Last Updated: Tuesday, 24 May 2016, 11:51 GMT

State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2011 - Somalia

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date 6 July 2011
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2011 - Somalia, 6 July 2011, available at: [accessed 25 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.

Many Somalis regularly experience serious human rights violations, regardless of their ethnicity, religion or clan affiliation. These violations become more severe for both women and members of minority groups, resulting in the multiple discrimination that has come to characterize the lives of Somali minority women.

In September 2010, Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) resigned and was replaced by Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed. The year 2010 also saw the TFG lose more territory to insurgent groups, dominated by Islamist group al-Shabaab, who now control most of south-central Somalia. In mid August, the TFG's Constitutional Commission (IFCC) submitted a new draft Constitution to the Somali parliament and the cabinet for scrutiny. This was followed by a wider consultation process, with official launches in Galkayo, Galmudug, Garowe, Mogadishu and Puntland. However, by the end of the year minority communities remained largely unaware and excluded from the consultation process.

The '4.5' formula – designed to include minorities in political participation by allowing half a seat for all minorities for every four seats granted to members of the 'majority' clans – further limited the scope for the political participation of minorities in 2010. Although the exact size of the minority population in Somalia is unknown, population estimates are far greater than the proportion reflected in the 4.5 formula. And even with this system in place, the government is disproportionately dominated by members of 'majority' clans.

Having been postponed for two years, Somaliland's second presidential election took place on 26 June 2010, resulting in the victory of opposition candidate Ahmed Mohamud Silanyo. HRW reported that the election was 'reasonably free and fair' with the exception of one incident in the Sool region, where an individual was killed.

Large areas of both south-central Somalia and Puntland were affected by droughts in both early and late 2010. In March, the UN Security Council reported that over half of UN aid was not reaching civilians, due to it being diverted en route, although this was denied by the UN World Food Programme. According to news reports, al-Shabaab has banned more than 20 aid agencies from working in south-central Somalia. Taken in the context of Somalia's brutal and ongoing civil war, it is unsurprising that the UN Independent Expert on Somalia, Shamsul Bari, concluded from his visit that in 2010 that: 'Somalia continued to slide deeper and deeper into humanitarian crisis'.

South-central Somalia

South-central Somalia is populated by a number of different minority groups, who face considerable discrimination. These include Bantu, Benadiri and Bajuni fishing people. All these minority groups are diminishing in size, as thousands move to camps for internally displaced people's (IDPs) camps in Somaliland and Puntland and refugee camps in Kenya, where they face renewed discrimination.

Victims of multiple discrimination, minority women across south-central Somalia encounter barriers in every aspect of life, including access to education, health care and employment. One Bantu woman living in south-central Somalia told MRG:

'Ethnic minority women don't play a significant role on the social, [economic] and political platforms in mainstream communities. Most are illiterate and have no capability to improve their quality of livelihoods; most do household chores and other domestic errands mainly in the major clans' homes. Due to high poverty [levels] and discrimination against ethnic minority women, they do not have access to quality health care as compared to women from major clans who usurp all relief or other medical facilities.'

Fighting between militant Islamist groups and the TFG's forces, the African Union Mission for Somalia (AMISOM), gave rise to gross human rights violations and discrimination in Mogadishu in 2010. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported an average of at least 20 weapon-related casualties per day in Mogadishu, with intensified fighting during Ramadan, marking 2010 as the worst year for fighting in over a decade.

The version of Shari'a law that al-Shabaab enforces severely breaches international standards and includes a number of 'morality laws', such as dress codes for women, the systematic closure of cinemas, and bans on smoking, khat, music, television and sport. Both Amnesty International and HRW reported that girls in Mogadishu and other al-Shabaab-controlled regions, as well as in IDP camps and refugee camps in Kenya, were being forced to cook and clean for al-Shabaab soldiers, and were also forced to marry them in some instances. MRG and Al Arabiya also reported that al-Shabaab conscripted Bantu and Madhiban children into their militia.

Several minority groups, including Bantu, Benadiri and Christians, have been targeted by al-Shabaab for practising their own religions. MRG's 2010 report on Somalia revealed that Bantu women have been forced to wear the hijab, and that some have faced attacks from al-Shabaab members. In January, Compass Direct News (CDN) reported the murder of Christian community leader Mohammed Ahmed Ali, whose wife was subsequently forced to flee the country following death threats. CDN also reported the murder of 17-year-old Christian convert Nurta Farah in the Galgadud region. The teenager was shot dead after fleeing her family, who had beaten her and shackled her to a tree when they discovered she had converted from Islam to Christianity.

A 2010 HRW report also revealed severe restrictions placed upon women by al-Shabaab, including the continued obligation to wear the abaya, a garment supplied by al-Shabaab, which covers the entire body. Due to its expense, families can often only afford one per household, which in turn limits freedom of movement, as only one woman can leave the house at a time.

As in Somaliland and Puntland, minority women experience sexual violence in IDP camps in south-central Somalia. In one camp, three to five cases of rape were being reported every one to two weeks. However the actual number is likely to be higher, as many women do not report attacks due to stigma and fear.


Despite the relative success of the 2010 Somaliland election, tensions remain high in the Sool, Sanag and Cayn regions claimed by both Somaliland and Puntland administrations. June 2010 saw increasing tension between clans and competition over resources, leading to the displacement of thousands of civilians from these regions.

The maltreatment of minorities in Somaliland remains a significant problem. Somaliland's Gaboye minority held protests in Burao, Somaliland and London, UK in 2010, in order to 'raise awareness [of] the continual suffering of Somaliland, and the minority tribes in Somalia'. In particular, the protests focused on the unwarranted detention and abuse of two Gaboye men and a Gaboye woman in the Aynabo district of Somaliland. According to the protesters, Gaboye lack legal representation and access to justice, and also face violence in the Somaliland courts. Most notably, the Gaboye Minority Organization Europe highlighted an incident involving the abuse and kidnapping of two Gaboye women during a trial, in the presence of a judge and police officers.

In a July 2010 article published by the African Press International, Gaboye clan elder Ahmed Shide Jama identified some of the problems facing Gaboye, including discrimination in the labour market, and lack of political representation and access to healthcare. Moreover, he identified inter-marriage between clans as something treated as a problem, 'despite the fact that [Gaboye] are Somalis and Muslims' as well.


According to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Puntland is home to about 35,000 IDPs, many of whom belong to minorities from south-central Somalia, displaced by civil war. These minorities face further and renewed discrimination in IDP camps. A UN database cites '409 incidents of rape, attempted rape/sexual assault, forced prostitution and domestic violence' between January and June 2010, with much of this sexual violence occurring in IDP settlements. The women who experience sexual violence in these camps 'are generally of minority clan origin, bereft of clan protection and often forced to engage in risky coping mechanisms', according to UN Independent Expert Bari. A Somali researcher who interviewed women in the Puntland camps for MRG reiterated the dangers facing minority women: '[M]inority women said they seemed to be more vulnerable because there will be no revenge for [sexual violence], or there will be no justice at the end.' Indeed, the researcher suggested that these women are seen as 'easy prey'. As a result, there is a demand for a more robust legal system 'that is accessible to women of all groups' and that recognizes the specific needs of minority women and girls. This is particularly important considering that most cases go undocumented, either because minority women's rights are often neglected by the legal system or because of the stigma associated with sexual violence.

Human trafficking remains a serious issue for IDPs in Somalia. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) emphasizes the susceptibility of IDPs and other vulnerable groups to trafficking, with the Middle East, Sudan and South Africa identified as some of the destinations for human trafficking.

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