Covering events from January - December 2003

Peace talks continued with some progress after over 12 years of state collapse and internal conflict, but were still not concluded. There was further faction fighting in central and southern Somalia. Thousands of people fled the fighting and abuses including kidnappings and threats to human rights defenders. Rape of internally displaced women and girls, particularly from minority communities, was reported in Mogadishu. There was no effective rule of law. Journalists and human rights defenders were harassed and threatened.


Throughout much of the central and southern regions, particularly in the capital, Mogadishu, and Baidoa, there was constant insecurity and intermittent faction fighting during the year, leaving the October 2002 cease-fire mostly ineffective. There had been no national government or administration, army, police or justice system since the state collapsed in 1991. In August the Transitional National Government (TNG) extended its three-year term. Although nominally recognized by the UN and part of the international community, it controlled only a small part of Mogadishu; other areas were held by various armed faction leaders. The TNG was opposed at the peace talks by the Ethiopia-backed Somalia Reconciliation and Restoration Council but supported by a new faction grouping, the Somali National Salvation Council. International humanitarian workers were generally unable to work in the south for security reasons. The Somali Medical Association reported in July after the murder of a well-known eye doctor that over 70 health professionals had been killed since 1991. The same month a non-governmental organization (NGO) in Mogadishu said over 530 civilians had been killed and 185 people kidnapped in the previous 12 months.


Multi-party presidential elections were held in April in the self-declared independent Somaliland Republic in the northwest. This was still the only part of the former Somali Republic with government, democratic institutions, a justice system, and peace. A Human Rights Commission was in preparation, with the support of many local NGOs. Somaliland pursued its demand for international recognition and refused to participate in the peace talks in Kenya or to consider rejoining a federal Somalia. The incumbent President Dahir Riyaale Kahin won the election by a narrow margin. Elections to parliament were postponed until 2005. New security concerns for humanitarian workers arose following the murders of three international health and education workers in October, although police arrested and charged several suspects. Relations between Somaliland and Puntland remained tense on account of conflicting claims over the eastern Sool and Sanag regions which were affected by drought and food shortages.


The self-declared federal regional state of Puntland in the northeast participated in the peace talks and supported a federal constitution. In May a peace and reconciliation agreement was signed between Puntland President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed and an armed opposition group, the Puntland Salvation Council, headed by General Mahamoud Musse Hersi ("Ade") and linked to former presidential claimant Jama Ali Jama. Opposition political leaders and militias were integrated into the Puntland government and its security forces, and all captured opposition militias were released. Security improved but constitutional issues relating to the status of the Puntland government and parliament remained unclear.

Peace talks

The Somalia Peace and Reconciliation Conference moved to a new venue in Kenya at Mbagathi, near Nairobi, with a new chairperson. The talks were organized by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, a regional grouping of states, and comprised over 430 delegates. Participants included the leaders of over 21 armed factions (so-called "warlords"), members of the TNG and representatives of civil society groups, among them some independent organizations working to promote human rights and the rights of women and minorities.

In September, the Conference proposed a transitional Charter for a four-year interim federal government. The TNG and one other faction grouping initially rejected the Charter, but returned to the talks. The selection of an interim parliament which would elect a president was not completed at the end of December.

International community

The continued threat to regional and global security resulting from over 12 years of state collapse and renewed faction fighting in southern Somalia led to calls by the UN Security Council and UN Secretary-General for an urgent conclusion to the peace talks and an end to cease-fire violations and human rights abuses. The UN condemned the use of child soldiers by the TNG and virtually all factions.

In March a panel of UN experts delivered a report to the UN Security Council on violations of the arms embargo by neighbouring states and others providing weapons to the TNG or faction leaders. The panel's mandate was extended for a further six months and in November the panel issued a further report with recommendations. The report linked the flow of weapons to transnational "terrorism".

In April, following the report of the UN Independent Expert for Somalia, the UN Commission on Human Rights called on all Somali groups to stop acts of violence and human rights abuses, comply with the arms embargo, prevent "terrorism", and protect humanitarian workers. The African Union began preparing a cease-fire monitoring group.

The UN condemned killings and kidnappings of children, including the killing of three girls in Baidoa in May in clan revenge attacks, and the brief kidnapping of a group of schoolgirls travelling on a bus in Mogadishu in June.

Violence against women

Female genital mutilation continued to be inflicted on most girls, despite educational campaigning by Somali women's organizations. Members of the Coalition of Grassroots Women's Organizations also documented rape of internally displaced women and girls, most of them members of minorities, by faction militias and gunmen in Mogadishu. A UN report noted the severe disadvantages affecting women's access to justice.

Refugees and internally displaced people

Refugee flows from the south continued as civilians fled faction fighting, kidnappings, threats to human rights defenders and other abuses. Somalis made up a considerable proportion of asylum-seekers in neighbouring countries and in the industrialized countries of the North.

In April the UN Resident Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia appealed to Somali political and militia leaders to protect 350,000 internally displaced people, many of them members of minority communities and the majority of them women and children, in over a dozen areas. They were subjected to rape, abductions and looting by armed groups, and also suffered poor conditions in camps.

Rule of law

Throughout the south of the country there was no effective or competent system of administration of justice to uphold the rule of law and provide impartial protection of human rights. The TNG and faction leaders failed to protect citizens; abuses by faction militias were committed with impunity. A few remaining Shari'a (Islamic Law) courts continued to function on a local basis, but their proceedings bore little relation to international standards of fair trial.

Clan-based faction militias protected their own clan members, leaving the unarmed members of minority communities vulnerable to abuses. Conditions in the TNG's central prison in Mogadishu were harsh.

In Somaliland there were reports of arbitrary arrests. Jama Mohamed Ghalib, a former police general advocating the return of Somaliland to a federal Somalia, was detained for two days on his return to Hargeisa in June and deported. Several of his supporters were arrested after a shoot-out with Somaliland security forces and remained detained without charge or trial at the end of the year.

Courts in Puntland functioned intermittently in some areas; they did not observe international standards for fair trial.

Freedom of opinion and the media

Activists and journalists reporting on human rights abuses or critical of the political authorities were frequently at risk of arbitrary arrest or, in the south, of being killed. Political freedom with open party structures existed only in Somaliland where people had considerable freedom to express opinions, publicly criticize the government and campaign in elections.

  • In Mogadishu in January, the Hornafrik television and radio station was raided by a faction leader following the broadcast of a program linking certain businesspeople to "terrorism".
  • In Mogadishu in June, TNG police detained two radio journalists, Abdurahman Mohamed Hudeifi and Hussein Mohamed Gedi, for criticizing the authorities. They were released after two days.
  • Four human rights NGOs were banned in Puntland in March, shortly after representatives attended an AI workshop in Somaliland for Somali human rights defenders. They were later allowed to resume activities after discussions with government officials.
  • In Somaliland in October, a journalist from the Jamhuuriyya (Republican) newspaper, was convicted of defamation but his eight-month prison sentence was quickly commuted to a fine on appeal.

AI country visits

In February AI held a human rights defenders' workshop in Hargeisa and met the Somaliland government. In April an AI delegate attended the Somali peace talks in Kenya and met Puntland government representatives, other political leaders and members of NGOs.

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