did interclan fighting outside Mogadishu.

Some foreign forces were accused of extrajudicial killings. Canadian peacekeepers stationed at Belet Weyne were alleged to have been responsible for two civilian Somali deaths. On March 4, a Somali attempting to break into the Canadian base was shot while fleeing, and allegedly shot again while lying on the ground. While in Canadian custody on March 16, Shidane Omar Aroni was allegedly beaten to death . Canadian authorities conducted a full investigation and launched judicial proceedings which had not been concluded by year's end. In April, a U.S. Marine was convicted in a military court of use of excessive force in an incident in which one Somali was killed.

On July 7, at the height of the conflict between Aideed and UNOSOM forces, six Somali distributors of the UNOSOM newspaper were assassinated in Mogadishu. It is alleged this took place at SNA or Aideed instigation.

On June 5, forces loyal to Aideed reportedly launched an ambush against Pakistani peacekeepers, who had just completed a search for arms at Aideed's radio station and other locations in Aideed-controlled territory. Twenty-four Pakistanis were killed, two of them executed after being taken captive. Women were combatants in the attack and reportedly participated in mutilating the bodies of the dead. The arms search had been initiated after written notification to the SNA, and was in accordance with the disarmament provisions of the Addis Ababa agreement. Following the deaths of the Pakistani peacekeepers, UNSC Resolution 837 authorized UNOSOM to take all necessary measures against those responsible for the attack.

Fighting on June 17 between the SNA and UNOSOM began with an ambush of Moroccan troops; women among the attackers reportedly pulled grenades from under their clothes and threw them among the Moroccan troops. Similar tactics were reportedly used to ambush Nigerian troops on September 5.

b. Disappearance

Reliable information concerning politically motivated disappearances was not available. Most observers assumed that it was a frequent phenomenon, masked by massive displacement of the population.

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

Reports of torture in the aftermath of clan fighting cannot be confirmed.

In Hargeisa on January 8, five women suspected of prostitution were stoned to death, after having been buried up to the neck. The instigator was a local religious leader, Sheikh Dahir. The Sheikh reportedly acted without convening a formal Islamic tribunal. No other incidents of this nature were recorded in 1993.

Independent sources alleged that Somalis held in Belgian custody in Kismayo suffered mistreatment. Doctors who examined released detainees found marks of burns on their bodies. The Belgian Ministry of Defense launched an investigation, and announced that military authorities had taken appropriate action in cases of apparent misconduct. Thirteen cases were still under investigation at years's end.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

All Somali factions reportedly held prisoners arbitrarily in 1993. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) negotiated the release of 348 persons, mostly detained by the United Somali Faction (USC), but some by the Somali Salvation Democratic Front (SSDF), and the Somali National Force (SNF). The SNA has accused the United Nations of violations of the rights of the accused. Under the authority of UNSC Resolution 837, UNOSOM detained, but did not try, Somalis suspected of complicity in the attack on Pakistani peacekeepers. For reasons of security, the location and condition of the detainees was not revealed to their families or the Somali public, although regular visits by ICRC representatives were permitted. The last of these detainees were released in January 1994. When the SNA unlawfully detained a captured U.S. pilot and one of the Nigerian peacekeepers, the ICRC visited the detainees and assisted in their release.

Former National Police Commander Ahmed Jama Mousa claimed in a deposition to UNOSOM that, during a military operation on September 13, U.S. forces shot and wounded him outside his home, invaded his home, beat, and detained him and three unarmed members of his family for 5 days. Mousa has filed a claim for compensation to UNOSOM. The U.S. Department of Defense is investigating the incident.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

There is little structure for the administration of justice in Somalia. UNOSOM has declared the Somali Penal Code to be the law of the land, and in the few functioning UNOSOM-administered courts that law is applied. It is impossible to judge the impartiality of the administration of local justice. Throughout the country local authorities have attempted to administer some type of justice. Islamic law and traditional mediation have been used to settle property crimes. However, these methods are not governed by any universal code or administration. A high proportion of Somalia's educated elite has fled the country. The fear of renewed anarchy hampers impartial justice; few Somalis feel confident of lasting protection from retaliation based on clan loyalties.

Prosecution of Somalis for war crimes committed during the past 2 years is difficult. In April when humanitarian operations in Baidoa were under the protection of Australian forces, one such prosecution resulted in the conviction and execution of Hassan Gutaale Abdul. He was tried under the Somali Penal Code for 31 murders. Eleven eyewitnesses testified. Both trial and appeal were conducted by former Somali judges. However, contrary to Somali law, the appeals panel sat the day after the trial, instead of giving the defense the legally required 15-day preparation period. Court officials purportedly feared they could not hold Hassan Gutaale Abdul in jail for the prescribed period. He was executed by gunshot immediately after the handing down of the appeal verdict.

At the time of the Addis Ababa accords in March, an interim, three-tier judicial system was planned, with courts of appeal, regional courts, and district courts. It was envisaged that these courts would operate under the 1962 Somali Criminal Procedure Code and the 1963 Penal Code. Drafting of a new constitution was to be delegated (see Section 3) to the Transitional National Council (TNC).

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

These rights were constantly violated by the warring factions. The civil conflict resulted in huge displacements of people and the destruction of the infrastructure of the country. Although these rights have not been systematically violated by a central authority, there is no right of privacy in Somalia. Military operations by the major factions have led to home searches and evictions. Militia in Mogadishu, Kismayo, and other urban centers occupy private homes and buildings without the permission of the owners. Homes belonging to former government members have been destroyed and the contents looted. Somalis have been forced to flee their homes because of violence directed at them. The relatively peaceful northwest and northeast of the country suffered less disruption. At year's end, no action had been taken to deal with property claims, a problem that looms large as refugees and the displaced prepare to return.

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

Violations of humanitarian law in internal conflicts by Somalis have been common since the civil war began in 1991. The use by factions of women and children as human shields or combatants in conflicts is well-documented. The brutalities of armed looters who continue to roam Somalia are unlikely ever to be completely catalogued. Humanitarian convoys and base camps were the targets of these bandits. The Geddo region on the border with Kenya, unprotected by UNOSOM deployment, suffered severely. When the remnants of Somalia's judiciary formed an association, they particularly wanted inquiries into war crimes to focus on the looting of relief supplies. Except in regions with UNOSOM protection, humanitarian aid workers were constantly under threat, often in pay disputes with their armed Somali employees. Three non-Somali humanitarian aid workers were murdered in incidents of random violence.

In attempting to enforce the disarmament agreements reached in the Addis accords, UNOSOM Pakistani peacekeepers were attacked without warning, reportedly by the forces of the Somali National Alliance, which controls south Mogadishu. UNOSOM's efforts to capture key SNA leaders resulted in confrontations with elements of the south Mogadishu population. Although UNSC Resolution 837 authorized the U.N. to "take all necessary means" against those responsible for the June 5 attack, Medecins Sans Frontieres and the human rights group, Africa Watch, alleged that UNOSOM forces, including U.S. forces, violated international humanitarian law and that UNOSOM had itself become a party in an internal conflict. The charges included:

– that U.S. missile-firing helicopters on July 12 attacked without warning the Abdi House, an SNA control center, killing participants in a political meeting. In other incidents, UNOSOM forces had issued warnings and called for evacuation before striking at an inhabited target. UNOSOM apparently did not issue a warning before this attack.

– that UNOSOM forces did not take adequate care to minimize noncombatant casualities in a firefight at the Digfer Hospital on June 17, during which five Somali patients died. UNOSOM forces were pursuing SNA militia who had fired on them from within the hospital, which turned out to be used by the SNA to house troops and store arms, and as a intermittant command center.

The 1994 Human Rights Watch World Report charges General Aideed's forces with apparently using civilians to shield troops and with violating the neutrality of hospitals on two occasions, including the one noted above. Africa Watch notes also reports that General Aideed's forces conducted summary executions.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

Most Somalis obtain news from British Broadcasting Corporation and Voice of America Somali-language radio broadcasts. Brief news broadsheets continued to be printed. UNOSOM has its own broadcasts and newspaper (Maanta), but its radio signal is not strong enough to be heard throughout the country. The major factions also have radio stations. There has been a recent increase of journals in Somalia. These publications are most often pamphlets for one faction or another, but some are developing a journalistic independence new in Somalia's recent history. There have been no obvious attempts to restrict the distribution of these local papers.

Aideed monopolized use of the national radio. His faction took control of the station and used it and mobile transmitters to broadcast harsh anti-UNOSOM themes. UNOSOM allowed Aideed to broadcast without interference until the June attack on peacekeepers, when the radio station was destroyed. Aideed continues to broadcast freely from a mobile transmitter.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Periodically, pro-Aideed forces held anti-UNOSOM rallies in the Aideed-controlled area of south Mogadishu. Supporters of Aideed-rival Ali Mahdi also held demonstrations, usually in favor of UNOSOM actions, in north Mogadishu. Similar demonstrations have been held wherever UNOSOM has offices, mostly in urban centers. UNOSOM often monitored these demonstrations, but did not interfere with unless violence broke out. UNOSOM was accused of firing on protesters in an incident in June following the attack on Pakistani peacekeepers. The incident was under investigation at year's end.

c. Freedom of Religion

Somalis are overwhelmingly Sunni Muslim, but the violence and chaos, principally in Mogadishu, in 1993 made it difficult for them to practice their religion in some locations in a mosque or other formal setting. Local tradition and past law make it a crime to proselytize for any religion except Islam. Non-Sunni Moslems or orthodox Moslem sects are often looked on with suspicion by more mainstream Somalis. Somalia has a small Christian community, but these men and women often find it necessary to conceal their beliefs. Foreign Christians generally practice their religion without persecution as long as the practice is private and does not include attempts to ridicule or undermine Islam. Christian churches and cemeteries have been desecrated, but these acts seemed to be more often the work of looters and thieves than of zealots.

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

The collapse of the Government has left the Somali people without travel documents needed for international travel. Those Somalis who remain in the country have difficulty leaving as neighboring countries often refuse to accept their passports or restrict entering Somalis as suspected immigrants. Travel within Somalia continued to be dangerous in 1993, but this did not deter huge movements of displaced people. Some left the country as refugees; some moved within Somalia to feeding centers; others returned to Somalia as repatriates.

After UNITAF's deployment it was expected that massive numbers of refugees would return. Repatriation from neighboring Kenya was slower than the UNHCR anticipated. A few thousands, out of tens of thousands, have been repatriated by the UNHCR. An undetermined but probably equal number repatriated themselves without assistance. Unassisted repatriation is relatively easy because many Somali refugees in Kenya and Ethiopia are nomads, and borders in the region do not correspond to ethnic boundaries. Though repatriation has been slow, the massive outflow of population recorded in 1991-92 was halted, evidence of the broad improvement of conditions in the southern 40 percent of Somalia in 1993.

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

The Addis Ababa accords contained provisions for the reintroduction of a political structure. The election of district and regional councils, followed by establishment of a Transitional National Council, and the drafting of a new constitution, was the agreed process to bring about a political consensus and reconciliation. More than 50 district councils and 6 regional councils were established by Somalis with the help of UNOSOM

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

No local human rights organizations could function normally under the conditions that prevailed during the year. But international humanitarian organizations were generally welcome in all parts of Somalia, regardless of local clan dominance. The ICRC had access to prisoners held by the major factions and by UNOSOM in urbal and some rural areas.

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


Women are harshly subordinated in Somali society. Somali culture is overwhelmingly restrictive and patriarchal. Women suffered disproportionately in the Somali civil war and in the strife that followed. Traditional rulers have reported systematic rape and abduction of young women to serve as sexual slaves to roving gangs. The population of Brava, an ethnic minority, was especially hard hit. In February women from Brava were still being held by SNA militia as far from their homes as Baidoa. The same fate befell the women of Hamar Weyne in Mogadishu, another minority group, when marauding Hawiya reportedly raped scores of women inside a city mosque where they had taken refuge. Women were often used as spoils of war and denigrated to humiliate their clan or family.


Female genital mutilation (circumcision), which has been condemned by international health experts as damaging to both physical and psychological health, is commonly inflicted at an early age. An independent expert in the field estimates that 98 percent of Somali females have undergone this operation.

Other forms of abuse stem from the civil conflict. Children were pushed by Somali factions into armed conflict with foreign troops and other Somalis. In the conflict with UNOSOM in south Mogadishu, Aideed's forces used civilians as human shields and deliberately involved women and children in combat to reap propaganda advantages from casualties and protection from UNOSOM military action. In February Somali children were given water pistols that looked very much like real guns. Children claimed they were told to squirt U.N. soldiers with these toys. This practice led to many near shooting incidents.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

More than 80 percent of Somalia's people share a common ethnic heritage, religion, and nomadic-influenced culture. However, clan affiliation has always been more important than political and cultural unity. Under the pressures of social breakdown and civil war, clan and subclan loyalties grew ever stronger.

The largest minority group consists of "Bantu" Somalis. They are victims of visible discrimination even in refugee camps. They fall into two major groups; those who claim to be aboriginal Somalis, and those who are descended from east African slaves brought to Somalia by Arab traders in the 14th century. Somalis also practice a caste/subordinate clan system. The Tumal and Mitgan are Somali clans despised for their professions (leather and metal workers) and forbidden to marry or mix with other Somalis. Educated Somalis have refused to eat at the same table with members of these groups. In fact, Somalis will often hesitate to discuss the existence of these two groups. No Tumal or Mitgan organization has emerged to champion their rights. Many "Bantu" refugees in Kenya fear to return to Somalia, feeling that as a threatened minority they would become still more vulnerable.

In Kismayo in July, two Bantu Somalis, members of one of Somalia's minority populations, were killed by townspeople for their part in assisting UNOSOM to resettle the displaced. Townspeople feared the resettlement program threatened local food distributions.

People with Disabilities

No reliable information was available on this topic.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

Nothing remains of the General Federation of Somali Trade Unions. Given the extent of the country's economic breakdown and the lack of legal enforcement mechanisms, trade unions were not able to function in 1993.

b. The Right To Organize and Bargain Collectively

Wages and work requirements in traditional Somali culture are largely established by ad hoc bargaining, based on supply and demand. There are no export processing zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

No information on this topic was available.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The reestablishment of schools is only beginning. Formal employment of children is unlikely; but children often participate in armed militias.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

There was no organized effort to monitor acceptable conditions of work during 1993.

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